CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/27 July) — Unmindful of the presence of at least 50 journalists, a little girl in red shirt printed with the message “You’ve got to give it some love,” darted across the Central Committee Convention Hall and onstage where Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim was discussing the state of the peace process in a dialogue with media moderated by Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando B. Quevedo on Saturday afternoon.
Who was this child holding a blue stuffed toy whom the MILF chair’s close-in security personnel tried but failed to prevent from moving towards him?
TV 5 presenter Ed Lingao, who was seated near the side door leading to the stage wondered, “what kind of reporter would bring his child to a coverage?”
The girl in red wasn’t a reporter’s child but the eighth of nine grandchildren of Murad, four-year old Sittie Zareenah Ebrahim.
“Very playful girl,” said MindaNews photojournalist Toto Lozano, who was positioned between the main door and the center aisle. Lozano said Zareenah would go in and out of the main door and would run to the back of the hall where she would play with an official of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chair of the government peace panel’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.
Among his nine grandchildren – five girls and four boys with ages between 2 and 17 – the 67-year old Murad admits Zareenah is the one who is “very close to me.”
A member of the MILF peace panel’s technical committee who saw photos of Zareenah and Murad posted by journalists on Facebook wrote that “whenever the grandpa faces the camera during interviews, this cute granddaughter would tell him ‘mag artista ka na naman?’ (you will be an actor again?).
It was the first media appearance of Zareenah with her Baba, the first time, too, that Murad was photographed by the media with one of his grandchildren.
“Baba” is Arabic for father. But Murad’s grandchildren call him “Baba,” he said, because that is how his two sons call him.
Asked by a reporter what his dream is for Zareenah, Murad replied it was his dream for all children in the Bangsamoro “to live a life where they can enjoy their life because alam natin na for us, we have not enjoyed our lives, we have spent our lives in the struggle. More than 40 years we were in the struggle, so the best part of our lives was spent on the struggle so we do not want that (to happen to) our kids.”
In a February 2013 interview, Murad told MindaNews that while he had a lot of explaining to do about their new relationship with the Philippine government (GPH) — from adversaries to partners — having signed the Framework of Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) on October 15, 2012, what he found to be the most difficult to explain to were his (then) six grandchildren.
He recalled in that interview that when he went to Malacanang to witness the signing of the FAB, his grandchildren, especially the younger ones, asked him, “Di ba, Baba, kalaban natin ang gobyerno? Bakit ngayon magkaibigan na tayo?” (Baba, isn’t the government our enemy? Why are we friends with it now?)
Murad said he told them “hindi naman yung gobyerno na mismo ang kalaban natin. meron lang tayong gustong kunin sa kanila … (It is not the government itself that we are fighting. We just want to claim something from government …)”
“It takes lots of explanation.. kasi sila mismo were surprised kasi kalaban” [because they themselves were surprised because (government was) enemy], Murad said.
The President’s visit to launch the socio-economic initiative, Sajahatra Bangsamoro (Peace Bangsamoro), on February 11, 2013 again drew questions from Murad’s grandchildren.
He said the most inquisitive was his (then) second to the youngest grandson who was eight years old.
The boy, he said, asked him “Ano ba yan si PNoy (Presidential nickname of Benigno Simeon Aquino III), kakampi ba natin yan or kalaban?” (What is PNoy? Is he our ally or our enemy?)
Murad admitted it was “quite difficult” to explain to them “na hindi tao ang kalaban natin” (that our enemy is not the person).
The mere mention of his grandchildren quickly lightens up Murad’s face.
When MindaNews asked about his grandchildren in an interview in September 2011, a month after Murad’s first meeting with President Aquino in Japan, the peace process was 14 years old, while his eldest grandchild was 12 and the youngest was 3.
In that interview, MindaNews asked if his grandchildren asked him about the Bangsamoro that they were proposing to government.
“Well, the elder ones asked but the younger ones cannot comprehend,” he replied.
Did his grandchildren ask what they were negotiating for? “Yeah. The elder ones, every time when I’m with my children, usually they are very curious kung anong nangyayari (about what is happening) and of course they have seen me on TV. Nagiging curious sila” (They become curious),” he said.
He said he explained to them “in a very simple way” that “we have to do this struggle not for us but for them, for their future.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)