IT WAS a Friday afternoon, on our way to Cagayan de Oro, to attend a PVE round table discussion with a group of academics and experts that we decided to pass by Marawi City. I had several opportunities in the past to visit Ground Zero, but I felt that this moment was the right time.
With the help of fellow government officials, I was fortunate enough to get to visit Ground Zero with my colleagues. As we entered the city, it felt that as if we were somewhere else, far away from the Philippines. In that area, no house was left without rubble and bullet holes. The sight of the Grand Mosque, which was once so vibrant, is now empty and foreboding.
What keeps Marawi alive, as far as we can see, are the people in its community.
After my visit to Ground Zero, I was introduced by a mutual friend to Ms. Henrietta Hofer Ele. She is the former dean of the College of Sports, PE, and Recreation (SPEAR) of Mindanao State University Main Campus. She is a devoted Catholic, but stepping into her house was like stepping into another world where all religions are accepted.
On the wall are several portraits of her family, friends, grandchildren, and even of her as a young lady. When she was a member of the Bayanihan Dance Troupe, she became well-versed in the singkil, or the traditional marriage dance of the Tausug people. One particular portrait of her, in traditional dress, showed her wearing Wonder Woman-esque style gold bangles on her wrists and a glittering gold necklace.
She then began to speak that she had a friend who lent the jewelry to her. She spoke of their friendship, and how she was even in a photograph of her friend’s wedding day, as part of the bridal party. Imagine my surprise when I found out that she was referring to Bai Ulanbai Ayunan Sinsuat Lidasan – my mother.
All of us felt goosebumps. Although she passed away in 2006, we still keep her close to our hearts. What I am now is partly because of the way she raised me. Her identity is also with me -- My mom was half Maranaw from the Sinsuat side of the family – and this adds to my own character.
When I went back to Davao City, I had dinner with Mam Irene “Inday” Santiago. Although she is now the peace advisor to the City Mayor of Davao, Ma’am Inday is best known for being the chairperson of the Mindanao Commission on Women. We met to discuss the possibility of developing and implementing a de-radicalization and rehabilitation program for the Bangsamoro.
Ma’am Inday shared to me her work in Davao, especially in the 911 for Peace and the Marawi Peace Corridor. It was in the creation and the implementation of these programs that were able to deliver first aid to areas that needed relief. The more we spoke, the more I was able to see how, through my week in Marawi and here in Davao, how important women are in the present and future of the Bangsamoro.
Ma’am Ele and Ma’am Inday are both strong women who have contributed much to their communities. We view women as the nurturers and the caretakers of the future generations to come, and their perspectives on peace, development and security are critical to ensuring a whole-of-society approach to issues.
When we look at these strong women – both in our society and in our family – we must also take note of issues that concern and are important to them. Let us never forget the voices of our mothers, our wives, our daughters, our sisters.
This International Woman’s Month, we are called to remind ourselves of the value of equality in our society. In the new Bangsamoro government, women are given special seats in Parliament to speak on issues that concern not just their sectors, but to offer their unique perspective on policy and governance.
I would not be who I am today without my mother. Marawi would not be the same without Ma’am Henny and Ma’am Inday. The Bangsamoro is the same, in that it needs women from all walks of life to give their voices and to speak up for their rights.