PRIVILEGE SPEECH: Let us not miss this opportunity, probably the last, to win back our people

(Privilege speech of Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Sitti Djalia A. Turabin-Hataman delivered at the House of Representatives on Monday, 02 October 2017)

Madam Speaker, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi taala wabarakatuhu. Isang mapagpalayang hapon po sa ating lahat.

My sincerest gratitude for this opportunity to once again, and for the last time address this august chamber, and for all the opportunities this revered halls echoed this small voice from the islands and the seas of our homeland

This was no easy decision, and perhaps the craziest I’ve done so far. But those who know me, and know my soul, have long suspected I was longing to be back home. I have always been a community worker, before I became part of government as Executive Director of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos. In 2013 I was given the trust by Anak Mindanao to be its first nominee, and eventually the honor of being AMIN’s representative in the 16th Congress and in the 17th Congress before today. I pray that in the four years I served Anak Mindanao as its voice in the House of Representatives, I have returned this honor. Apart from our second nominee and now Rep. Makmod Mending Jr., it is also with strong conviction in her capacity and commitment that I entrust Anak Mindanao to our 3rd nominee, Ms. Amihilda Sangcopan, a friend, a comrade, Anak Mindanao sa Kongreso’s Chief of Staff from the 12th to the 14th Congress. I leave them at the helm of our priority bills which include the Bill against Discrimination on account of ethnicity and religious belief; the Islamic Banking Bill, the Bill for the Establishment of the Institute of Sulu and Mindanao Traditional Arts and the National Hijab Day which was just passed by the Committee on Muslim Affairs.

Being a member of the House of Representatives is indeed a great honor, to be the people’s voice, to be their representative, to decide and cast a vote for and in their behalf, on policies and laws that affect their lives, from conception to death. To run this government and determine this country’s future, to build the foundations upon which this nation’s tomorrow shall stand, and create a path unto which the children of this nation, our own children, shall take their journey. The very thought of this great responsibility overwhelms me, it scares me. As a struggling Muslim, I fear being made accountable in the next life of the trust given to me by the people, when I cannot even begin to imagine how I shall account for my own weaknesses. But with the guidance and hard work of all Anak Mindanao members and partners, from our AMIN sa Kongreso staff, to our AMIN volunteers in the communities, to those who continue to believe in us, who kept reminding us of the more than 700 thousand who voted and therefore trusted us, this representation held on.

Being a member of the House of Representatives is no comfortable task. Not when you have your own persuasions too, which do not always align with the people you claim to represent. Not when you know the complexities of government bureaucracy that are impossible to reform overnight, and you also know how greatly they contribute to the worse realities of our people on the ground. Not when you pour your soul out to champion a cause you believe in but you are judged by what they perceive to be your political agenda.

But despite all these, I do not regret a single moment I was Anak Mindanao’s Representative. I shall hold it one of my greatest blessings, perhaps a destiny I was meant to fulfill. The knowledge, wisdom and competencies I gained as a member of this House; the brilliance and commitment of fellow legislators unfortunately seldom seen by the public, as the most productive hard work happens in Committee meetings which, unless controversial, do not make it to the headlines; the doors of opportunities it opened not just for myself but for every deserving individual and cause; the people I met and whose friendships I shall value my whole life, all these I will carry with me beyond the walls of Congress.

All these I shall bring with me when I go back to my people, not as their Representative, but as one of them. Some of those who knew my decision said I can always go back, we are only required to be here on specific days. But going back does not only mean being with them physically. It also means, for me, being heard when I speak, not as a person of influence or power, but as me. It also means, being spoken to without the barrier of a title or a position, just me. Our sad reality today is that many can no longer see beyond titles and positions. May we realize that these are not the goals, but are mere platforms and opportunities, ways on how to fulfill a greater calling in life, and for me as a Muslim, as a path to gain a better life in the hereafter in shaa Allah. Whatever title or position or status we have, when it no longer serves that purpose, becomes meaningless. There is no higher office or lower rank, what matters is where and how you can serve best. This is a reminder foremost to myself.

This realization became strongly evident when Marawi happened. I am not from the city, but the impact of what happened brought me to so many questions and self-reflections, thoughts of where I am and where I am most needed, most effective. Although there are many factors coming together that led to the incident, it is a known fact that our people’s, particularly our youth’s frustrations over the seeming loss of our struggles, the imminent failure to realize our aspirations, became a vulnerable sentiment used by these groups to their advantage. As member of this House in the 16th Congress, I, along with some fellow Moro legislators did not fail in saying this. When Marawi happened, especially when I heard how young some of the members of this group were, 10, 12, 15, I can only ask myself, where did we fail? When and how did we lose them? Had I remained in the communities, as one of them, and spoke to them of peace, perhaps I could have convinced a child or two that it is possible. We often speak of winning hearts and minds. The fight is no longer anywhere but in our very communities and homes, the hearts and minds we so desperately need to win over are not anyone else’s but the hearts and minds of our own children.

But as I go back, I make this last plea, to all of you, honorable members of this most august chamber. There is another opportunity for you. I am grateful to Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sema for allowing me to co-author the Bangsamoro Basic Law drafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, my last act as member of the House of Representatives. I leave appealing to your compassion and discernment, with hope in our leaders, and faith in the President to make true his vow to pass the BBL. I appeal to you, we may be a little too late, as we all know now, but please let us not miss this opportunity, probably the last, to win back our people. As I go back, may this be a gift I can offer them from you, not a gift as a token of benevolence, but a gift we truly deserve, not just from the House of Representatives, not just from this administration, but from the Filipino people.

And to all those who believed and journeyed with me, who lent me their voices so I may speak in their behalf, know that I have given my all to be a worthy echo of your beautiful voices. I leave not to be silent, but just as I spoke all these years to magnify your own, I pray that you welcome me back and allow my voice to be one with yours, where it has always belonged.

Lastly, in these most challenging times we face as a nation, and as a former member of this honored House, I pray for our strength and guidance, for lights in our hearts, as individual members and as an institution, an institution that is a pillar of our democracy, a sail that sets the course of our country’s voyage. May we find the courage to overcome that which rifts us apart, and the compassion to rise above whatever barrier has been built among us, including those we ourselves built. For while it is the very nature of this institution in the performance of her mandate to always divide the House, it is our greater accountability to keep this nation and the people, whole.

Maraming salamat po. Wassalam.