“The truth is, many Moro women have been leading liberation struggles, they have been at the forefront of resistance movements, providers for their own families, decision-makers, fighters.”
By MENCHANI TILENDO
Fellow activists who have stayed relatively longer in the movement may have come across this veiled hijab-wearing woman, always at the front lines of Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya protests and demonstrations.
She is Amirah Lidasan, 46, current Secretary-General of the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance.
Truth be told, we still have a long way to go in bringing into everyday conversations the historical and systematic struggle of the Moro people, more so the place of more vulnerable sectors like that of the women. This is where Amirah comes in.
When it comes to issues concerning the Moro people’s struggle for the right to self-determination, she is always eager to share the lived experiences of her community.
Amirah, more known as ‘Mek Mek’ by her fellow activists and friends, shared that her activism was influenced by exposure to different environments as she was growing up. Her UP education was the pivotal phase that led her to where she is in the movement today, but the radical roots of her family was her eye-opener.
“My parents were Moro activists. My father was among the pioneer organizers of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and my aunt and uncle have been in close ties with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). My father was also a Martial Law victim, despite the fact that he was the son of the mayor of Parang, Maguindanao at that time,” Amirah recounted.
“He and my mother were the type of Moro activists who actively joined rallies in Mendiola, burned Israeli flags as they were symbols of brutal Islamophobia and oppression of Muslims,” she added.
Amirah’s childhood was all about ‘bakwit’ (forced evacuation).
After her parents died, her uncle and aunt took care of her.
Most of their life was spent in transit because of the indiscriminate, all-out war perpetrated by the Estrada administration.
Military goons stationed in all roads of Maguindanao, aerial bombings, mortar shelling, harassment, and psywar were all part of their everyday lives.
“I remember this one summer when I went home to our province in Matanog, Maguindanao, I had a chat with the Mujahideen (Muslim warriors) of the MILF. They were sharing their insights and experiences of being in the liberation struggle. The next thing we knew, we were already caught in a series of indiscriminate firing by military forces. Because of this, I and my grandmother were forced to evacuate and flee to Manila,” Amirah shared.
Little did Amirah know that the incident would push her to immediately learn how to make fact sheets and affidavits, with the help of human rights networks and alliances like KARAPATAN and BAYAN. After all, she was among the victims of military aggression and forced evacuation. It has become a learning experience and a stepping stone for her to be a dedicated human rights worker in Maguindanao.
Being a Moro youth forced to continue her education in the capital was a hard pill to swallow for Amirah. She recalled the everyday discrimination she felt from her classmates and teachers whenever there’s news about bombings ad conflict in Mindanao. She transferred schools just to evade the taxing feeling of being judged because of her faith.
“During my elementary years in Maharlika, Taguig, my classmates and teachers would always look at me, making me feel like I always have to explain whenever there’s news about Mindanao bombings,” Amirah recalled.
“Even when it’s hard, I took that position as a responsibility to break the long-time stigma that us Muslims are the perpetrators of the war. I made sure to make them understand that it was actually the other way around — we are the long-time victims of systemic discrimination and the all-out war”, she shared.
Radical, people-centered education
Amirah’s time as a UP student was what she described as the decisive phase of her life as a longtime Moro activist.
In 1992, the University planned on increasing the tuition fee of students from 100 pesos per unit to 300 pesos per unit.
“Every day, members of the Center for Nationalist Studies (CNS) were tireless in their room to room (RTR) discussions regarding the implications of the tuition fee increase on UP students,” she said.
“They were very sharp and well-equipped every time they talked about it in their RTR sessions. I was fascinated and was later on convinced to join their organization,” Amirah recalled.
“CNS provided a lot of opportunities for me to read and analyze the existing political spectrum on the campus. Eventually, my consciousness was raised beyond UP issues,” she said.
“As a student activist, I recognized how campus-level issues were greatly linked to national concerns faced by ordinary Filipinos,” she added.
As a journalism student in the College of Mass Communication, Amirah was easily drawn to focus group discussions organized by the CNS on social issues.
In 1994, she became the president of the student organization, Union of Journalists of the Philippines (UJP). In the same year, she was also elected chairperson of the College of Mass Communication Student Council. Her life as a UP student leader paved the way for her to enrich various skills in organizing, campaign-building, propaganda writing, public speaking, and others.
“I was so immersed in campus politics that time, to the point that I have allotted more time in focus group discussions than my actual classes,” she recounted.
“I have joined numerous protests inside UP, but what really made a mark on me was my first out-of-campus rally. It was the strike of SM Mall workers and they were fighting for their right to collective bargaining,” she said.
“During my free time, I visit their picket to interview the workers and learn more about their demands. Along with my fellow student activists, we were able to organize public speaking workshops among the workers, and later on, we were also able to mount a lightning rally with them inside the mall”, Amirah shared.
After her first exposure with the SM workers, the rest was history. Amirah was able to immerse with different sectors – farmers, sugarcane workers, urban poor Moro people, and others.
She was also able to volunteer in more campaigns led by progressive national organizations such as the Kilusang Mayo Uno and the National Federation of Sugar Workers. And all throughout this time, she served as a Moro rights advocate.
Where Moro women stand
“There are a lot of Moro women who have been bravely taking a stand and speaking up for their rights, but we get little to no recognition,” she said.
“My father would always tell me how he feared for my life because I was putting myself out there, voicing out against injustices committed against our community,” she said.
“But he also told me that the mere act of me speaking out there is already a huge help to the Bangsamoro,” she added.
Amirah said that for a long time it was unconventional to talk, more so on matters of politics.
“My Moro sisters tend to feel dis-empowered and they end up suppressing their full potential. This comes without surprise since for the longest time, we have been put under the most feudal-patriarchal setup,” she said adding that Moro women “were conditioned that hiding behind the veil means silence and that we should be very conscious of religion.”
“The truth is, many Moro women have been leading liberation struggles, they have been at the forefront of resistance movements, providers for their own families, decision-makers, fighters,” Amirah added.
“The crimes and atrocities of the Duterte administration bring all the more reasons for Moro women to unleash their full potential in taking a stand and defending our long-time struggle,” she asserted.
“Religion and culture should never be seen as hindrances to this undertaking because even these are borne out of the painstaking, decades-long Moro struggle,” she adds.