Part 2: The Moro-Filipina will stand in the way of fanatics

Patricio N. Abinales

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Part 2: The Moro-Filipina will stand in the way of fanatics
Moro-Filipinas are often independent of their men, assertive, vocal, see the hijab as just another way of projecting their identity, and definitely, are major players in the locality

(READ: Part 1: Filipino Islam will outlast its fanatics)

In my years doing field research in Moro Mindanao, I was not only in awe of Moro entrepreneurship, I was also captivated by the power of Moro women.

The Moro-Filipina is the antipode of the Muslim woman that ISIS and those other fundamentalists groups like the King of Saudi Arabia and Iranian mullahs “idealize” – subordinated and deferential to their men, demure, quiet, covered, and at times, a non-entity. Moro-Filipinas are often independent of their men, assertive, vocal, see the hijab as just another way of projecting their identity, and definitely, are major players in the locality.

Consider their relationships with their husbands. The Muslim women I talked to and had become friends with unanimously agree that the discreet faces of women one sees in public meetings between Moro and official of the central state, hide a power that includes dictating to their husbands where the conversation should go (or not go), when it can continue, and when it stops.

I witnessed this silent power while I was still working in Japan. An influential and well-respected Moro leader was giving his insights on the Bangsamoro struggle, including disagreeing with my evaluations. After over two hours of animated jeremiad, he suddenly stopped. I turned to my left and saw his wife slashing her throat and saying, in Bisayan, “Husto na, gutom na ko. Uli na ta.” The lecture was over, and he and his wife trooped out in search of food.

Watching this made me remember this description of Sultan Jamalul Kiram’s daughter Tarhata by the American writer Florence Horn while she was visiting Jolo. She wrote:

“Moreover, where some see unremitting resistance in the revolts against colonial rule, new motivations were at work. A good illustration is the 1927 revolt of Datu Tahil Lidasan, who had become famous for leading the Battle of Bud Bagsak in 1913 but who later served as a member of the Sulu Provincial Board. In 1927, Lidasan announced his opposition to the head tax and the ban on carrying weapons in public and withdrew with 100 followers to a cotta (fort) to await government attack. At first glance, a repeat of Bud Bagsak, but a closer look reveals a different picture: Lidasan took up arms at the instigation of his wife, the American-educated Princess Tarhata, niece of the Sultan of Sulu after she failed to get him appointed as Governor of Jolo. The Constabulary defeated Lidasan (leaving 35 dead) and sentenced him to 7 years imprisonment. Tarhata divorced her now politically useless husband, married a Cebuano and entered local politics. (Horn, Orphans of the Pacific: The Philippines, 1941: 155).

Tarhata went on to become one of the most well-respected Moro women of her time.

Of course, she learned her spurs from her mother Princess Piando, who was herself an influential figure in colonial Sulu society. The incoming American District Officer of Jolo, Lt Colonel Sydney Cloman was impressed at how Princess Piando manipulated her husband, Sultan Jamalul Kiram, by forcing him to wear a termite-ravaged tuxedo he used to wear while trading in British Singapore. After that Cloman knew whose opinions he needed to know first.

Moro women are the mediators who resolve rido, the notorious clan wars that are the primary cause of conflict in Moro Mindanao. According to Wilfrido Torres and Steven Rood, in the revised and expanded edition of their book, Rido: Clean Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao, the “rido code of honor” disallows attacks on women. This was why when the Ampatuans killed the wife of Ismael Mangundadatu along with 56 other people on November 23, 2008, the war between the two most powerful families of Maguindanao Province will continue until the Ampatuands sacrifice members of their family whose standing equaled those of Mrs Mangundadatu.

It was also the sway of Moro women in their communities that made the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reach out to them to offer them the role of monitors of its economic programs in the war zones. USAID’s Livelihood Economic Assistance Program (LEAP), a project aimed at helping former MNLF rebels get back on their feet, would not have succeeded had USAID’s Moro women partners not kept close tabs on their progress.

Finally, there are the Moro feminists like Rufa Cagoco Guiam (of Mindanao State University-General Santos) and Bagian Aleyasa Abdulkarim (Dean of the College of Social Work and Community Development at Western Mindanao State University) who are the leading academics as well as civil society leaders.

Rufa has been a friend of long duration and I make sure that I visit her when I am in Mindanao. I saw her pluckiness in action a month before the Maguindanao massacre when our taxi was stopped at the entrance of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, the residence of the brutal Ampatuan family.

About 15 armed men surrounded our Kia taxi and demanded P4,000 as “part of the celebration of Ramadan.” The 3 of us – the driver, Rufa’s former capataz, and myself – were petrified by these armed men (their affiliations were mixed: some wore army uniforms, others claimed they were police, and one even leaned on the window and whispered to me that he was MNLF).

Rufa was not. She calmly explained to these thugs that as a teacher at MSU-General Santos and their fellow Muslim she knew that Ramadan was a month of generosity and righteousness. If we give them the P4,000, she argued, it was not an act of kindness, but a painful response to a threat (she pointed to their guns).

And this was not a righteous act, nor would it be considered real gift-giving. In the end, we reached a compromise – P2,000 for “wasting their time” checking. No one violated Ramadan. We left just in the nick of time. Our taxi driver was just about to text his policeman-brother in the nearby town and ask him to rescue us. As we sped away from the checkpoint, back to General Santos, Rufa sighed and said, “Ah the price of peace.” I did not know what she meant then. I know now.

The Maute gang, these “monumental assholes” (to borrow a phrase the comic John Oliver used to describe the London attackers) have no idea what awaits them should they try to impose their backward ISIS-inspired values on these Moro women. For if they do, their comeuppance will be quick and, yes, nasty. –


Patricio N. Abinales remains in awe of these Moro women.

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