Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Moro CSOs craft Bangsamoro agenda

(This article had been edited thus it varied from the original piece.)

Over one hundred Moro civil society organizations (CSOs) gathered for the Bangsamoro National Congress on the Right to Self Determination in Davao City from August 15 to 16, and crafted a comprehensive Bangsamoro development agenda.

The written agenda was crafted containing the unified hope of the Moro people in the country. This document has been planned to be included in the matters to be discussed in the forthcoming peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society chair Guiamel Alim said.

The Congress dubbed “Renewed Consensus and Solidarity Towards the Attainment of the Bangsamoro’s Self-Determinaton” collected 100 CSO representatives in the country.

Alim said the agenda consist of 13 themes comprising issues the Moro people want covered by the peace negotiations. The issues include women and children, social services and health, land tenure, environment, economic development, education, youth, peace and security, relationship with non-Moros, human rights, culture, and political system, Alim said.

Alim also said that the Moro CSO wants to be part of the peace talks, which will define what is the future of the Moro government.

“Alam ho namin na ang (MILF) ay ginagawa na nila yung mga paraan para magkasundo sa gobyerno upang ma-define ang political status ng Bangsamoro. Whether ito man ay autonomy or federal yan po ay ipipresent na,” Alim said.

After constituting the agenda, Alim said the CSO will lobby it to the government. “I-aadvocate ito ng Congress for constituent building. This document will serve as a political agreement na it will serve the purpose of everyone.”

“Alam ko po na may mga reaction na naririnig lang ang ‘Bangsamoro’ eh natatakot na. Yan ho ay hindi po dapat mangyari. Ang Bangsamoro po ay katulad rin ng bawat Pilipino. At sila po ay magiging tunay na Pilipino kung sila ay mabibigyan ng maayos na karapatan,” Alim said.

“The right to self-determination does not only cover the right of the people to determine their political status, but also the right to freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development,” Alim said in vernacular.

He said Bangsamoro people also ask the peace panel to reconsider the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which the Supreme Court discarded in October last year for purportedly being unconstitutional.

Another aspiration is that they opt for the MOA-AD to establish a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity as an alternative to an independent Islamic State for the Bangsamoro People, Alim said.

Mindanao State University of Marawi City professor Dr. Sukarno Tanggol said in a discussion that the Moro do not know where to turn to in case of judiciary matters.

“Hindi natin alam saan lalapit. Wala tayong sistema. Kaya naiisip ko na kailangan nating gumawa ng paraan para ang mga anak natin hindi na mahihirapan,” he said. (from JCZ/ Sun.Star Davao)

The Logic Behind Bombings

By Mike G. Kulat

The spate of bombings in the country could be considered as a perennial dilemma that has already claimed unaccounted number of innocent civilian lives and wounded more on various degrees. Despite its protracted and continued existence, the authorities have time and again announced to the public that in certain future time explosion will take place then and there. A prediction or intelligence report, that in many instances it became a reality but sometimes not.

The oft-repeated uproar of the authorities before any bomb rampage goes wild is typically echoed by the Chief of Intelligence of 6th Infantry Division quoted by MindaNews in its July 4, 2009 issue which says:“Expect more IED attacks in the coming days for as long as punitive action continues”. This statement from authorities was made before the Manila-based participants to the State of the Bakwits joint coverage on June 30 at the Estosan Garden Hotel barely four days before series of explosion went-off in Cotabato City, Iligan and Jolo on July 4 – 7, 2009.

The irony is if these authorities know in advance the areas potential for future explosions and period then why can’t they prevent or apprehend the perpetrators? The painful truth is that there were many innocent civilians who had been victims of this evil acts and there are equally numerous prey of man-hunt on alleged “bombers” by duly constituted authorities.

