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Dear Bangsamoro sisters

It’s time you knew how much it means to your non-Moro sisters to finally glimpse your lives shaped in the fabric of war.

Woman is the most taken for granted life-giving element in both war and peace. As the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) decommissions its armed forces, we finally meet your mujahidat (female mujahideen) in Biwab, the Bangsamoro Islamic Women’s Auxiliary Brigade, thanks to Mindanews.

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It tells us how you proved your courage from the very start, when the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) began training women for battle at the height of war with Marcos in 1976. Now we meet Wilma Madato, 52, who took fate in her own hands very young, choosing between possible rape and abduction by enemy soldiers and training in self-defense and basic military tactics in the jungle.

“It was not well-organized. What was important was that women were trained militarily,” she said. Hijab and all, she would become training officer for the whole brigade.

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Her brigade commander, Ling Gumander, 67, was in turn prodded to join by a fellow elementary school athlete in Sultan Kudarat—no less than Murad Ebrahim, now interim chief minister of  the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In 1972, as martial law descended on the country, Ling was learning to fire a gun, handle firearms and ammunition with the men. Respect deepens as we learn how Islamic women were segregated for physical training, never to be seen unveiled even in the jungle.

Nor were they allowed in the firing line—strictly “a reserve force, next in line only if something happened to the men in the field.” Trained for war, they receded to life-giving, planting food for everyone in camp.

With Biwab as part of an official structure after the MILF split from the MNLF, with headquarters and battalion formations in 32 camps by 1984, mujahidat have lived four decades in centuries of war.

This difficult transition to an autonomous Bangsamoro republic is ceaselessly rocked by explosions from enemies of peace to this very day—between plebiscites in Lanao del Norte, bombing the Jolo Cathedral, the AFP’s intensified hunt for communists and renegade Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao, displacing 50,000 residents.

In the most recent explosions in Patikul, Sulu, chasing after the suspected Abu Sayyaf mastermind of the Jolo Cathedral bombing, once more the sad statistics: three soldiers immediately killed, 13 wounded from militants’ grenades and Army mortars.

More widows, more orphans, but now rise voices like Fatima Shalom Pir Allian—a 5-month-old baby during the burning of Jolo in 1974. Now program manager of Women for Truth and Justice in the Bangsamoro, Fatima is listening to younger Moros in a journey just like ours under Spain and America.

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What she’s hearing is “a drive to get things done,” eagerness to find leaders with the mujahideen’s will to attain self-determination, this time beyond guns. “Our Jihad now is minds and hearts,” Fatima says.

From war to peace process, woman in Bangsamoro is helping us all create one stronger Philippines.

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Sylvia L. Mayuga is an essayist, sometime columnist, poet, documentary filmmaker and environmentalist. She has three National Book Awards to her name.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro women, Inquirer Commentary, Sylvia L. Mayuga
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