“The situation is the same after all these years. For the Moro people, it’s a cycle of escaping from conflict.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – At a young age of 12, Bai Ali Indayla escaped the war between government forces and Moro fighters.
On that day, sometime in 1998, Bai Ali’s parents instructed their four children to go to the nearest mosque for safety while they packed their belongings. Terrified with the sound of gunfire and explosions, Bai Ali’s knees were trembling when her older sister told her to jump over a shallow canal. She just couldn’t. Her older sister carried Bai Ali on her back.
The family left Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao and settled in Cotabato City to have a normal life.
That memory, long forgotten, surfaced ten years later.
Bai Ali Indayla became a volunteer for Kawagib Moro Human Rights in 2008. When the all-out war broke out in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao due to the failure of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), a Kawagib team went to the evacuation areas. While Bai Ali was interviewing a mother from Pikit, North Cotabato, the past became vivid again.
“While she was telling me how she pulled her children to safety, how she told them to run fast, everything flashed back in my head,” Bai Ali told Bulatlat in an interview.
“The situation is the same after all these years. For the Moro people, it’s a cycle of escaping from conflict,” Bai Ali said.
Instead of just being frustrated, Bai Ali has chosen to do her share in bringing about genuine change for her Moro and Christian brothers and sisters.
Bai Ali went to the Cotabato City State Polytechnic College.
The family’s income was not enough to send Bai Ali and her three siblings to school. Her mother had a small sari-sari (retail) store and her father was a tricycle driver. Bai Ali took the editorial examinations for the student publication to get a scholarship. She became the news editor and later on, the editor in chief of The Torch.
The Torch published stories opposing tuition increases and “redundant” miscellaneous fees. The student publication also held forums exposing anti-student policies and even the corruption of some student government officials. The president of the Supreme Student Government (SSG) was accused of malversation of funds amounting to P100,000.
Bai Ali said they were enraged at how student leaders in the university mirror the rotten politics of national government officials. They formed a new student political party and she was encouraged by her colleagues to run for the SSG presidency.
The university administration did everything to stop her. Some professors from the College of Islamic Studies campaigned against her, saying a Moro woman could not take any leadership position. Sixty-percent of the university students were Moro.
A disqualification case on flimsy grounds was also filed against Bai Ali.
When the administration delayed the canvassing of ballots, Bai Ali’s supporters held vigil. They stayed on campus amid the threats from the campus security that they would be dispersed.
In the end, Bai Ali was declared a winner. She was the first Moro woman SSG president.
Asked about the overwhelming support she got, Bai Ali said, “I saw the students’ yearning for change. They were tired of the system.”
At the SSG, they fought against education budget cuts. She told administration officials how they should stand together to demand higher state subsidy.
Around this time, too, Bai Ali was active in the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. She was elected as secretary general of the CEGP-Greater Cotabato area. She also became the spokesperson of Youth Demanding for Arroyo’s Removal (Youth Dare).
Month before graduation, Bai Ali became a member of Suara Bangsamoro and started organizing Moro in their nearby communities. After school, she would go to these communities and would always go home late.
She was juggling all these tasks and was still able to finish her Math degree as magna cum laude.
Not an ordinary path
The future seemed bright for Bai Ali. She was hired as a census area supervisor by the National Statistics Office – Cotabato City. The pay was good and she was at the office most of the time. “But I was not happy,” Bai Ali admitted.
After a few months, Bai Ali was offered to renew her contract with the NSO. She declined and instead decided to be a full time activist.
Despite the pressure from her family, Bai Ali stood by her decision. The more she immersed in the communities, the more she has been convinced of her decision to work for the rights and welfare of the Moro, the Lumad and Christians.
That interview with a Moro mother was a turning point. “I was able to rationalize why I need to join the larger struggle of the Filipino people for genuine change. I’ve realized that this struggle is heading to something good.”
Bai Ali’s work is fraught with danger.
During fact-finding missions investigating human rights abuses by state forces and even U.S. soldiers, Bai Ali experienced different forms of intimidation and harassment.
She knows she is under surveillance especially after the Kawagib took the case of Gregan Cardeño, a Filipino interpreter for US troops and was found dead inside a military camp in 2010.
One of the possible witnesses to the case, a certain Maj. Javier Ignacio, was killed the day he and Bai Ali were supposed to meet.
Her family has every reason to worry but her parents and siblings have learned to accept the life she has chosen.
“Masaya ka naman eh!” (For as long as you are happy with your choice.) was what her mother told her in one of their conversations.
Bai Ali said her colleagues in the movement were also the first to help her family when their house was razed by fire in 2009.
Her father, who used to threaten to pull her out of a rally when he had the chance, cried the first time he listened to Bai Ali speak about the atrocities done to the Moro people. “I did not know he was there. When I came home, my mother told me, ‘Proud na proud siya sa ‘yo’ (He is so proud of you.)” she recalled.
Bai Ali met her soon-to-be partner in life in the movement.
Like her, Ismael Maleen was a student activist in college. They first met in 2008 in one of the educational discussions where Bai Ali served as instructor.
It started with the teasing of a colleague. One day, Bai Ali and Ismael were wearing orange shirts. “Uy, bagay sila!” was what her colleague said.
“I was NBSB (No Boyfriend Since Birth). At that time, I felt I was ready to open myself to someone,” she said.
After a year of exchanging handwritten love letters, sending simple “pasalubong” (treats) such as bagoong (shrimp paste), sardines or whatever was available, Bai Ali and Ismael entered into a relationship. They got married in December 2012.
Bai Ali gave birth to her son Morres Libeon, who she fondly calls Eon, in 2014.
Eon is staying with her father and in-laws in Zamboanga City. She sees to it to pay a visit at least once a month. Their quality time is spent by playing together.
Whenever she’s away, Bai Ali would call Eon every day. Every night, during bedtime, she would sing Eon’s favorite song, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle.’
Eon inspires her all the more to continue building a better future for the next generation.
Bai Ali is now busy campaigning as the third nominee of the Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP). At 29, she’s up to the challenge of representing the Moro women who have long been silenced by the status quo.