The recent disclosure of “whistle-blower” Sgt Vidal Doble could be a potent clue on the real perpetrators of these heinous crimes that victimizes innocent civilians. Sgt Doble had been quoted by Tribune in its July 2, 2009 issue two days before series of blasts in Mindanao saying: “That has been done in the past, just so they (the government) can create a scenario of civil unrest and justify the presence of the military. And if there will be chaos in the streets, this will pave the way for the declaration of state of emergency,” revealed in a chance interview with reporters at the Senate.

This was further corroborated by former Lower House Speaker Jose De Venecia quoted at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Agence France-Presse to have told reporters that: “the rash of bombings was carried out by “nonterrorists” and could be part of a plan to declare martial law.”

Linking this exposure to an incident years back, Lt. Senior Grade and now Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and his comrades in their testimonies after the infamous “Oakwood Mutiny” expressed same revelation that they were ordered by their “higher Commander” to undertake “bombings” on churches and Mosques in Davao areas. Trillanes, however clarified that they declined to obey the command but just the same bombs exploded on the above areas but added that it may be executed by other military units.

Could these be the reasons why these horrible acts cannot be contained for so long?

Then the usual occurrence is that the authorities are quick to point accusing fingers even before, an hour or day after each explosion to JI, Abu Sayyaf or the Moro Fronts as the perpetrators. Then, the end results of these are continuing man-hunt operations that victimize naturally the Moros or Muslims without the benefit of impartial and thorough investigation.

This might also be among the rationale when the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID) and the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) stressed in their recent statements that: “It is useless to finger-point based on speculations and hearsay. What all sectors, including the victims of these senseless and criminal acts, are calling for is for the TRUTH to prevail. Thus, the government, through its law enforcement agencies, must work to prove its worth as the government for all citizens, including and especially the weak and the poor.”, and : “Given this situation, MPC posed these questions, “Who is doing this and what are their motives? Is there a grand design that is spinning a desired political scenario? Are we already witnessing before our eyes and at the expanse of our people a build up scenario for 2010?”

A careful scrutiny of occurrence on the ground, the recent bombings in different areas in Central Mindanao alone, to name a few, that in Poblacion Shariff Aguak; Bridge in Lintukan, Datu Piang and the latest in Kitango where scores of people baffled for they were all done in areas that are highly secured or near military controlled areas.

(Mike G. Kulat is the Central Mindanao Cluster Coordinator and concurrent Peacebuilding Program Officer of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society.)


By Mike G. Kulat

Ten civilian evacuees mostly children wounded in an explosion believably from a mortar shell at an evacuation center in Dulangan Abid Primary School of Barangay Makasendeg, Pikt, North Cotabato last Thursday afternoon at around 4:30.

According to the Tiyakap Kalilintad member in the area revealed that, the explosion happened while most of the children were playing at the school playground that resulted to wounding of the following: Sittie Ansa Sumiling 35, Datumama Sumiling 13, Muslimen Gendeng 8, Mahdi Abdul 8, Nasrudin Iskak 5, Alamin Iskak 3, Rehana Iskak 4, Bibay Salapudin 11, Nuraida Ibrahim 13, Datu Ali Dagandang 13.

Yul Olaya, Bantay Ceasefire Coordinator as quoted in GMA News last Thursday said that: “the mortar shell, which dropped and exploded near Makasendig Elementary School in Pikit town at about 5:30 p.m., was fired from the Army’s 54th Infantry Battalion and was intended for Moro rebels.” A statement which was corroborated by civilians in the vicinity of Makasendeg, adding that this was not the first time the same military outfit conducted indiscriminate mortar shelling in different directions exploding around twelve mortar shells a day before the tragic incident.

In related development, Rexall Kaalim a senior official of Bantay Ceasefire, quoted as saying: “This is the first case of violation to the SOMO. We have to investigate this to aid us in drafting and recommending guidelines in ensuring the safety of civilians.”

The military, in an interview with local radio reporters admitted conducting mortar shelling in order to pacify warring armed groups lead by certain Commander Tata allegedly belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and certain Commander Quiapo, leader of Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGU) of Datu Piang.

