Fatima Pir Tillah Allian loves to talk about journeys. Her journey as a Moro woman, the journey of her generation, the journey of the Moro people in asserting their right to self determination, the journey to peace.
She was five months old during the “Jolo-caust” (a term Tausug writer Said Sadain used to describe the burning of Jolo on February 7, 1974), too young to have memories of the terror that her family went through (they all survived). But like thousands of other families, they fled Jolo, and hers moved to Siasi (also in Sulu).
The family moved to Manila when she was five years old and there she got bullied and discriminated upon but survived that difficult phase when her parents advised her to “elevate the discourse” by studying well and showing her classmates “na hindi lahat ng Bangsamoro o Muslim katulad ng nasa isip nila.”
While in Manila, Fatima tried the corporate world but did not think it was for her. She eventually returned to her roots, taught at the Western Mindanao State University and at present is the program manager of the Nisa Ul Haqq Fi Bangsamoro (Women for Truth and Justice in the Bangsamoro).
That she would be working for peace does not surprise anyone who meets Fatima, who was born Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace. She was still in her mother’s womb when an uncle who had just come from Palestine visited her mom and told her how people there would say “Shalom” as a greeting of peace.
“Mamang decided that if she will have a baby girl as her fourth child she will name her Shalom.” Her mom did name her Shalom but it was changed to Fatima when she performed her Umrah at age nine. Call her Fatima, call her Shalom, she responds to both. This interview was conducted at the end of a conference at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City.
Q. It’s been 40 years since the signing of the ‘mother agreement’ which is the Tripoli Agreement of 1976. Forty years last December 23, 1976 and 20 years after the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement and we have not seen the full implementation of that agreement. You’re 43, you were just a baby when the Tripoli Agreement was signed.
A. I was just a baby. (During) the burning of Jolo in 1974, I was five months old.
Q. You were in Jolo?
A. Yeah.. Survived. The whole family
Q. So you practically grew up in an atmosphere of conflict?
A. Yes practically. And migrated to Metro Manila where I have been bullied by some classmates because they say “oh so what’s your name?” and I’d say “Fatima.” (They’d say) “oh that’s a Christian name” and I got a little bit confused and I said “No, but that’s a Muslim name.”
“No, it’s a Christian name” and then they say “oh so you’re a Muslim?” and I say “yes” — in high school ha all the way to college yan ha — and then they say “but you don’t look like one.” And I say “so what should a Muslim look like?”
Later on in College, they’d say “oh you know how to speak in English and
marunong kang mag Tagalog?” and then I say opo with a I smile and they say “Ahh, pero Muslim ka.”
So I grew up with that kind of atmosphere, sugar-coated discrimination from time to time.
Q. Are you still asked that same question now?
A. Yeah and … sabi ko nga… ‘I think 2017 na mga Ate, mga Kuya magbasa naman kayo.’ But not as frequent like before … so para bang they look up to the Bangsamoro as somebody na hindi marunong mag-English, hindi nakapag-aral…. lahat ng negative na traits ng isang tao
Q. Did did this experience of being bullied lead you to become a peace worker?
A. Nong maliit ako hindi pa syempre. Maliit ka, nawala ka sa iyong roots … which is Sulu … medyo pagdating mo sa Manila… Nagtatanong ka na, ‘sino ba ako, bakit ang daming nagsasabi na ang pangalan ko ay hindi akin, na it’s a Catholic name or Muslim name pero Muslim ako.’ To the point na lumaki ka na lahat ng nasa news ay hindi maganda tungkol sa iyong identity. May konting discomfort and questions na para bang, bakit ganon ang paningin nila sa amin? Bakit hindi ma-elevate man lang, na parehong tao tayo?..
Kailangan mag strive para gumanda naman hindi lang yung paniningin kundi pananaw mo rin sa ibang tao kasi kung hindi maganda ang pananaw sa ibang tao, magiging bitter ka. Ayoko namang maging ampalaya mode forever. So sabi nga ng parents ko… ‘it’s time to elevate the discourse, mag-aral ka nang maigi anak at ipakita mo sa kanila na hindi lahat ng Bangsamoro o Muslim katulad ng nasa isip nila.’
Q. So that’s what you did?
A. That’s what we did.. Nakapagtapos kami… Ngayon, bakit ako nakapasok sa ganitong adbokasiya? Kasi ang paniniwala ko talaga, walang tutulong sa amin kundi ang sarili namin so para ma-elevate ang diskurso, kailangan ang Bangsamnoro ay mas maging aktibo sapagkat ang boses ng Bangsamoro ay mas maganda dalhin ng kapwa niyang Bangsamoro.
