Women Who Dare
By GEMMA B. BAGAYAUA in Maguindanao (2004 article)

“Kati-i ako! Si Babu iyo!” (I am here, your aunty!) These words, spoken by Tarhata Lucman, a slightly built woman of royal blood, could barely be heard amid the sound of gunfire that morning in Tugaya, a remote town in the neighboring province of Lanao del Sur.
This was sometime in 1987, and the scene was not a shootout between soldiers and rebels. It was a fight between young men belonging to two distantly related families, which had been in conflict with each other for decades. Princess Tarhata, in her 50s and governor of Lanao del Sur at the time, was herself related to both families. Bad blood between the two families-known in these parts as rido-started in the ’50s, the result of rivalry between two suitors over a girl. This turned into a full-scale war when one of the suitors murdered the other after they attended a local gathering. Their families were soon locked in a war that lasted three decades and killed many of the town’s promising young leaders. Earlier that morning in 1987, another  member of one of the families had been killed by members of the rival family. The victim’s relatives were bent on getting back at his killers. Blood could have flowed once again had Princess Tarhata not positioned herself physically in between the warring camps.  Regarded highly among her people, she managed to calm down the combatants enough to enable the victim’s killers to seek refuge in her Marawi City home. She then prevailed upon the other family not to retaliate anymore, stressing that the cycle of violence had to end. To this day, Princess Tarhata remains a regal and commanding presence. When NEWSBREAK interviewed her in September, she was still involved in resolving at least 10 ongoing rido cases in Lanao even if she had long retired from politics.

Why Women?
Princess Tarhata is not the only woman here who is known for intervening in conflicts between families. Paradoxically, in a society where females often take the backseat, women, particularly those who are regarded highly in the community, are often called upon to help resolve rido cases.  In Matanog town, this province, 54-year-old Hadji Sitti Imam is known to have helped settle at least 10 rido cases. She once settled a case involving the family of her uncle (her father’s brother) who was killed by her uncle-in-law (her husband’s uncle).  By tradition, the family of the murdered man would have considered it their duty to retaliate. It is all part of defending the family’s maratabat, loosely defined as family pride.
To prevent more killings, Imam decided to intervene.  “I did not want any more trouble because they are neighbors,” she said. She asked her husband’s family to have the culprit jailed and give the family of the dead man blood money. After the victim’s family received the blood money, a ritual gathering of the two clans-called kanduli-was held in Marantao, the village in Matanog where the families live. During the cer- emony, the heads of the two families were made to swear upon the Koran that no further hostilities would ensue.  At the moment, Imam is mediating a conflict between her uncle, the former mayor of Matanog, and the incumbent mayor who is the nephew of her husband.  As in other aspects of governance and politics here, women are often given the backseat when it comes to official conflict mediation. But they play crucial roles in settling conflicts between families because, as locals point out, families here are often matriarchal in nature. “On the surface, the men make the decisions. But at home, they always consult their wives,” says Tarhata Maglangit, head of the Regional Commission on Bangsamoro Women.

Losing Manly Pride
Women are both protected and highly regarded in local Muslim society, explains Zenaida Tawagon, leader of a nongovernment organization in Marawi City and herself involved in settling rido cases. A woman’s murder during a rido, she says, commands a higher price in terms of blood money. Thus, unless the rido started with the murder of a woman, a man is considered a coward if he retaliates by killing a woman.  Perhaps for this reason, women are able to penetrate places where nobody would go be- cause there is an existing rido, says Tawagon. In one case, she recalls, women were sent by the family of ii man killed during a rido to get his body.  Aminah Paglas of the Alliance of Concerned Women for Development in Buldon, Maguindanao, says that women are sent as emissaries in conflict resolution because they are often more patient and less hotheaded than men. Paglas recalls that her mother had played peacemaker in conflicts between their own relatives. What makes women crucial in peacemaking is the concept of maratabat, says Koko Lucman, a son of Princess Tarhata. “It is an insult for the family of a man if he is the one to initiate peace talks,” Lucman says. “It’s like losing your manly pride.” It is a lot easier if a woman initiates the talks, he explains.

Not everybody can play peacemaker, though. One has to be highly esteemed in society to be able to intervene in a rido, says Maglangit.  For instance, people in her town listen to Imam because not only is she the daughter of a datu; she has been selected as the local bai alibi – a rank equal to princess in the Christian world. Keeping the peace is one of the traditional reo sponsibilities of a bai alabi, says Princess Tarhata-who has been asked but refused to serve as bai alabi. Her father, the late Senator A1auyaA1onto, was a Maranao sultan. Tawagon, on the other hand, is the wife of a sultan in Marawi.  The mediator must be able to show the par- ties involved that she is impartial, Imam says. “She must be fair. Not the sort who betrays.”  Education, particularly knowledge of the Koran, is also important because Koranic teachings are often cited by mediators in persuading com- batants to reconcile with their rivals, says Linda Burton, a professor at the Xavier University who is studying rido cases. “Islam is peace,” explains Princess Tarhata. “This is because our prophet is a trader. You can’t trade if there is war.”  Princess Tarhata, whose family owns the Jamaitul Philippine A1 Islamiyah-the first Islamic school in Marawi where both English and Arabic subjects are taught-is considered very highly educated, Burton says. On the other hand, while Imam may not have been schooled in the national education system, she is considered highly learned in Islamic teachings. As a young maiden, her daughter recalls, Imam was champion of a Koran Reading Contest in the former town of Bugasan (now divided into the towns of Parang, Buldon, Matanog, and Barira) .

No Easy Task
Playing the mediator is not for the weak of heart if one fails to handle matters well, one can invite trouble or unwittingly get caught in the crossfire. Yet these women dare to break through the barriers between combating parties in order to wage peace.  It has not been easy. Young men nowadays are much more hotheaded, says Imam. And, she adds, guns are much easier to acquire now, unlike before when men fought using only their bolos. Which is why Princess Tarhata, who shares Imam’s views on the matter, is campaigning for a general disarmament.
To be an effective mediator, one also has to be a person of means because sometimes the mediator is called upon to chip in for the blood money required to appease an aggrieved party.  Tawagon recalls having to spend for the hospitalization of somebody injured in an automobile accident to prevent hostilities between the family of the injured and the family of the other party in the accident She also hosted the kanduli between the two parties at her own house. Tawagon was a relative of one of the parties in the case.  Another case that Tawagon resolved involved a land dispute. To settle matters, she had to buy the property in order to give it to the other family. That family later paid her in installment but at a much-reduced price. But Tawagon considers it money well spent. “This is how we help each other.”