The following day, interview by local radio station in Cotabato City state that, the military accused the MILF of being responsible of doing the mortar shelling. An accusation quickly denied by the MILF through Ghazali Jaafar, Vice Chairman for Political Affairs saying:”It’s not the work of the MILF to attack civilian populace. How can they attack civilians when most of them are either their relatives or close friends? And what can we gain from bombing the civilians?”

Justice or Peace?

Before the coming of the foreign colonizers the Bangsamoro have already existed as a first nation in the far east. It was in this pre-colonial period that they had freely exercised and enjoyed their right to self-rule. With the vast natural resources of their ancestral homeland (Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan or MINSUPALA), they lived with prosperity, honor and dignity, and peacefully co-existed with their neighboring nations.

However, with the encroachment of Spain and the United States of America, the peaceful and happy life of the Bangsamoro was shattered by wars and conflicts, and they had been pushed against the wall to defend themselves and their homeland. They have become freedom fighters.

Despite the military superiority of their enemies; however, the Bangsamoro had managed to fight gallantly and stand against them. Notwithstanding the imposed colonization of their homeland, they had never been subjugated. They continued to resist against colonialism and their struggle had been carried over up to the post-colonial period.

When Spain ceded to the United States all the territories it occupied by virtue of Treaty of Paris of December 1898, the Bangsamoro protested the inclusion of their homeland that was never conquered. This historical protest was attested by the Dansalan Declaration and the Zamboanga Assembly of Moro Leaders.

The establishment of the Philippine republic in July 1946 had even worsened the Bangsamoro situation. The Philippine government pursued pacification, mainstreaming and integration of the Moro people into the Filipino national body-politics. Several anti-Moro laws had been enacted that paved the way for legalized land grabbing of Moro lands and for diminishing the Moro people as a mere segment of the Philippine society. This had led to their total and continuing political disfranchisement and economic marginalization.

In 1960s, Datu Udtog Matalam, then-governor of the Empire Province of Cotabato, organized the Mindanao Independent Movement (MIM) as a response to the worsening Bangsamoro situation. The MIM however did not last long due to power squabbling by and diversity of perspectives among the Moro traditional political leaders inside the movement.

Later on, Professor Nur Misuari and other noted Mujahideens organized the Moro National liberation Front (MNLF) to rekindle the Bangsamoro struggle to restore their right to self-determination (RSD). But after several years of war, the Philippine government and the MNLF had agreed for the cessation hostilities and had engaged in peace talks. After grappling of contentious issues, they forged various peace accords that ended up with the signing of Final Peace Agreement (FPA) of 1996 by the two parties, and which subsequently gave birth to the so-called Autonomous region for Muslin in Mindanao (ARMM) and its present-day “expanded” version.

Although with limited power, the ARMM had been perceived to be a good takeoff point to push forward the protracted Bangsamoro struggle. However in the process, insincerity and lack of political will by Manila to fully implement the FPA loomed. What MalacaƱang actually tried to resolve through the ARMM is its problem with the Bangsamoro, not the Bangsamoro problem.

This is one of the most compelling reasons why the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) took the cudgel and drove forward to reaffirm the Moro struggle. But like the MNLF experience, they came about with cessation of hostilities and peace talks. And after over a decade of peace negotiation, the GRP-MILF peace panels wrapped up their work with Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral domain (MOA-AD).

Again, with the sincerity and political will of the Philippine government to abide and respect peace agreement put in the bad light, some politicians and groups or entities with vested interests had successfully persuaded the Supreme Court to sabotage the scheduled signing of MOA-AD on August 5, 2008.

This unfortunate development had diametrically opposed the mission of the GRP-MILF peace talks to identify, develop and adopt a viable and relevant formula or solution to restore a just and lasting peace in the Moro homeland-- a mechanism to promote a just and lasting peaceful co-existence between the Bangsamoro and other people in the Moro homeland. The aborted signing of the MOA-AD had brought back Mindanao into a brink of war.