Ang pangit kasing tingnan kung yung ibang tao ang papasok at magdidikta sa amin so dapat manggaling sa amin yun. It’s a homegrown idea, it’s a homegrown taste, it’s a homegrown culture na walang magsasabi sa amin na, ‘ay di ka Bangsamoro.’ Pwede naming sabihing ‘ikaw ang hindi Bangsamoro kasi hindi mo alam ang right to self determination.’
Q. That based on the term itself, it should be the Moro that will determine it and not others.
A. Our journey — where will we go after this — kung magalit kami, kung masaktan kami, at least galing sa amin, not because may gumawa na ibang tao na pumasok sa aming bakuran. It should come from us.
Q. Forty years after the signing of the peace agreement that should have actually ended the conflict and resolved the Bangsamoro question, we’re still trying to resolve that and many Moro leaders are saying that there is no better time than now under the Duterte administration. Do you share that view that the Moro’s last card is the Duterte administration?
A. Ako hindi ko tinitignan dahil siya ay taga Mindanao. Wala yun sa aking compass, in terms of gauging kung okay ba ang pag-uusapan ngayon o hindi. Ang tinitingnan ko ay ang healthy conversations between the two rebel fronts and I think it’s the right time – kadar — it’s fate. It’s the right time na ang two rebel fronts ay mag-usap. It’s also I think the right time, hopefully, Inshallah that the CSO na non-MILF, non-MNLF are coming together for the first time. That did not happen the longest time dahil noong GPH-MNLF hindi masyadong maganda yung space for CSOs noong time na yun to talk because that was martial law, right? Ngayon is the time na makikita mo iba-iba klaseng tao, professionals coming from different parts of the Bangsamoro coming together for the first time and then valuing, to me, very appreciative ako doon sa valuing and understanding the two signed peace agreements and then saying, meron tayo dito o nakaka-identify ako dito, that’s what right to self determination is all about, kasi we can identify in the Moro signed peace agreements and we can see the blood … the tears and the sweat of our forefathers and our foremothers. Hindi lang lalaki…
Q. Of course.
A… may mga babae. Nakikita mo rin yung continuing journey ng babae at ng lalaki, mga bata, millenials… very, very young at heart in their 40s and in their 50s. Kami yung mga bagets at yung mga very young, coming together and saying, ‘pwede pa, pwede pa.’ When we say pwede pa, pwede pang mag-engage sa kanila. pwede pa tayong mag-contribute. So yun ang maganda na feeling na there is somehow hope, at least in the conversations.
If for example, God forbid, hindi makapasa ang CAB-based BBL (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro-based Bangsamoro Basic Law) kasi ang usapin ay federalism, pwede namin sabihin, ‘well the CAB-BBL actually is a prototype of federalism assymetric in form.’ Pag sabihin pa rin nila, pag kunwari hindi makapasa, we can still hold on to the sisterhood and brotherhood because RSD (right to self-determination) is still very much alive and RSD is trickling down to the young ones. We try our very best to revive the Bangsamoro history para hindi makalimutan because that is our common story and common journey.
Q. But of course you also know that the TJRC (Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission) submitted its report but nothing has been done so far by both the Aquino and Duterte administrations in terms of acting on the recommendations.
A. Ang hinihintay lang naman natin ay yung EO (Executive Order) in setting up the National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro. Pag meron na noon, malamang pwede nang mag-umpisa. Habang wala pa noon, pwede naman kaming mangulit sa gobyerno at sabihing ‘naku baka pwede na po natin itong umpisahan?’ Noong may mga several occasions na kung saan na mention na ito ni Ms Inday Santiago na meron na, hopefully ilalabas na (EO) kasi marami nang excited sa NTRJCB at marami ang tutulong sa gobyerno at sa MILF
Q. That’s an August promise pa.
A. Mangulit tayo… Sana 2017 lumabas.
Q. Masyado … kang optimistic..
A. Kailangan eh. .. It’s not just being optimistic kasi medyo may pagka nega pag optimistic yung ating hopes, medyo tumataas na yung reality naman ay hindi naman ganon, hindi sila nagme-meet. But I think it’s more on the drive to get things done while we still have the energy, while the mujahideens noong 1960s and 1970s ay nandyan pa kasi pakonti na nang pakonti. We just want to set this certain bar, not too high, not too low (but) somewhere in the middle, and say na gising na tayo ba, o magising tayo bukas kasi kailangan nating magising ngayon. Kasi ang reality pag wala na ang MN at MI, sinong magiging leader ng Bangsamoro? Baka mawala yung RSD? Kaya medyo may konting pagmadali sa mga proseso like the NTJRCB has to be set up so that we can continue working at marami pa tayong ma-engage na ibang tao.
