Samira to fight for
“One year under Duterte and I resigned because of a rape joke, PROUDLY,” and the audience explodes into an overwhelmed and prolonged ovation.
Samira Ali Gutoc-Tomawis was appointed by President Duterte in the select group of 21 for the Bangsamoro Transition Commission tasked to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law. She resigned in May 2017 only a week after the Marawi siege, right after Mr. Duterte had said he would own up responsibility for soldiers who rape Marawi women. The declaration of martial law had pushed her as well to that resignation.
“There are policy questions on handling terrorism at the expense of civilian evacuations.” Samira knows whereof she speaks. At the critical moments of the mass evacuations, Samira had walked with evacuees to safety, providing the internally displaced M’ranao a face. Since then, she went immediately to work addressing the humanitarian crisis in Marawi, setting up the Ranao Rescue Team.
In a season of wannabes boasting bogus diplomas, Samira can stand tall with a bachelor’s degree from UP Diliman’s College of Mass Communications where she became the first woman president of the UP Muslim Students Association. She went on to acquire a master’s degree from the UP Center for International Studies and a law degree from Arellano University. She was a fellow of the United Kingdom’s Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.
When the joint session of Congress went through the motions of deliberating Mindanao martial law, there appeared to be concerted efforts from some lawmakers to shut out Samira. It was a grave underestimation. Samira persisted. When then military chief Eduardo Año sheepishly claimed there were no human rights abuses, Samira bellowed, her voice breaking:
“I am from Marawi City, your honors. Please ask us, ‘Who do we fear?’ Please ask us, ‘How do we stand up and arise?’” She then recounted stories of violent interrogations, unburied bodies, and a Muslim woman who stripped off her clothes in an evacuation center after suffering a mental breakdown from the siege.
In a recent debate for senatorial candidates, only an undaunted and fearless Samira choked Bato dela Rosa for words: “Ang problema ang drug prevention program nabigyan ba natin ng budget? Nauna tayo sa killing before prevention. Bago ka sumawsaw sa war on drugs, sawsawan mo muna yung strengthening the pillars of the justice system (The problem is did we give budget to the drug prevention program? Before you poke your nose on the war on drugs, strengthen first the pillars of the justice system)… It is not the job of police to kill people. It is to protect the people, and that is the job of Samira Gutoc.”
But Samira’s power is not just gutsy language. Many identify with her precisely because she has been there on the fringes of imperial Manila. “I stand up for people who have no voice, who cannot get to Manila, who are without a microphone. Women need not be tortured, children do not have to be orphans.”
Samira shocks and awes, sends tingles down your spine that here after all is somebody from Mindanao made of steel, who defies the stereotype wrongly exemplified by Davao City residents, of sissies for the Dutertes. Her gravitas puts many to shame, including the traditional political dynasts of her own homeland.
Her social media accounts have huge followings. Her quotable quotes are framed into memes, tweeted and retweeted. But in the end, this essay is not written as a partisan extrapolation. The Samira phenomenon should make us ask the all-important question: What kind of voters will not vote for the likes of Samira Gutoc?
The answers are not hard to dissect. Those who do not see the constitutional pretensions of Mindanao martial law will ignore Samira. Then the Islamophobic among us will never commiserate with the continuing humanitarian crisis Marawi is today despite billions of money in international pledges to rebuild it. Those who are still blinded from the raw reality that the growing statistics of the orphans and widows of “tokhang” have not obliterated the drug problem because the drug lords remain scot-free, with one even running for Congress, will not be fair to Samira’s bid for the Senate.
If voters reject Samira either by honest or dishonest means, we already owe her years of education that it is the voice that fears no one who can speak for those let down by the pipe dream and illusion of popular democracy in disguise.
On Twitter: @AntonioJMontal2. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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