To date, there are more than half a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) who still languish and live under dehumanized condition at various evacuation centers in Mindanao. Apparently, they are just being treated by the government as collateral damage of war and that the violation of their basic human rights is merely considered as a consequence of preserving national security. They all suffer from serious lack of both justice and peace, like the rest of the Bangsamoro people, in their own homeland.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Actress Angel Locsin visits evacuation center in Lanao del Norte

By Amirah Ali Lidasan

Where angels fear to tread, popular actress Angel Locsin came and earned the love and respect of the Moro people. On June 26-27, this year, she visited the evacuation center in war-torn Munai, Lanao del Norte. Since she and her sister already released their official reflections on the visit, I hope my story will help contextualize it.

When Angel’s brother-in-law sent me a text message a month ago, asking me and my organization to assist them in a low-profile exposure trip for Angel to an evacuation center in my province, I was skeptical. How can one hide Angel Locsin from the politicians and military officials who constantly monitored the remaining evacuation centers in Maguindanao?

The route to Datu Piang is probably the most watched highway. There were several reports of soldiers refusing entry to NGOs, media and relief agencies; practically a food and information blockade. Our organization suffered the same harassment from the military when we had a national interfaith humanitarian mission (NIHM) in October last year.

The other option was Munai, the other venue of the interfaith humanitarian mission last year with Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo. I immediately informed the local chapter of Suara Bangsamoro in Iligan City and the Initiaves for Peace in Mindanao to help us.

When I first met Angel during our briefing in a hotel in Cagayan de Oro City, she explained at length why the visit had to be low-key. She wanted to digest the story of the people, wanted to give the ones she would be talking to the impression that she did not go there as a film star but as a person, as a countryman. She did not need to explain. Angel has been known for her women’s rights advocacy.

But of course, our partners in the local government unit would interpret this differently. In Iligan City, we were met by the mayor and his father, the former mayor. We reiterated our request – no media, no military escorts and no broadcast of her presence. But as soon as we got to our car, we saw several pick-up trucks with loads of people with cameras and police escorts who soon became part of our convoy. We took the diversion road that traversed Kauswagan, where a six-by-six truck full of soldiers also joined our convoy.

I was surprised to see the paved road from Kauswagan to Munai. Earlier in Iligan City, the mayor’s father was telling Angel they needed a farm-to-market road that would help bring progress in his town, a way to resolve poverty that had driven people to join the insurgents in Munai. The road was wide and many kilometers long. We passed by military detachments, armored personnel carrier tanks and soldiers along the roadside every after five to ten kilometers.

Why, war has not stopped development in the area! I wondered if the construction started during the war, and if foreign donors like the USAID (United States Assistance for International Development), which has been implementing the Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) was responsible. No politician or local government agency would release millions of pesos for a road that thick.

When we got to the municipal hall in barangay Tabuk, where since last year the mayor placed all the displaced person in Munai and Kauswagan, the municipal hall was jampacked with people and school children holding streamers to welcome Angel. So, went Angel’s low-key visit.

Inside the mayor’s office, the young politician asked why, of all places, Angel chose his municipality to visit. Previously we briefed Angel that among the five provinces affected by the war last year, Lanao del Norte was probably the most controversial one. There was a public outcry against Commander Bravo upon suspicion that he ordered members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to burn civilian villages. The suspicion was fueled by national and local politicians who distributed firearms to Christian residents.

I guess the mayor did not fully understand that if Angel had visited Munai as an actress, he would have had to pay her millions of pesos to be able to give in to his request. The mayor’s father had prepared a program for Angel, and set up a stage at the multipurpose hall for it. Angel had to give in to that request, in exchange for a closed-door interview with the victims at the evacuation center.

Angel barely had time to interview health and education officers at the mayor’s office. People were pouring in at the tiny mayor’s office at the behest of the mayor’s aunt who was never contented with one shot taken with Angel. Angel only learned that out of the 11,000 population, two thousand children got sick with measles, pneumonia and other common diseases after being camped for a long time in a classroom and bunk houses. There were 50 cases of children afflicted with measles and an unaccounted number of deaths due to diseases.

