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 Henrietta Hofer Ele. She is the former dean of the College of Sports, PE, and Recreation 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.
She then began to speak that she had a friend. 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.
My mother passed away in 2006. What I am now is partly because of the way she raised 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 Irene “Inday” Santiago. Aside from being the mayor’s peace adviser, Ma’am Inday is also 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 nurturers and caretakers of future generations to come and their perspectives on peace, development and security are critical to ensuring a whole-of-society approach to issues.
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.