Speaking to NewsFeed 360, incumbent Bangsamoro Atty. General Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba shares her experience as a peace broker in Bangsamoro Region and gives her insights on the role of women in politics.
The year was 2015. With the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in March 2014, Bangsamoro Atty. General Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba faced the new year with great optimism that the elusive, long lasting peace in Mindanao would be attained just before President Benigno Aquino III’s term ended. She was then legal consultant to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.
Peace negotiations between the government of the Philippines and the leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were rolling as planned and majority of the public, particularly those living in the Bangsamoro region, were supportive of the indefinite ceasefire agreement between the two parties.
“The signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in October 2012, the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in March 2014, and the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in 2013 were tipping points in favor of peace. The agreements became the binding instruments between the GPH and MILF to create a road map to finally put to rest armed conflict in Mindanao,” Atty. Dumama-Alba told NewsFeed 360.
What could possibly go wrong? Peace in the Bangsamoro region was within reach – or so Atty. Dumama-Alba thought back then. What’s supposed to be a fresh year turned into horror for the lady peace broker after members of the Philippine National Police – Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) and the MILF clashed in the latter’s stronghold in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 27, 2015.
There was no winner after the hour-long gun-battle between the PNP-SAF and MILF and several members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. While the government forces were able to neutralize high-ranking Jemaah Islamiyah-affiliated, improvised-explosive-device expert Zulfiki Abdhir a.k.a. Marwan, the bloody encounter also resulted in the deaths of 44 PNP-SAF members and 18 MILF fighters.
For Atty. Dumama-Alba, the biggest casualty in the deadly clash is the peace negotiation in the Bangsamoro region. “Nothing was predictable when it came to the negotiations. The effect of the Mamasapano misencounter in 2015 was one of the most memorable for me because I saw how the process crumbled just when everything was finally gaining traction,” she said.
With time ticking fast as the 2016 Presidential Elections inch closer and the stack was against the Bangsamoro Peace Process following the bloody Mamasapano clash, Atty. Dumama-Alba knew that she needed to take charge in order to help steer her team back on track to sustain their gains in the peace process.
“We were mindful of getting a sense of each of the candidates’ agenda for peace as we knew that it was going to be a crucial point for the success of the peace process. We did not lose sight of the ultimate goal of securing peace and development in Mindanao, and so we continuously and ceaselessly lobbied for the new administration to give peace a chance,” she said.
Not enough Muslim representation in the government
Perhaps one of the motivations of Atty. Dumama-Alba in pursuing the peace talks and the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is the fact that there is still much to be done in terms of Bangsamoro representation in the government.
She recalled that when she was working as a lawyer in a government agency in the then Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, she could count on her hands the number of Muslim employees in that office.
“Imagine working as a lawyer in a government agency in the ARMM where majority of our clients and constituents are Muslims, yet you could count on your fingers the number of Muslim employees in that office,” Atty. Dumama-Alba pointed out.
“It was perhaps a pivotal moment for me because I realized then that I had to bridge the disconnect. I used my voice as a Muslim lawyer serving the Muslim population in the ARMM, and offered my legal services to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission in support to the Bangsamoro peace process,” she explained.
Atty. Dumama-Alba entered the peace talks when she heeded the call of the MILF for lawyers to support the Peace Negotiating Panel. Even though she was still a young lady lawyer, the MILF leadership took a chance on her to be in the frontline of the presentation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (now Bangsamoro Organic Law or BOL).
Gender has never been an issue for the MILF leadership, especially when at stake is the long-lasting peace in Mindanao, according to the lady lawyer. “Chairman Iqbal had said that he admired having engaged with women as counterparts in the GPH Panel. I remember that members of both the GPH Peace Panel and the MILF Peace Panel would always recognize the presence of women in the peace table, especially on the MILF side,” Atty. Dumama-Alba recalled.
“Women were not treated more specially than men, or the other way around, based on my observation, because the opinions and views of women were as valuable as any others’ at that point,” she stressed.