Angel finally relaxed when she was inside the bunkhouse talking to a family from barangay Ramain, one of the 26 villages affected by the war. With three young women volunteers from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), she pieced together the incident last year. Her personal thoughts in her blog reflected mostly her conversation with Sultan Diyadapon Bayabao, who told her how hard it was to go back to Ramain to farm because of the military presence in the area. The mayor placed all evacuees in front of his municipal hall, a kilometer away from an infantry battalion tasked to ferret Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces out of Munai.

While Angel was talking with the victims, youths were distributing blankets to the evacuees, a personal gift from Angel. The volunteers mainly came from youth groups in Iligan such as the League of Filipino Students, Liga ng Kabataang Moro, Anakbayan, the local chapters of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) and STAND-MSU-IIT.

Angel also provided lugaw for the evacuees. She wanted to personally distribute the gifts and join in the parlor games for kids but the presence of so many people prevented her from going out of the bunkhouse.

At two in the afternoon, Angel had to say goodbye to the people of Munai. We did not inform all our escorts of our next stop. We wanted to provide Angel a complete picture of the struggle of Moro farmers and residents in Lanao del Norte, so, we took her to the home of Sultan Macasalong Sarip in Iligan City. Sarip has been battling for land rights against a multinational cement firm whose factory was built blocking his house’ entrance. Tired and exhausted from lack of sleep, Angel listened to the impassioned story of Sultan and his family.

Sultan’s home is no different with the bunkhouses of IDPs in Munai. Sultan never finished the construction of the house due to lack of funds. He told the history of his family’s land, how he gave parts of the land to some Bisaya settlers so that they can have a place to live in. But he never expected a cement factory to force him out of his land.

In her blog, Angel mentioned the importance of land for the Moro people, especially the likes of the two Sultans who farm the lands that they own. Her visit underlined the contradiction in a Moro society – that while we call ourselves Sultans and Bai, we are
no longer the rich and influential families that our ancestors once were before. There is no more sultanate system that gives credence to the bloodline of the royal families, nor lands to claim territory and economic subsistence.

Angel asked why the land is rich but the people are poor. We told her that land ownership was monopolized by rich Moro and Christian warlords who got rich from selling their lands to foreign corporations or taking partnership in plantation businesses. She was exposed to these plantations when she did a film where she played a pineapple
picker in Bukidnon.

We told her about the land laws that legalized the Philippine government’s land grabbing of Moro lands; usually carried out in the name of national interest such as mining and plantations. We told her how the incessant military operations, aerial bombardment and the perennial displacement destroyed the livelihood of the people. We told her how evacuees became captives in their own land, as they were used by national and local government as a selling point to multinational donors and relief agencies.

While it is true that her two-day visit cannot give a complete picture of the problems in Mindanao, her one-day exposure to war-torn Moro areas has opened a lot of realizations for her and for us. As Lawyer Beverly Musni, a convenor of Inpeace Mindanao puts it – when movie stars come down from heaven, they experience the same problems, too. That’s what made Angel go down to Mindanao. She went down to the masses, ate and talked with them–and we know that it was not for show.

Angel is known for her advocacy for women and children rights. She lives the character that she plays, as the heroine of fantaseryes. But only a movie star who lives a real life can empathize with victims. She can bravely call for a stop to the war in Mindanao and for peace talks to resume – and mean it. (davaotoday.com)

Moro woman is 2nd placer in bar exams

The Moro people, especially the ethnic Maranaos, had recently been abuzz with the news of a woman from among them ranking second in the 2008 bar examinations. Atty. Mylene Amerol-Macumbal, a graduate of Mindanao State University (MSU) College of Law Extension at the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology, became the first Muslim woman to have achieved such a formidable feat. She garnered an average score of 85.65 percent, just .05 per cent lower than the 85.70 rating of the topnotcher.

