She breathed her last in the town of her birth, her beloved Marawi that remains in ruins, where she played as a young girl, where she found love, and where she led as the first female governor. The outpouring of grief over the death of Princess Tarhata Alonto Lucman will be seen by many as the natural feeling of pain and loss for someone who represented the many aspirations of so many people in the Bangsamoro, but it is also the grief of a people mourning the destruction of the love, tradition, and way of life in the Marawi that she knew, of which her remains will now be a part of.
To the Maranao she will be remembered as a mother sincerely loved by her people and whose constant presence was a source of strength and dedication. Her sincerity and empathy are a shared story among many, by people of different walks of life, like those by the roadside whom she picked for a ride on her vehicle while traversing the road to and from Marawi. Her ejected bodyguards may have been forced to travel by foot, but they did not feel less loved by Tarhata, who treated their families as her own.
To her family and kinfolk she remains a symbol of the purity of intentions mixed with the wide-eyed curiosity that sought both the preservation of tradition and the embrace of modernity before and after the turn of the war and the democratization of politics.
To women she would probably symbolize a feminist icon—a woman involved in the “affairs of men” who remained unafraid and uncowed in the face of adversity and the violent games they played, who fought for her right to an education, and to choose her own path. Tarhata exemplified the freedom of choice. To vanquish clan feuding, she was known to stand in the middle of a war, literally and figuratively, to still the weapons and offer space for conciliation and healing.
A poignant photo of the Prinsesa standing beside a rostrum and speaking to a large crowd filled with men, with a cigarette in hand and wearing loose pants, lent weight to the image of an iconoclast who defied tradition and the importuning of men.
She was so many things to so many people, and in the end was the last living symbol of the sort of life, aspiration, culture, and politics that presaged a generation wrought by deadly feuding, secessionist wars, and the expansion of a deadly drug economy across the region.
She would be the last woman in the post-war generation of Mindanao strongmen who stood for the brand of alliance politics and collective way of life that enabled the Moro to survive government neglect, civil war, and continued economic crisis. She represented what scholars described as the “real strongman” in Philippine and Southeast Asian politics—a leader who established alliances, secured peace, and inspired collective action instead of fear and the threat of revenge and coercion. You shared her vision and joined her causes because she was a peace builder; she inspired you, she listened to you, and encouraged you to pursue your dreams and aspirations. Her social contract was not built on fear and force, but on a shared belief and a devotion to each other’s welfare.
People will say that Tarhata’s death signals the end of that era of alliance politics and collective action. But maybe it can also trigger a return to inclusiveness, listening, and empathy, and renew the health of the nascent democracy brought about by the new autonomous and devolved political authority.
Of course, in the end that would require the Bangsamoro leadership at various levels to stand on her shoulders and grasp the real meaning of her passing and legacy.
Nikki Philline C. de la Rosa is the country director of peace-building organization International Alert Philippines.
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