2 Moro women among 12 TOWNS awardees

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 12 October) – Two of 12 Filipinos who will be honored as The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) are Moro, both of them Meranaws from Lanao del Sur, both of them peace advocates.

Samira Ali Gutoc will be conferred the TOWNS Award for Peace Advocacy and Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman for Education.

Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman and Samira ALi Gutoc, 2019 TOWNS awardees for Education and Peace Advocacy. Photo by Nina Yuson

At least seven other Mindanawons have been conferred the TOWNS award, two of them Meranaws: Emily Marohombsar for Education in 1977 and Marlene Tamano for Social Work in 1986.

The 2019 TOWNS awards will be given on October 29 at Dusit Makati.

The TOWNS Award is presented every three years by the TOWNS Foundation, Inc. to outstanding Filipino women aged 21 to 50 who have “contributed positively to strengthening national capability and shaping the nation’s future and served as catalysts for economic, social and cultural development, national security and national unity.”

Gutoc, who ran but lost her bid for the Senate in the May 2019 polls, is also one of five alumni of the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communications who will be conferred the Glory Award during the alumni homecoming on November 9 at UP Diliman. The Glory Award is given to alumni “for excellence in their communication discipline and making a significant impact on society through their body of work.” A graduate of AB Journalism, Gutoc is being awarded for Peace Advocacy as well.

Gutoc was among the most vocal young Moro women who pleaded for an end to the Estrada administration’s “all out war” in 2000 and has represented the Young Moro Professionals Network in various conferences in Mindanao, Manila and other parts of the world.

She served as OIC Assemblywoman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao from December 2011 to June 30, 2013, was appointed in February 2017 as Commissioner of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) but resigned in late May 2017 after the Duterte administration launched air strikes in Marawi and President Rodrigo Duterte made a rape joke during a visit to troops in Iligan City on May 26, three days after the Marawi Siege began and three days after Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao.

Samira was the lone Meranaw who stood before a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate on July 22, 2017 when it was deliberating the extension of martial law in Mindanao, appealing on behalf of the nearly 400,000 persons displaced from Marawi City.

“I am from Marawi City, Your Honors. Please ask us, what do we feel? Please ask us, how do we, how do we stand up and arise? Twenty bodies are in Capin Funeral (Homes in Iligan City). One hundred days, or almost 60 days, not buried.
What if it was your grandfather na hindi po nilibing? Sa Islam one day lang po, hindi pwede, bawal sa Islam, the highest form of prohibition and taboo. Sorry Senate President, hindi po pwedeng iwanan na hindi buried ang katawan Sir Ano (then AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Ano) … because this is a war. Of course it’s national security but every five days, Senate President, Ma’am Senator, our rescue volunteers bury a baby. Nanigas daw ang isang baby sa Iligan hospital,” Gutoc said.

At the press conference on Thursday, Gutoc said she was accepting the award on behalf of the internally displaced persons of Marawi and from Marawi, particularly citing Fatimah Lomibao who lost four of her eight children during the siege.

Usman is the founder of the Teach Peace Build Peace Movement (TPBPM) that aims to “make every Filipino Child & Youth a Peace Hero, as an effort to develop a sustainable culture of peace for generations to come.”

Ten of 12 TOWNS awardees during the press conference on Thursday, October 10, 2019 at Dusit Thani in Makati. Mindanawons Samira Gutoc (second from left, front row, and Bai Rohaniza SUmndad-Usman (right, second row) are among the awardees. Photo by Nina Yuson

In 2016, Usman was named youth sector representative to the Multi-Sectoral Citizens’ Peace Council to review the Bangsamoro Basic Law and came up with recommendations where she focused on Social Justice. She was also one of the chosen 15 pillars of the Philippines’ Climate Action Campaign: #NowPh where gave emphasis on one’s role in Environmental Peace Building.

Rohaniza’s peace advocacy has also expanded to Fashion. She launched in 2010 “Rohaniza’s Hijab and Msulima Style” to showcase her efforts as a hijab (veil/head cover) stylist as well as modest clothes.

Usman is the first Filipino to receive an award from a Qatar-based DOHA International Center for Interfaith Dialogue that seeks to improve interfaith understanding and religious tolerance. She was also conferred the 2013 “Emerging Peace Champion” Award from the N-Peace Network organized by the United Nations Development Program, and has received several other awards as well for her peace advocacy.

Usman at the press conference said she was receiving the award on behalf of “every child who fears the sound of war… for every child who fears the feeling of being bullied, judged and unaccepted ,,, for every struggle of a Filipino Child — Muslim, Christian and Indigenous Person whose stories range from experiencing armed conflict, discrimination, unacceptance, neglect and victimized by violent ideologies.”

She said it was also for “every peace education believer, advocate and champion as we dramatically transform the concept of a Culture of Peace as an inherent way of life and as the core of humanity to address the underlying factors of conflict and violence.”

Other awardees

The 10 other winners of the TOWNS awards are ABS-CBN reporter Chiara Zambrano for Journalism, Gay Jane Perez and Ma. Regina Justina Estuar for Science and Technology, Stephanie Sy for Tech-Entrepreneurship, Xyza Bacani for Humanities, Carmina Bayombong for Entrepreneurship, Karla Patricia Gutierrez for Performing Arts, Geraldine Zamora for Health, Clarissa Isabel Delgado for Education and Patricia Ann Prodigalidad for Law.

According to the TOWNS Foundation, its awardees are “true role models for Filipino women and girls who wish to dedicate themselves to nation-building.”

A total of 166 women have been awarded by TOWNS since 1974.

A search in the TOWNS website shows at least seven other Mindanawon awardees, two of them also Meranaws: Emily Marohombsar for Education in 1977 and Marlene H. Tamano for Social Work in 1986.

Marohombsar, who eventually became the first woman President of the Mindanao State University System and a member of the government peace panel that negotiated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the early years of the GPH-MILF peace negotiations, was the first Mindanawon to have been conferred the TOWNS Award.

Aside from Marohombsar and Tamano, these are the other Mindanawon TOWNS awardees: Evelyn A. Magno of Davao City, for Education in 1983; Arlene Javellana Bag-ao of Dinagat for Law in 2010; Noraida Adang Abdullah Karim of Maguindanao for Social Work in 2013; Gemma Teresa T. Narisma of Tagum City for Atmospheric Science in 2013; and Hidilyn F. Diaz of Zamboanga City for Sports in 2016. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)