In her interviews, Mylene had expressed hopes that her achievement will help to prove that the “veiled woman” is not repressed and is “actually capable of doing great things while staying within the bounds of her faith”. And that she has “never been prouder that I am a Muslim and a Moro”. A total of 1,310 out of 6,364 or 20.58% of those who took the bar passed. Of the 1,310 new lawyers, 27 are Moro.

The Bangsamoro Journal publishes the following interview (entitled "Don't be afraid to dream. There is nothing impossible...") of Mylene by MindaNews’ Violeta M. Gloria. The interview took place at their residence on the evening of April 20, the night before the College of Law-extension of MSU commended her, with a motorcade around Iligan City and a program at the city plaza.

Mylene’s parents are from Ditsaan Ramain and Pualas of Lanao del Sur but she grew up in Iligan City. In her blog, Mylene said she’s been excelling academically and that “academic excellence became a sort of habit, an identity which sets me apart from the rest.”

In this interview, Mylene attributes a big part of her success to her husband, Judge Arassad Macumbal, who was the 9th placer in the civil engineering national licensure examination in 1993. Their 5-year-old son Rocky has the looks of his father.

Q: Who is Mylene Amerol Macumbal?

A: I am a devoted mother and wife. For me, family comes first. I spent all my years in Iligan City. I was a valedictorian in elementary and third honorable mention in high school.

I graduated magna cum laude in BS Accountancy at MSU-IIT in 2002 and ranked 18th placer in the accounting licensure examination. By way of parental arrangement, I married lawyer Arassad Macumbal, a judge in the conflict-affected towns of Munai, Bacolod and Maigo and who was also a topnotcher in civil engineering. He is ten years older than me. I reckoned that I said when we were arranged (to marry), “Who is this old man who’d like to marry me and yet too shy to court?” though I know that Maranao culture allows arranged marriages.

I have been teaching taxation and business law at MSU-IIT for several years. It was my husband who prodded me to take up law as a post-graduate course. I graduated Magna Cum Laude and class valedictorian in March 2008. My husband jumped with glee that I ranked second in the bar when he learned the result. (The husband later professed that out of too much happiness “we forgot to hug each other.”)

Q: How does it feel to be the first Maranao woman to have topped the bar?

A. I’m not the first Maranao to have topped the bar. Cjamal Boloto made it to the top ten in the 1960s as a graduate of a law school in Manila. But it’s right that I am the first female Maranao who landed second in the bar exam. It took almost five decades before another Maranao made it to the list. I am happy that I put MSU, Mindanao, the Maranao community and the Moro people in a positive light. I would be truly serving for them because it’s my obligation to help out.

Q: Are you going into politics?

A: Lawyering and politics are intertwined. It’s advantageous to politicians if they read and understand laws, especially that they are dealing with people. But politics isn’t just the field of lawyers. There is no specific plan to take. I still need to talk to my husband. But definitely I’d like to see myself as a trial lawyer. Maybe we’ll start first with the public attorney’s office (PAO) and then later move on to private practice.

Q: What were the difficulties that you hurdled while you studied law?

A: Time management. I was teaching and I’m a mother and a wife. But I didn’t see that as a struggle but as a challenge. I did not see that as a chore. I love law and that made me ensure that I read a lot.

Q: Your husband is a judge. Was he a contributory pressure too?

A: My husband is my idol. He practices law professionally. I will emulate him. I hope I will not go into ambulance chasing just to have a case and I hope I can practice my field by truly settling disputes and resolving issues as much as possible. My husband is my inspiration and my mentor. He was the first to have actually pushed me to study law; gave me added materials; and during the review he would call me up to motivate me to study.

He is an engineer, so he actually made my schedules and ensured that I stick to my study… so I also had a feeling back then that he might get angry if I won’t follow.

Without him, I would have not made it.

Q: What are your thoughts on the peace process.