Carry your own weather
On July 26, 2018, members of the GPH and the MILF harvested the fruits of their labor when President Rodrigo Duterte signed the landmark Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). The law replaces the ARMM with BARMM, which would have greater fiscal autonomy, a regional government, parliament, and justice system.
Atty. Dumama-Alba, for her part, was appointed as the first-ever Attorney General of BARMM. Her first priority is to ensure the smooth transition from ARMM to BARMM through the setting up of mechanisms, including intergovernmental relations mechanisms.
She also helped craft and complete the Proposed Transition Plan (PTP) for consideration of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority. The PTP aims to identify the new structural framework of the BARMM, based on the provisions of the BOL, taking into consideration the existing structure, budget, and other relevant features of the ARMM.
Looking back, Atty. Dumama-Alba shared that she would not be in this place now if she followed her father’s will for her to pursue a medical career, and if she didn’t have understanding and supportive parents.
Atty. Dumama-Alba recalled taking up pre-medicine course as her father wanted her to follow in his footsteps. She was already in third-year college when she mustered all the courage to confess to her father that she wanted to become a lawyer, telling him that she was more afraid of disappointing herself for not taking up law than her fear of disappointing her father.
At first, Atty. Dumama-Alba’s father asked her to reconsider. He then changed his mind and called her, saying that she should take up law if it is really her passion.
“I am just happy to say that there is a look of pride in my parents’ eyes whenever they talk about me to friends and colleagues, even up until now that I am the Bangsamoro Attorney General. It reinforces my confidence as a leader, and allows me to be generous and to motivate others to achieve their fullest potential,” she said.
When asked what type of a leader she is as BARMM’s Attorney General, Atty. Dumama-Alba described herself as pro-active, disciplined, goal-oriented, and “to a fault, precise (or meticulous).
“I am, however, generous with opportunities to colleagues and staff because I know that sometimes, an opportunity is all it takes for one to shine. I see it as my way of paying it forward for the times when my mentors also allowed me to grow in my career,” she said.
If there’s one guiding post or mantra that she follows as a leader, Atty. Dumama-Alba said: “Carry your own weather. You have the power to choose how to react and feel each day.
“There is a leader in all of us. We should not be bound by metrics in measuring leadership because leadership styles evolve and change through time. I look at leadership not as a position to attain but more about how we choose to think and act and how we inspire others to think, feel and act,” she said.
Claim your seat at the table
As the world celebrates women’s month, Atty. Dumama-Alba believes that women are consistently claiming their space in governance as far as BARMM is concerned.
She pointed out that the BOL has many provisions mentioning the role and active participation of women in politics and governance in order to ensure an inclusive Bangsamoro political entity for a more sustainable and progressive region.
“It should not however be always about the numbers, i.e., how many women run for office or hold key government positions. It should be about meaningful participation of women in shaping policies, implementation, and overall governance,” the BARMM Atty. General said.
When asked how women from all generations and walks of life can work together to make women in politics the norm, Atty. Dumama-Alba pointed out that “women (or girls) lifting other women (or girls) up or empowering each other in whatever field should be the norm.
“Women must uplift and empower fellow women by creating an environment of openness to ideas, allowing them to execute these ideas, giving opportunities to pursue their passion, and celebrating their successes in whatever field they excel in,” she said.
As for cultivating women leaders, the BARMM Attorney General stresses that it is always important to recognize and emphasize that women’s opinions and views are as valuable as any others’.
“Every voice matters. Claim your seat at the table. Do not limit yourselves and what you can do because the truth of the matter is, the only person that can hold you back is you,” she stated.
About the Writer
Leonard James Postrado
Leonard James Postrado is WSP Inc. Senior Manager for media relations. He is also a former Manila Bulletin reporter who covered the Police, Local Government Units, Government Agencies, and the Justice beats for nine years. He also contributed stories to several news agencies such as Agence France Presse, Xinhua, Rappler, and GMA News. He joined the PR industry as a Communications Officer of Senator Win Gatchalian in 2018.
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