True kind of Muslim leaders
COMMONSENSE - Marichu Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - March 27, 2019 - 12:00am

Latest survey results are out. So we see a lot of movement of rankings in both the opposition and the administration candidates either going up or down in the mock polls. But some senatorial bets stayed where they are.

Noticeably, one candidate from the Otso Diretso opposition slate seems to go up and up in the surveys. It is noteworthy to see Samira Gutoc, the only Muslim woman running for Senator in the coming May 13 mid-term elections, gaining more points in terms of voters’ preference in the mock polls.

Though relatively unknown in the national consciousness, Gutoc is no stranger to politics. She also once served as a regional assembly member of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Gutoc is becoming some kind of a social media rock star. She has been waging this campaign on low budget, with virtually unknown surname, and with even no big billboards and flashy TV ads to boot. But she is only too glad to have an army of volunteers passionately pushing for her candidacy. To make up for much needed exposure in media, I think she has an almost perfect record attendance on TV debates.

In one (GMA7), she made minced meat of former police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa. The fast-talking Gutoc reduced the erstwhile Director-General of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to cannon fodder on the issue of extra-judicial killings of suspected drug users while the big drug lords seemingly are out of reach by the long arms of the law.

Gutoc is not afraid to call out President Rodrigo Duterte and castigate him for his rape jokes.

A Maranao like President Duterte, Gutoc broke away from his administration where she once served as member of the defunct Bangsamoro Transition Commission that crafted the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). The 44-year-old Gutoc first gained national prominence when she made a dramatic appeal before leaders and members of the 17th Congress to address the reported abuses on Bangsamoro people following the imposition of martial law in Mindanao in the aftermath of the Maute siege in Marawi City.

She engaged @teddyboylocsin in an exchange on Twitter. This after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin called her out for “not knowing” what she is saying. Locsin derided Gutoc when she called out President Duterte for being “part of the peace problem” when a Catholic church was bombed in Jolo, Sulu. 

Her retort was epic: “With due respect Sir Locsin, a peer of my dad former DFA Asec Gutoc, it is you who do not know what you traded your principles for. If you think rape jokes and violence quips have nothing to do with peace, then I rest my case.”

“And between you and me, sir – ikaw naka aircon at ako isang bakwit at naranasan ang epekto ng gyera sa pami-pamilya – I definitely know what I am talking about, sir.”

Now we know why Gutoc is making a splash in this senatorial campaign, especially in social media, where many describe her as a rock star.

Going back to the surveys, Gutoc was ranked at No. 26-34 in the last Pulse Asia Survey (Feb. 24 to 28, 2019). This was from a 32-48 ranking in the previous mock polls on Jan. 26-31. Her awareness is up: 19% from 5%, an almost 300% increase. Voting for is up by 4.4% from 1.6%, also almost a 300% increase.

She started from virtually nothing. Not even a household name to buoy her campaign, or funds for that matter. And come to think of it, she is even regarded as a wild card when her name as opposition candidate was first announced. 

“I am also actually surprised with the result because we really have less machinery and not much funds compared to others. But thankfully, our grassroots and people-centered approach is slowly bearing fruit,” Gutoc enthused.

I first came to know her personally after she visited us at The Philippine STAR earlier this month along with fellow Otso Diretso campaign manager, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and fellow senatorial bet ex-Quezon Province Congressman Erin Tañada.

During our roundtable conversations, Gutoc expressed her passionate dream – as shared by the rest of Mindanao people – to see enduring peace someday soon. She particularly counts on the successful plebiscites that ratified the establishment of a new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The establishment of the BARMM was mandated by the BOL under the government peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The BARMM replaced and further expanded the coverage of the ARMM that was first established under the September 1996 peace agreement of the government with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

And that desired enduring peace in Mindanao is again threatened by the latest saber rattling of erstwhile MNLF chieftain Nur Misuari who this time is asking for federalism as the best set-up to bring about settlement of the Bangsamoro problem.

Gutoc though is unperturbed by Misuari’s threats as nothing but “posturing” of the ex-MNLF leader. She believes this is just a political strategy of Misuari in giving tacit support to Duterte’s federalism movement. “I know that the Chairman (Misuari) does not mean a physical war. Sometimes he only expresses his feelings and sentiments through mga ganitong pagsasalita,” Gutoc surmised. “I think it’s only a matter of language,” she adds. Peace is infinitely better than war, she points out.

Gutoc is not talking with empty rhetoric though when she raised the issue of families being displaced by war like those evacuated out of Marawi City during the siege. Gutoc herself was among those evacuees. This is why she vows to ensure the Marawi rehabilitation would get the necessary legislative support, especially on budget matters that she can do if elected to the Senate.

Gutoc’s wit and intelligent understanding of national issues, especially those that will impact the people of Mindanao, give us reason to believe she could very well fill the void left behind at the Senate by the notable works of Muslim Senators Santanina Rasul and Mamintal Tamano. They are the true kind of Muslim leaders we need in Congress.

OTSO DIRETSO SAMIRA GUTOC
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