COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 30 January) – During her younger days, Member of Parliament (MP) Froilyn Tenorio Mendoza would tag along with her mother in visiting far-flung indigenous peoples (IP) communities in the mountains of South Upi, a fourth class town in the province of Maguindanao del Sur.
Her mother, a teacher, had served as a volunteer to protect the rights and welfare of their fellow Tedurays, and it was those immersions that molded Mendoza to put the interest of her people paramount before anything else.
“I was exposed at an early age by my mother to see the plight of our fellow indigenous peoples. She told me – if we will not help them, who will? If they get help, it might just be temporary,” Mendoza recalled.
“Nakatulong yung pagsama ko sa aking nanay dahil na-witness ko talaga yung mga nangyayari. Sabi ko, mayroong hindi tama doon sa amin – lalo na yung sa aming tribu, doon nag-umpisa yung aking awareness (The early immersions with my mother helped a lot – I witnessed what’s happening. Something was wrong for our tribe. That’s when my awareness was awakened),” she added, referring, among others, to the human rights violations and encroachment on indigenous people’s lands by lowlanders.
She finished elementary and high school in her hometown South Upi, a landlocked municipality where farming is the major source of livelihood for its dominant lumad (indigenous peoples) population. Her parents encouraged her to study, which is an exception as many Teduray parents traditionally do not give priority to the education of their daughters, as they usually dropped out of school early to help their families or to get married.
Mendoza eventually graduated with a degree on Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, North Cotabato. She is also a licensed midwife.
After graduating from college, Mendoza volunteered at the Teduray Women’s Organization (TWO), where her mother was also a volunteer. The daughter conceptualized flyers about IP issues and cooked, washed dishes and served coffee, among other menial jobs, during meetings or community visits.
“Since I had no work after graduating from college, I volunteered with their group. I went with them in the communities to spread awareness on IP women’s issues,” she said.
From being a volunteer, Mendoza, a mother of two children, rose from the ranks to become the third chairperson of the Teduray-Lambangian Women’s Organization, Inc. (TLWOI), a grassroots-based federation of 35 women associations in the hinterlands of the then undivided Maguindanao province.
She cited dedication, hard work and the thrust of her fellow members in rising to lead TLWOI, an organization duly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It was previously known as the TWO. The group had its first assembly on September 24, 1994.
“Matagal-tagal na rin yung aking karanasan lalo na doon sa pagsusulong ng karapatan ng mga katutubong kababaihan lalo na dito sa Maguindanao (I have been involved for relatively a long time in pushing for the rights of IP women in Maguindanao),” Mendoza said.
With her long and active work among civil society organizations in Mindanao, particularly advocating the rights of indigenous peoples, she was appointed to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) by the late President Benigno Aquino III.
Mendoza was nominated to represent the IP community in the BTC, a body that was tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in accordance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed in 2014 after 17 years of negotiations.
The key component of the CAB was the creation of a Bangsamoro autonomous region.
For inclusivity, the non-Moro indigenous peoples have been represented during the Bangsamoro peace process between the government and the MILF and in the BTC.
The BTC was dissolved after the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) was constituted following the ratification of Republic Act 11054 or Organic Law for the BARMM, popularly known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), in January 2019.
Mendoza, however, was not a member of the first BTA, the interim body tasked to govern the Bangsamoro region.
The BTA’s mandate was extended after then President Rodrigo Duterte approved the cancellation of the first parliamentary election in the BARMM in 2022. It was moved to 2025.
The 50-year-old Mendoza was appointed in the second BTA by incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. as a nominee of the government. The 80-member BTA is led by the MILF with 41 nominees and 39 from the government.
As a Member of Parliament, Mendoza continued to show her concern and advocacies for the indigenous peoples in the Bangsamoro region, guided strongly by Article IV, Section 9 of the BOL, which recognizes the rights of non-Moro indigenous peoples.
The Bangsamoro Government must recognize and promote the rights of non-Moro indigenous peoples within the framework of the Constitution and national laws, she noted.
Mendoza’s priorities include curbing domestic violence, which could benefit both Moro and non-Moro indigenous peoples in the BARMM.
The BARMM is composed of the provinces of Maguindanao del Sur, Maguindanao del Norte, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, the cities of Marawi, Lamitan and Cotabato and 63 villages in North Cotabato known as the Special Geographic Area.
As part of addressing domestic violence that often victimize women and children, she pushed for the organization of women arbiters across the region, which can be utilized to settle domestic or community disputes before they can reach the trial courts.
Her office has also been providing various trainings to IP women to capacitate them to empower themselves and their communities.
As a Member of Parliament representing the IP communities, especially women, Mendoza is pushing for the passage of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act in the BARMM or the IP Code, a measure that seeks to protect and promote the rights and welfare of IPs in the region.
The measure was filed in the first BTA but has yet to be re-filed in the current parliament.
In a speech last November during a campaign on Violence Against Women, Mendoza stressed that the IP code must reflect the Bangsamoro Government’s commitment to achieving a “moral governance that is inclusive and where no one is left behind.”
“The non-Moro IP women believe that a rights-based, gender-sensitive and grounded IP code has the power to transform the lives of indigenous peoples – men and women alike,” Mendoza said.
The Tedurays make up majority of the population of the IPs in mainland Bangsamoro region. The others are the Lambangian Baleg, Dulangan Manobo, Higaonon and Arumanen Ne Menuvu. She estimated the lumad population at 123,000 individuals.
Mendoza noted that her heart bleeds not only for the lumads in the mainland but also in the island-provinces of the BARMM.
As a BTA member, she has provided livelihood assistance to 14 women cooperatives, helped put up a water system, established a women’s handicraft center, and built a “School of Living tradition” for poor IP toddlers.
“These children can learn more of their own culture and tradition through the School of Living Tradition. We responded to their needs because they are very far from the town center,” she said.
Mendoza encouraged IP women to participate in the development, governance and policy-making processes for the benefit of all Bangsamoro women in the future. (Myrna Tepadan via MindaNews)
(Myrna Tepadan is one of the staff writers of the Bangsamoro Information Office (BIO). This article was produced under a mentoring project initiated by the Mindanao Institute of Journalism with support from The Asia Foundation.)