A: It’s a very complicated issue. People need to look back at our history to know why we have a Bangsamoro problem. It may be a political problem but it shouldn’t be addressed only by politics. The government should also seriously look into our socio-economic problem. The parties should have trust, must commit to agreements, and compromise somewhere. But I honestly don’t think that the problem will be resolved soon. Malalim talaga ang problema (the problem is so deep.) besides, we know that there is lack of sincerity to have genuine resolutions to the problem. There are so many misconceptions, that’s why a need to revisit our history.

Q: You will be addressing Iliganons in your commendation day. What would you say to them?

A: I am a Maranao but I was raised in Iligan City. I owe my education here and I thank the Iliganons for that. I hope that the commendation will not just recognize me as a bar topnotcher but also recognize the many Muslims who are living in this city.

Q: The 2010 election is forthcoming and..

A: I will be probably helping my relatives and friends who’d seek my legal service but definitely I would not be a candidate. Lanao del Sur is one of the poorest provinces, that’s why I do understand why we have rampant corruption in the system. Many will hold on to the blade of the knife by selling votes. I see many of our Muslim friends who are contented eating dried fish—they are already happy with that. Indeed, there is a wide gap in our social class… very wide in fact. I see our lands are arable but many of our farmers aren’t supported with social services such as irrigation for their ricefields.

Q: There are conservatives in your society that say public life is not the domain of Muslim women.

A: That sounds deep. It’s ideal for women to serve society. There are many women leaders now such as a woman president of Mindanao State University or a woman president who leads this country. We are not in a society like that of the Taliban. We Muslim women are encouraged to be educated. This is Islamic. We do study Shariah law too and in fact we recognize women who are in the battlefield.

Q: You took up law in MSU-IIT but I learned that you cross-enrolled in MSU-main campus when you had your political review. Why?

A: The professor handling political review course in IIT was my husband (chuckles). I deemed it best to cross enroll in the main campus to avoid suspicion that my husband would be favoring me. Besides, I knew that Prof. Oga Mapupuno in Marawi was my husband’s mentor too when he was a law student himself.

Q: What would you tell others who are aspiring to become lawyers?

A: Don’t be afraid to dream. There is nothing impossible. Law students should study hard, pray harder because it’s a big factor, and believe in luck. I dare say these to all Maranao law students and to all indigenous peoples who should not be hindered by discrimination and social biases: you invest in education and it will pay off eventually.

Statement On The Speech Of President Barack Hussein Obama At Cairo University

By Abhoud Syed M. Lingga

The speech of President Barack Hussein Obama at Cairo University was a landmark as far as relations between the Muslim world and the United States is concerned. If followed by concrete actions it will certainly change the landscape of the relationship in the future.

Although short of specifics but the speech was the boldest, balanced and frank statement coming from a president of the United States.

His acknowledgement of the Muslim’s contributions to human civiliztion and in building the American nation, as well as the suffering of Muslims under colonialism, is a good starter for fruitful dialogue between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

I really appreciate the President’s candidness in discussing the major sources of tension and what he intend to do in addressing them.

Specifically, what interest me are his proposals on engaing the Muslims through education, science and technology, and economic development. These programs will not only benefit Muslims in Muslim-majority countries but also Muslim minorities like the Bangsamoro people.

The concept of creating “a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries” is indeed interesting because it juxtapose with the idea that I always hold that development of Muslim communities in the Bangsamoro homeland has to be driven by Bangsamoro entrepreneurship to be sustainable, not by programs of government and aid agencies.

The President’s reference to “America and Islam” can be confusing for the two are not the same. While America is a nation, Islam is a religion, a way of life. Defining the similarities and differences would have been clear if the term “Muslim world” is used to refer to the collectivity of Muslim nation-states and the Muslim minorities.

Although he made the commitment that as president of the United States he will fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear but no mention as to what he will do to change the perception of around 46 percent of the respondents of the latest survey in the United States who held unfavorable view of Muslim countries.

(The author is the Executive Director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies. He can be reached at aslingga@yahoo.com)