Q. But the observations, criticisms actually of some sectors is that largely ang RSD ng Bangsamoro naka hinge doon sa armadong pakikibaka. RSD is not just about armed
A. Ang pananaw ng iba sa amin at isa na ako doon, ay ang RSD ay hindi lang doon sa Jihad namin kumbaga, hindi lang doon sa pakikibaka sa bundok na may dala-dala kang armas. Ang pakikibaka, ang RSD at ang Jihad namin ngayon ay the minds and the hearts kasi iba na yung call and you should not give that only to the men but the women should come into play because marami din kaming pwedeng sabihin, marami kaming pwedeng i-contribute. Ang perspective ng kabababihan ay napakaimportante sa anumang negosasyon.
Pangalawa, napaka-importante noon kasi may mga bata na pumapasok, very, very young women and men who can contribute also to the realities nila ngayon. Kasi yung realities namin naiiba sa reality nila ngayon. They are also navigating their own journey pero ang kagandahan doon ay dapat nandoon nakakumpas sa RSD, hindi siya naiiba pareho lang. Masakit, kasi kahit papaano may diskriminasyon na dati kong naranasan ay nararanasan ng iba. Ang kagandahan lang ang RSD ay buo at ang RSD ng Bangsamoro is very much alive and .. we are hoping na hindi siya mawala
Q. Speaking of hope, we also know the problem of least two major fronts MILF and MNLF and while the MNLF under Sema, now Jikiri, is with the MILF now, there is still Nur Misuari and … at least on the part of Nur, Nur thinks the MILF and the MNLF Sema group are traitors. And here we are, you have two peace agreements that appear to be on parallel tracks. Ito yung sinasabi na problema na parallel lines do not meet. So how do you harmonize peace agreements that are actually similar but, in terms of process, iba
A. Na-mention yung Dushanbe agreement nung dalawa nating elders na the MILF and the MNLF ay nagkaisa at nag-sign nang agreement na kung saan, anything for the good for the Bangsamoro ay magkaisa kami at doon ang singil namin sa kanila, ‘because you have signed this agreement, then therefore dapat makinig kayo sa amin…. pwede bang mag-usap kayo and then pag kunwari hindi pa rin, sisingilin pa rin namin sila because that agreement is very important and is very much alive. In fact sa usapin nga namin, and sabi ni Bong Parcasio ng MNLF, the Dushanbe agreement is ‘very, very alive.’ Yun ang kagandahan doon.
(Note from MindaNews: Then Secretary General, Prof. Ekemelddin Ihsanoglu, initiated the talks between the MNLF and MILF in a meeting he hosted for MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on May 18, 2010 in Dushanbe, Republic of Tajikistan. In that meeting, both agreed that unity is indispensable to the success of the Bangsamoro struggle and that there are no basic differences between their Fronts as both are seeking to achieve peace, justice and a fair solution to the problems of the Bangsamoro people)
Q. Are they listening to civil society? Both fronts?
A. Sa palagay ko, kasi the fact na nandito sila, kasama natin sila sa ganitong klaseng pagpupulong at hindi lang ito first time I think it’s the third time, fourth time at nag e-engage naman in fairness ang iba, nakikipag-usap naman so may openness to listen to us. After all, bakit nila kino-continue ang ginagawa nila? It’s not because they just want to do it. What they would see, may mga bata pa pala dito, ito palang Bangsamoro homeland, itong mga babae, itong mga lalaki. So they have to listen to us and I think they’re listening to us.
