Yasmin Busran-LAO: Walking Her Talk By Running

By Elena Masilungan


Yasmin Buran-Lao, peace activist, women’s rights advocate, community organizer, is walking her talk by running — that is, running for senator in this year’s election as a candidate of the Liberal party.

The 48-year old Lao has made public service her life’s mission. She works with disadvantaged communities and the women of Muslim Mindanao, having grown up amid its violent conflicts and grinding poverty. For her efforts, she was awarded the Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Fellowship for Professional Development. The award was given by the American embassy and the Benigno S. Aquino Foundation in 2005.

“Fighting for the rights of Muslim women and other marginalized groups is something personal for me. I get enough satisfaction helping people gain a certain control over their lives,” she said.

Reframing politics

Lao believes that ordinary people must be given opportunities to serve the country even if “they do not have the money and the clout that most politicians have.”

“There has to be new politics that can come in. This kind of new politics comes from ordinary people like us (who) have the capacity and the ability to serve this country…. It is time for the citizenry to be the spokesperson of its own agenda,” she said in a recent interview.

Running for any electoral post was not in Lao’s immediate future. She was all set to leave for Hawaii for an academic fellowship early this year. Her nomination to fill the 12th slot of the LP’s senatorial slate was a “shock” not only to her sisters in the women’s group PILIPINA and her fellow advocates in civil society but, more so, to her.

“For quite some time, the NoyMar campaign team had been headhunting for a Muslim candidate who would embody the reform-oriented politics of the team,” related Elizabeth Yang, national coordinator of PILIPINA, in her email to other PILIPINA members. Lao was one of those nominated, and eventually chosen, to represent Muslim Mindanao, grassroots leadership, and women in the LP’s senatorial slate.

“In our talks after she filed her (candidacy), Yasmin said she felt she had to accept the challenge to raise the bar for her (and our) advocacies on gender rights, peace and good governance,” Yang said. “We need to connect the dots of the struggle for democratic rights and good governance with meaningful engagement in electoral (partisan) politics.”

 “I have been advocating for women seizing the center of power and reframing politics. And how can I go to the community of women and talk about women’s political participation when I was given the opportunity and I said “No?,” Lao added..

 A woman, a Moro and a Muslim

 Lao’s advocacies have been founded to a large extent on her being a woman, a Moro, and a Muslim. Moro is the collective term that ethnic groups living in southern Philippines who have separate local cultures and who belong to the Islamic faith use in referring to themselves. Lao, who hails from Lanao del Sur, is from the Maranao ethnic group.

“They impact my life in such sweeping, profound ways that my life’s work and purpose have become firmly grounded on them. On account of my being a woman, a Moro, and a Muslim, I came to know the meaning of violence, discrimination, injustice and inequality. I not only witnessed them as a regular occurrence within my family and community. I have been personally living through them ever since I was a child,” she explained.

As a woman and mother, the war in Muslim Mindanao, particularly, weighs heavily on Lao.

“Whenever war breaks out between the army and the Moro rebels, or between various clans, it is the civilians who are caught in the middle. They leave their homes and communities for the evacuation centers. But conditions in the evacuations centers are no better, especially for the women and children. They are not favorable to one’s peace of mind nor sense of dignity. When you live in an evacuation center, however temporary, your family does not have access to food, safe shelter, sanitation, education for the children, and income. This weighs heavily on the women who constantly worry about their families’ wellbeing and safety,” she said in describing the ordeal of women and children in evacuation centers.

A peacebuilder

As an NGO (nongovernment organization) worker, Lao has been focused on peacebuilding, the right of local communities to self-determination, and good governance in the Bangsamoro homeland.

 “The war in Mindanao, which is a consequence of bad governance, has shortchanged not just the people of Mindanao but the rest of the country…. In 2008, government spent P50 billion of taxpayers’ money on it, equivalent to the cost of building 50,000 public school classrooms. It costs the country P20 million a day, money that could instead go to creating livelihood opportunities to help our people live better, more productive lives,” she rued, connecting how what is happening in Muslim Mindanao is also affecting the rest of the country.

“Running for the Senate gives me a chance to translate my advocacies to a legislative agenda that is borne out of the experiences of marginalized people who have been confronting poverty and armed conflicts for most of their lives. I have the chance to bring my message of hope that we can achieve lasting peace, justice and equality among all Filipinos, regardless of gender, ethnicity, and religion, even in war-torn Muslim Mindanao. Our hope is to build a country that is inclusive and respectful of each other’s differences despite all the diversities that divide us,” she said.

Lao admits she faces a daunting run for the Senate, what with her limited campaign funds and her being a relative unknown to voters, except perhaps in the NGO community. But she shrugs this off. “I cannot disregard the opportunity the campaign provides to impart my message of hope to different sectors of Filipinos. And of course, it’s time for me to walk my talk,” Lao said with a confident smile.


He Laughs Best Who Laughs Last

by jun asuncion 


Post-Easter Reflections

Accused, convicted and resurrected- three events in the life of Jesus at the end of his earthly existence. But before disappearing, He made a new covenant with men, a covenant of peace and love, of moral uprightness and compassion, of obedience to the law of God and of men.

The Philippines observe easter celebration for centuries already. I think, the fact that we take this event as a time for families to gather is great. Hence, it serves clearly its purpose on this level.

Talking about Christian themes (and I guess Islamic as well) to anyone is not always easy and does not come as natural and without any sense of uncertainty as when one talks about Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Hinduism, Jainism, etc. The reason is partly due  to the dark, conflicting  and politicized history of the Catholic Church and  to man’s tendency to compare scientific and biblical arguments. But I think that religious experience is a very personal one, i.e., your belief and understanding of phenomena lying between science and religion is defined ultimately by your own experience, not as taught or retold  but through  the intimate experience of the numinosum as revealed  inside of you.

