MY, MY, MY MARAWI: Women in prison and Mother Mariam, a story for Ramadhan

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 10 July) – While Senators Jinggoy and Enrile, Gigi Reyes and Janet Napoles are centerstage, let me share the plight of Muslim women in prison and those who work behind klieg lights to service their needs. They may share the same kind of walls and rooms like the personalities mentioned, but they too have real-life battles. And we forget to grant them interviews so this Holy season of sacrifice and giving, we remember them.

Unlike the personalities who are now hogging headlines, many of these Moro women are no longer visited by their family members. In their societies back home which value shame and honor, they have become outcast and unwelcome, staining the family name. Their cases are sleeping in courts or archives without any interested lawyer. They claim hulidap, bribery, being accosted, taken without warrant, have no money to afford legal aid and other hapless circumstances. Based on the research by Aisha Malayang of the Muslim Sisters Bridging (who went all the way to Cotabato City to present her findings to the Regional Legislative Assembly in 2012), most of the women would be seen to cry “injustice.”

And what about the elderly, the 70-year-olds and above, who can be candidates for release, according to former MSU Law Dean Baratucal Caudang?

A sunshine ray in their legal battle is the update from UP’s Macrina (Institute of Islamic Studies) that 10 women at Camp Karingal in Quezon City have been released, updates Commissioner and Harvard graduate Edil Baddiri of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF). But sickness among some of them is taking its toll. Rahma of Sulu, the coordinator at Mandaluyong Correctional Institute for Women, did not live to see home and the fruition of her case.

Islam reminds that when one part of the body is hurt, all of the body is hurt. Thus, the pain of these women even if sentenced for life is a pain for the Ummah (community). Those seeking legal remedies deserve it. Court systems are not only for the able and moneyed but moreso for the poor and those without access. Many of these women cannot speak the language of Manila, cannot articulate their concern or write their grievance or sentiment.

Volunteer teacher Mariam Molina, a Balik Islam, is my line to them. For the past 16 years, Mariam rides the tricycle thrice a week – on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays – in commuting to jails around Metro Manila to teach Islam, Arabic and inspiration to the hundreds who have been abandoned by their families. She is now a teacher for the Arabic Language and Islamic Values Education (ALIVE) program granted an honorarium of only P2,000 monthly.

She is Mother to me because she deepened my faith when I was in college as a born Muslim and directionless teenager (na kalalabas sa isang conservative society, hawla if you can call it) finding my way to know Islam more.

She is dedicated and says, this is my life, showing the rehas and greeting women around the Mandaluyong Correctional and is like a friend to all.

Seeing her five-foot frame and all-covered body from head to toe (like a nun) makes you think she is shy but she commands presence in the vibrancy of her advocacy that others are taught.

Her own life-story is one of survival. She has lost one son from the five grown-up males, survived cancer and is spunky. She spouts Tagalog, Arabic and English articulately.

The lecture around the small masjid in front of a white board saw us sitting on the newly-renovated mosque by the NCMF. The ladies were in orange short-sleeved uniform. They thought the uniform could be lengthened to cover the legs and arms so it can conform to Islamic attire.

Mariam spoke about kaibigan or friend. Three times a week, she invests in teaching these women who brought their own copies of the Qur’an and notebook. They follow her recitation of the verses. Islam as a way of life also advises to reach out to friends who can deepen your understanding of the faith.

After the lecture, she chats with them as if like family. She understands the pain and loneliness within prison walls. She feels her mission of teaching is a weapon against the mind games. She is also opinionated about government having to check further the plight of these women. She said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima should also take on these women’s cases, and not just those of high profile cases, and fast-track the passage of the implementing rules of Republic Act 10592 (act amending the Revised Penal Code), which lengthens the time that can be deducted from a prisoner’s sentence if he does good and behaves properly.

How can you help?

– Send letters and text messages of concern to authorities (DILG, DOJ, OP)

– Share support to Aisha’s group (and for their medical and legal assistance). She and her group are on Facebook.

– Urge ARMM LGUs to take concern of their co-brethren or town mate.

[Samira A. Gutoc-Tomawis, Ll.B., is former assemblywoman, women sector, of the Regional Legislative Assembly, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; former director, Al-Amanah Islamic Bank, Inc.; former director, Marawi Resort Hotel, Inc. See her blog at]