Women in Dangerous Missions; Maguindanao Memories

Friday, November 27, 2009

In the wake of the Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao, ABS-CBN's Miriam Coronel Ferrer wrote on the role of women in accomplishing dangerous missions. She provided an example where Sagada women in the 1980s were "sent out to negotiate the retrieval of dead bodies killed in a shootout between the military and the New People’s Army." Another example she provided was on a group of Kalinga women who bared their chests "before the engineers of the National Power Corporation and the soldiers of the Philippine military to express their opposition to the Chico River Dam".

There're countless of examples from history on women being sent on dangerous missions. Gabriela Silang, a Filipina heroine with Igorot lineage, led armed resistance against the Spanish colonizers in the 18th century. The first example I could think of from the Bible was of Esther, an orphan girl who saved the Jewish people from massacre at the risk of her own life.

In the case of the Ampatuan massacre, the wife, 2 sisters and women friends and journalists were sent to file the candidacy of Vice-Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu for the post of Maguindanao governor. They were murdered in full daylight by an alleged private army of a hundred armed men under the direction of Andal Ampatuan, Jr - a rival of Mangudadatu for the same post. 57 bodies have been identified so far in what is now known as the single deadliest event for journalists in history. Once again, the Philippines is thrust in the world scene under such negative circumstances.

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Maguindanao holds a special place for me since it was the first province I visited in Mindanao. It was my first airplane ride as well as I joined other University of the Philippines (UP) - Diliman students in the summer of 1997 for one of the university's Pahinungod programs. We were tasked to conduct a 2 week training to help improve the province's representation in the UP system. We reviewed incoming 4th year students in several subjects to help improve their chances in passing the UP entrance examinations. The students we handled were chosen amongst public schools in Maguindanao. I remember that we had at least 1 student representing the town of Datu Unsay, where the primary suspect Andal Ampatuan, Jr is the mayor.

Our group stayed in Parang, Maguindanao and I only have very positive memories of our visit. Our host was the principal of the Parang school - a graduate of Manila's La Salle university who was married to a datu, a Muslim chief. They had a private island where I first had my experience at riding a kayak. The datu gamely called me Chief Coconut, as he explained that my shaved hairdo at the time resembled the nut I was drinking from. One time after a dinner at our host's place, we were escorted back to our headquarters at the school by a group of men. I rode at the back of a motorcycle with one of them, and I remember one of the escorts holding an automatic rifle.

The visit lasted 2 weeks but because of it, I had a special appreciation of the land of Mindanao. At that time, my companions and I marveled at the unity between Christians and Muslims which we observed first hand. It was sad to note that a few years after our visit, the town of Parang was in the national news due to incidents of armed encounters between military and rebel groups.