Planting the Seed of Accountability in Muslim Mindanao

By Francis Isaac

We were in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on the afternoon of 10 March 2018, where Joy gave a presentation on the concept of accountability to more than 100 Moro youth leaders of the Coalition of Moro Youth Movement (CMYM).

It was an uneventful 30-minute drive from Cotabato City; and after passing through a checkpoint manned by combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), we entered a compound where we were greeted by members of CMYM.

They ushered us to a neatly-designed two-storey building, and the moment we entered the hall, we immediately felt the energy of the participants. The audience had a good gender balance, with half of the seats occupied by women in their beautiful hijab. They also had a good ethnic mix--with Maranaos, Yakans, Iranuns, Tausugs and Maguindanawons sitting side-by-side and sharing the same meal during breaks.

Being the unconventional teacher that she is, there was a bit of bantering throughout Joy's discussion, and the participants gamely played along. She began by sharing her monitoring work in G-Watch, the research that she has undertaken on anti-corruption mechanisms, the advocacy efforts that she took part in, and her involvement in EDSA 2 during her college years in UP.

And then at one point, Joy asked, "May konsepto ba ng accountability sa tradisyong Islam?" (Is there a concept of accountability in the Islamic tradition?)

One young man sitting near the door stood up and said, "Meron po. Sa Qur'an, may konsepto kami ng khilafah, na ang ibig sabihin, bawat isa sa atin ay ipinagkatiwala." (Yes there is. In the Qur'an, there is the concept of khilafah, which means that each of us has been entrusted.)

Joy smiled and said, "Sa aming mga Kristiyano, may konsepto din kami ng accountability o pananagutan, at madalas itong awitin sa Simbahan" (For Christians, we also have a concept of accountability called pananagutan, which is often sang in Church.) And Joy began to sing the first two lines of the song: Walang sinuman ang nabubuhay, para sa sarili lamang, Walang sinuman and namamatay, para sa sarili lamang.

And then the audience responded by singing the next two lines: Tayong lahat ay may pananagutan sa isa't isa, Tayong lahat ay tinipon ng Diyos na kapiling niya.

For a moment, the entire hall was filled with music--an Evangelical Christian and a hundred young Muslims singing a song about accountability composed by a Filipino Catholic priest named Eduardo Hontiveros.

And just like the song, the optimism, enthusiasm and sense of hope of all these young people were infectious. But they were also very candid about the challenges that they face--the poverty in their communities, the mistrust of the Christian majority, the entrenched power of Mindanao's political dynasties, and legacy and impact of Manila's imperialist policy. But while sharing with us their burdens and concerns, their sense of pride was also palpable from the onset, and young as they are, they are very much aware that their fellow Bangsamoro have just won an important victory in their ongoing revolution for nationhood and collective dignity.

From a corner of the hall, I shifted my gaze from Joy and then to the audience. She was smiling throughout her presentation--a good indication that she was 'in the zone.' The young men in the hall listened intently to her every word, and I am certain that Joy earned their respect both as an intellectual-activist and as an Ilocana ally of the Bangsamoro people.

But the women were electrified, and they were happy to see a kabaro standing before a large group of future leaders, speaking, to borrow Carol Gilligan's phrase, "in her own voice."

Sitting beside me was a young Muslim woman named Isnihayah, and every now and then, she would turn to me to inquire about Joy. "Sir, Political Science po siya?" (Is she a Political Science graduate?) "Yes," I replied. "Sir, taga-UP po ba siya?" (Is she from the University of the Philippines?) "That's correct." "Sir, nagturo po ba siya sa Ateneo" (Did she teach in Ateneo de Manila University?) "Yes." "Ang galing niya po!" (She's so amazing!) "I know," I said to myself.

It was already past 6:00pm when we decided to go back to the hotel. As the taxi headed towards the exit, we saw in the dim light the women participants lined up on both sides of the driveway waving at us for a good sendoff. Joy was so overwhelmed that I had to nudge her to acknowledge their gesture. She then opened her car window and waved back at all the young Moro women.

When we reached the highway, I realized that we were in Muslim Mindanao and it was International Women's Month. Dusk has already descended on the Moro homeland, but as I looked at the road ahead of me, I knew that the future of Bangsamoro is bright. #