But all the while, I’ve been tempted to believe that either it’s not in our nature-  or maybe the time hasn’t come yet-  for us to learn the lessons of Christ on a political level. If you  insist on separating religion and politics  or state,  you have the right to do so. But does this hold true with the teachings of Jesus? Is there such a conclusive moral or legal ground to insist on their separation? Of separating peace, love, moral uprightness and compassion, obedience to the law  from our politics or state affairs? Jesus and real politik? Well, Jesus had not written anything but had pursued a life of action as he was confronted daily with hard facts that people face as injustice, corruption, persecution, poverty,  prostitution, sickness, death, etc.,- things that are politically real.

The same way, whatever you understand about Jesus is a purely personal experience and is not church-bound. The message of Christ was transcendental, cross-cultural, non-partisan and globally sustainable for it is about justice, love, compassion and obedience to the law and He did not only preach but lived abundantly what he preached. From this aspect alone it’s already night and day difference if you think of how the church leaders of today live in abundance of  luxury, political power, moral pretensions and sexual perversions. The church, be it Protestant or Catholic, can no longer fool the people to believe in the illusion of morality that they’ve sold to them as evident in the fact that people- at least in Europe- are seceding in swarms from their churches. In the face of all these socio-economic uncertainties, people are disillusioned with the church when- instead of spiritual comfort- they receive shock from news of grotesque crimes within the walls of monasteries and cover-ups from the Vatican.

Jesus’ life was a life of compassion on one side and opposition on the other. He served the poor, fed the hungry and healed the sick but opposed the greediest of the hypocrites of the religious and secular movements. All his life, he showed to his disciples the  way to righteousness and the love for truth,-  things that should liberate us from our lowly and purely instinctive existence.

Because of  this He was betrayed by a disciple, arrested, accused of inciting rebellion and blasphemy, was convicted not beyond reasonable doubt, tortured and crucified.

The whole story shows us that many people cannot stand law and order, truth and compassion, that many self-proclaimed followers cannot stand His teachings and would rather prefer pieces of silver in their pockets  than priceless virtues in their hearts.

Next month’s election is another show of silver and gold. May this not lead to the crucifixion of the most basic tenets of democratic electoral process and to massive fraud and manipulations of results. This is the first electronic voting to be held. Some say this system would eliminate fraud since the results would be  known faster than the conventional method. Yet, some others claim the contrary, that massive fraud and manipulations would be carried out much more faster than the old method.

Frequent power outages are now being observed in some places in Manila. We are a generation who grew up with brown or blackouts. For the adults in my time, they were unspectacular but for us young ones they were in a way a source of excitement and sometimes an excuse for not doing the school homework.

In view of the coming election, such power outages may acquire a new socio-political dimension when election results would depend on them, hence, the future of the nation. For we know that sudden loss of power or voltage surges when power is restored damage computer systems and other electronic storage devices resulting to data loss. And this time, maybe it would be the most influential adults running for elective office who would rejoice over power outages should they occur on May 10.

Accusation and convictions are the buzzwords today. We know of accused and convicted corrupt and murdering politicians and terrible homosexual and  pedophile priests and bishops, of the pope covering up all these abuses, of  lying cardinals defending the pope. Infallibility with regards to the doctrines? What kind of doctrines? What has happened to the self- appointed vicar of Christ on earth, Pope Ratzinger? Still tongue doesn’t make a wise head if it only obstructs justice.

Well, men of politics and religion are human after all- fallible and succumb easily to all sorts of neuroses. The hypocrisy lies in politicians’  claim for public trust and accountability and the churchmen claim for being Christ’s representative. Jesus would have rebelled again against this hypocrisy and Gotteslästerung- or blasphemy.

Accountability and transparency are also lacking among the churchmen, the reason why all these sexual abuses in the Catholic Church have escaped the public eye and the eye of the law. Playing politics or playing down heinous crimes?

In any case, for both politics and religion, it’s all about power and material possession. And whoever has them has the control of the people and of the territory. Again, the reason why the Philippines seem to have a hard time moving forward for it is being controlled and plundered by politics and religion-  from within and without. To spread Christianity was a misnomer, for in truth colonization was to access the territory and control the people, nothing more. A chicken and egg question: which comes first to your mind when you hear corruption, religion or politics?

In truth, it’s more practical to ask why people of such institutions as government and church are prone to corrupting their very own raison d’ etre. This is because of the opportunity that their office affords them. A priest abuses young people who stand in relationship of dependence to him,- novices in seminaries or friaries or repenters in their parish community. Politicians having access to public funds become blinded by the glossy golden public coffers. The fact that such misconduct or crimes easily get scandalized is attributable to their enantiodromic nature which blows the public’s mindset and send off aftershock tremors across the continents, across the web.

 Not a case of imitatio Christi, but Attybenji’s courage to draft and propose a covenant for a new election culture in our Bicol region, particularly in our town Bulan is the first of its kind. Indeed, if the town of Bulan is different, then Bulaneños are different people! It is in the relentless pursuit of a better place that drives us to take new step that should break that parochial mental stupor and broaden our horizon. We are for the retention of good traditions but not of certain traditions that stunt or have stunted the growth of our town.

Until now no single candidate has signed or even left a comment on the posted covenant for peace and order, clean and honest election. But this should not bother Attybenji and the rest of the observers. What is important is that we have given the signal that we are for a better election culture in our region. There is nothing wrong to desire for good things even when this would make us to be the laughingstock of the village and to some people who want to keep their mental stupor and political myopia.

Still, it holds true that all politics is local, and any wise Bicolano knows that he laughs best who laughs last.  /