GRADUATION SPEECH: Striving in the Age of Selfies

(Speech delivered by Samira Ali Gutoc, co-founder of the Young Moro Professionals and presently a Commissioner at the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, at the Ateneo Law and Graduate School Commencement Exercises, on April 29, 2017 at the Ateneo de Davao University)

Bismillah . In the Name of Almighty.

Moulders, mentors , architects of a socially-just society and civilization.

Friends of Peace peer Fr. Joel E. Tabora, S.J., President of Ateneo de Davao University who might have been the one to have brought me to this position , your pro-Bangsamoro writings for this generation are for keeps.

Dr. Gina Montalan, Academic Vice President; Mr. Benjamin Lizada, Chairman of the Board of Ateneo de Davao University; Bro. Karl Gaspar, CSsR, Dean of Studies at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute, a mentor to us Journalism majors; Atty. Manuel P. Quibod, Dean of the College of Law; Dr. Renante D. Pilapil, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Jenner Y. Chan, Dean of the School of Business and Governance; Dr. Patria V. Manalaysay, Dean of the School of Nursing; Engr. Randell U. Espina, Dean of the School of Engineering and Architecture; Dr. Annabel J. Casumpa, Dean of the School of Education, Trustees and Faculty.

Fellow seekers of knowledge, fellow Mindanawons, good morning.

I title my sharing to you, “Striving in the age of Selfies.” In the age of contradictions, Beyonce would gather more you-tube likes than what knowledge here offers . A time when quakes can be easily forgotten by the front page story of the next day.

(So I thank this institution that has mainstreamed Muslim narratives , Islamic finance education and trained Muslims in the academe through setting up of Al Qalam Institute. You are way ahead of many government schools) .

I have so many stories to tell you… Of travels to Cambodia, or Korea or Taiwan… So forgive my halo halo, hodge podge narratives. I come from a community of Darangen traditions and deep lake folklore, eager to share what klieg lights would often ignore, to highlight about positive practices from the periphery. One mayor uses his personal money to add to the IRA to settle deep-seated rido, one mother of 30 plus survives without a husband, in every corner a nurse passing the board is celebrated with printed ads.

We may be covered but the veiled also seeks to be unveiled of ignorance. Jihad is striving for us, a battle to find the good, overcome evil.

Samira Ali Gutoc-Tomawis, Commencement speaker, Ateneo de Davao University’s College of Law and Graduate School, 29 April 2017. Photo courtesy of the Institutional Communications and Promotions Office, Ateneo Communications Team, Ateneo de Davao University

Strange is the same…

My story of aspiring brings me when I took up MA in Diliman. It was ‘nosebleed’ facing a French-trained professor. Only five of us around a table on Political

Economy, we each had to pretend to sound smart. Eye-to-eye with the Professor was like melting under the Saudi sun. No hiding behind someone’s head.

It was the same in law school with heart pounding as a way of life.

Rejected by three bar exams, UP College of Law and all broadcasting companies after college, I was a woman on fire. I was going to Pasay at the end of the MRT for law school and Quezon City on the other end for Masters. There was no law prohibiting taking two courses. Twice a week at UP Diliman when I should be resting from whole day readings, I commuted to and fro, siksikan sa MRT, dashing lines, found law books for the Masteral class. I was exhausted, secretly vomited and too thin.

So I honor your journey of sleepless nights, surviving the jungle of books (and words to memorize), recitation, and thesis writing . Our zombie life in codals, highlighters, coffee five times daily for me, was like a Samurai awaking like an alarm clock finding the right defenses. We abstained and we forgot life, liberty and property in no lovelife, dating, etc.

Marching like you are doing today was the headiest feeling. Nirvana.

So the value of higher studies. You bring context, you analyze pattern, you provide trends into the conversations of fanatics. You shed light on pros and cons, you reason before affirming . A batchmate in bar exams may have suffered stroke or nervous breakdown but this diploma is very meaningful.

Especially in a place where only one out of 10 Bangsamoro can’t get to school. How do you dialogue with kids who denounce all forms of dialogue anyway? How do you contribute to a society which cannot understand many of the Western theories we are grounded on?

The aspiration for recognition is the same everywhere…

Before I get ahead on the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) that hopes to address land dispossession, marginalization and discrimination, may I mention the unspoken and the intangibles that sometimes aren’t well defined. Trust is a big capital here.

Come down to the Moro areas with projects but they do not sustain for there is no relationship. Theory and fact must be complemented by long immersion.

That brings me to our work on Bangsamoro Law drafting. Efficiency and diversity are what are offered. Co-management of governance by various mechanisms drives away the concentration of power from few hands. When I shake the hands of national officials, I wonder, how could they act on the many hundreds of letters that pile up on their table? This archipelago must be brought together by technology and human talent which can be done through structural arrangements.

The Bangsamoro bill and enabling peace agreement can only be successful if the professional can assist the non professional, if the haves can provide for the have nots, if you can choose the career working for communities.

My social consciousness wasn’t always this way. I once was ashamed of my identity and my hijab.

I was born and grew up 15 years away from this country, studied and BFF’d with refugees from Palestine and Somalia and Ethiopia. I boarded a plane alone when I was 8 years old. I got lucky guys, I got lucky, but the kindness of being fed and schooling compelled me to ask more of life.

When school didn’t teach me about Bangsamoro, we travelled every Friday to Quiapo slums with a group called Muslim Youth and Students Alliance (MYSA) to see them. When law school didn’t expose me to jails, I visited them regularly. When youth policy lecturers were a few, kapal muks ako to volunteer my way around the regions.

When Muslim women wouldn’t face cops or soldiers, movements here fostered conversations. One old narrative tells of a woman deliberately slashing her face so that soldiers won’t find her attractive.

Rule of law is valuable in a society of factions, sections and islands. You must bring people back to principle versus patronage, science than opinion, technology than human time.

Social justice must bring back our trust in institutions which outlive us.

Working with communities heals you, touches you, deepens you. Do not let titles get you stuck to the desk life, a danger in heart attacks, and (few) suicides of (Manila) yuppies. Stay healthy.

In so doing, passion is an ingredient in what we do. “Hyper,” they often tease me.

But sitting in one seat is limiting in one forum, that is why it is a forum of life, you have to take other seats. Because often when you want to be a leader, you have to follow, be an assistant of a leader; when you want to stand up for a philosophy, you have to start as a neophyte learner of such idea.

There were times I would cry at the seeming less commitment of peers, feeling as if I were the only left. Always on the verge of resigning from the various movements I joined. We women were always assigned as secretaries.

Then, I learned to accept. I thought early on NOT to depend on the words and plans of one, but to take things as they come. Invest but also have contingency.

Freelance work worked for me. I could earn from e-mailing material such as editing them. I had control over my time. This I credit to my higher studies. Some don’t know your name, but they value your school.

Do not ask me  about  EJKs or human rights violations (we have seen them too many here in the past century).

It was December when I received a call to serve this administration. I was getting pregnant. But who would not want to contribute to the peace of the Philippines?

This might be our place under the sun, soon I will resign when I have done my part because having a baby is as important a priority.

So take it from me, recommit to the communion of life, serve back your community, for ain’t it wonderful to also die where you planted a legacy. Strange is the same.

On a closing note, thanks for this honor, a dream come true.

Congratulations! Go out into the Filipino sun and make your own sunshines, Sirs and Maams. P.S. Thanks Mussolini Lidasan, Al Qalam  for bringing me here.