A historic birthday gift
CAMP DARAPANAN, Maguindanao — Last Saturday, April 23, was the 57th birthday of Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo, and it was quite historic.
Camp Darapanan is located in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, and is the headquarters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and its political party, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP). In simple but historic ceremonies, VP Leni received a valuable gift from no less than the MILF and UBJP head, Ahod Balawag “Al Hajj Murad” Ebrahim — the MILF/UBJP’s official endorsement of her presidential bid. No less than the UBJP head raised VP Leni’s right hand on that day, declaring and anointing her their official presidential candidate. Ebrahim is also the interim chief minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) government that was installed after the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in January 2019.
According to Naguib Sinarimbo, minister of the interior and local government in the BARMM, the UBJP’s endorsement of VP Leni as their presidential candidate was “arrived at after a long and careful deliberation including the policy of inviting presidential candidates to visit the UBJP leadership and present their agenda or platform of government, to include their position and policy on the Bangsamoro peace process and the implementation of the peace agreement” (the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro or CAB that both the MILF and the Philippine government panels signed in March 2014). It is the result of a long and tedious decision-making of the UBJP’s principled stand on ensuring the gains of the peace process will be sustained under VP Leni’s future presidency.
What made the UBJP decision final was VP Leni’s commitment to sign a pledge to implement a five-point platform once she sits as president. These are: 1) hasten the implementation of the CAB; 2) fully implement the provisions of the BOL and continue the momentum of the intergovernmental relations body in due regard and recognition of genuine autonomy; 3) immediate passing of pending transitional justice bills in Congress; 4) activating Amnesty International and fast-tracking the appointment of its members; and 5) completion of the rehabilitation of Marawi City and allowing the safe return of the internally displaced persons there.
Bangsamoro Education Minister Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace implementing panel and one of the most highly respected leaders in the MILF, considers VP Leni as a “friend of the Bangsamoro peace process.“ He added that her friendship and sincerity are “sealed by overt acts since then and up to now … [VP Leni] has not let us down, not once has she made us feel less a person and as a Bangsa [nation].”
Why is VP Leni’s 57th birthday historic?
The MILF/UBJP leadership is predominantly male-led, with a prevailing male membership. In the past and the present, there is a popular notion among Muslim communities that women are not “desirable” as political leaders. I know of several ustadz (religious teachers in Arabic/Islamic values) friends who consider having a female president or leader as haram (forbidden) in Islam. They cite some hadith (traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be unto Him) that prescribe these, noting that countries led by women “will not become famous or will not be progressive.” But there is a historical context to these hadiths, and so much has happened in the world today, that many Muslim scholars also acknowledge that the idea of women as haram leaders no longer hold water in the present context.
It is also the first time for the MILF as a group to endorse a presidential candidate in Philippine political history. For all the time that the MILF fought against the forces of the Philippine state and even during their long period of negotiations with the Philippine government, the MILF has boycotted every single local and national elections. Many MILF key leaders in the BARMM have only set foot in the regional offices when they assumed office last February 2019.
The outcome of the May 9 elections will determine if VP Leni will continue receiving historic gifts on her 57th year. Abangan!
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