Q. I found it interesting that … mas majority yung under 50 in this group and is a very mixed group. Merong from the revolutionary fronts, merong CSO, merong
A. Academe, LGUs
Q. Sa tingin mo, itong ganitong proseso magandang sundan?
A. Oo naman kasi makikita mo, as I’ve said, we go back to RSD. Yun naman ang core ng Bangsamoro struggle. Ang RSD is very much alive sa aming lahat regardless ikaw ba ay sa korte na lawyer, regardless ikaw ba ay CSO katulad namin na ang aming buhay ay nasa grassroots, regardless ikaw ay teacher kasi may mga iba sa academe, regardless ikaw ay business person, etc.. etc… Ang kagandahan dito sa ganitong grupo ay number one, importante yung pag-uusap pero ang pag-uusap namin ay hindi pagpagulo eh. Ang pag-uusap namin ay paano ba tayo makatulong sa proseso ng MNLF and MILF and that to me I think is the most excellent way of doing it. Hindi mo guguluhin ang proseso pero tutulong ka, thinking out sa loob ng box and say ito pala ang chart na gusto nilang puntahan…. and I think that’s a very healthy way of looking at things that we think beyod ourselves, our organizations. We think really para sa Bangsamoro homeland
Q. Pero dito minority pa rin ang women so parang limited pa rin yung voices na naririnig and these are very important voices. Ano ba ang tingin mo sa role ng Bangsamoro women dito sa struggle for self determination ng Bangsamoro? Mas nakakaangat na ba siya kaysa sa noon?
A. Siguro kasi kung titingnan natin… even prior to the BTC may mga legal advisers sila na mga babae sina Raissa Jajurie. After that, nag-BTC, may mga babae na nakapasok. Ang mga CSOs na mga kababaihan, nag-submit ng recommendations na kung saan nakapasok nga siya sa GAD budgeting .. pag dating sa parliamentary, importante ang boses ng kababaihan. Maybe hindi kami ganon ka visible as compared sa dami ng lalaki na pumupunta sa meetings, sa dami ng mga babaeng nakaka-engage, tama ka konti pa lang ang mga kababaihan but it doesn’t mean na hindi pa rin pwedeng mag engage ang mga babae sa level na ito, like attending meetings. Another level would be women who are at the grassroots level can actually, kung na-activate sila, meaning if there are empowering mechanism na kung saan hindi sila makakaligtaan, hindi lang ng fronts, hindi sila makakaligtaan ng NGOs, hindi rin sila makakaligtaan ng gobyerno, magiging importante silang boses para sa ganitong klaseng negosasyon.
Tama, konti lang kami. We need to strive hard to get more women and I think we’re getting there somehow kasi dati wala ka naman makita ni isa. Ngayon you have two, you have five, you have 10 and that’s a good number but we’re not saying that we’ll just be 10. Malay mo next time there can be another two, there can be another five, there can be another 10. Birthing pains pa yun eh, yung mga paglabas-labas ng mga kababaihan. Siguro patience, I think, because may hugot … being a survivor of so many conflicts. Patience siguro kasi naiintindihan namin yung RSD is not an overnight thing. Patience kasi having a good kind of law passed for the Bangsamoro will not be done in one Congress year or two or three. Patience because nakita mo yung struggle ng Bangsamoro, ng family mo. It took years and years and years to cultivate better relationship with other people who look at us like we are less than them. Patience because you have to earn a certain degree of knowledge for you to understand the history of the Bangsamoro.
Q. You could have chosen another life… you were already in Manila.
A. My heart, my blood, my veins would always say ‘balik ka na ng Bangsamoro homeland.’ It’s a conscious effort. And I think pag ako ay nasa isang korporasyon, hindi ako happy.
Q. Did you work in a corporation before?
A. Yeah, yung mga small na mga PR firm but I was not happy. I was happy when I got out of Metro Manila and I when I came back to my roots. |
Q. Which was when?
A. Back in my early 20s I came back and then in my late 20s .. to teach in WMSU (Western Mindanao State University) for four years. Sabi ko hindi ako sanay sa isang room lang. I wanted to go out because I wanted to learn more and then what I realized was I have to learn more about the Bangsamoro history because pag nasa Metro Manila ka, nakakalimutan mo nang konti kung saan ka ba nanggaling.
As I’ve said, ang dami-daming tanong so when I started doing NGO work and I am almost like, ‘what took me so long to realize how beautiful the Bangsamoro homeland is?’ and then sabi ko ‘how beautiful the narratives are and there are very few people who are able to express it well because sabi ko nga ‘bakit ba nahihirapan sila’ and then I realize kasi mahirap pala magsabi ng narratives ng iba kung hindi ikaw mismo ang magsasabi and that’s (why) I’m continuing this journey. Pa iba-iba nga lang but it’s a beautiful journey. Pumuputi ang buhok but who cares (laughs).
[Peace Talk is a series of conversations on the Bangsamoro Peace Process with leaders from civil society, government and revolutionary fronts. Interviews with residents in conflict-affected areas in the Bangsamoro are in multimedia format]