Darwisa Jamilon, is a Tausug* from the island of Mindanao in The Philippines. She is a community organiser at the Bangsamoro Development Authority (BDA), which leads relief, rehabilitation and development projects in areas affected by the conflict between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Government of the Philippines.
There are two unfortunate situations that completely changed my life.
The first was during the Ipil Massacre on 5 April 1995. I was a youth leader when members of the Abu Sayyaf indiscriminately opened fire at the crowd in the centre of Ipil. It happened at noontime. All of the victims were non-Muslims.
The massacre left our community with nothing but mistrust and hate towards the Muslims. We feared for our lives and definitely felt discriminated against even by our own neighbours. We really felt their cold treatment. We feared that the non-Muslim vigilantes would retaliate and take it out against Muslim civilians. During that time, we would not wear our hijab in public places so we would not be identified as Muslims.
For almost six months, we couldn’t go to school without escorts from the local government. It took more than three years of confidence building to rebuild the relationship between the residents in our area.
The second incident that changed my life was when I was widowed in the year 2000. My husband was suspected to be an MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] combatant because he was an Ustadz (religious leader). Three military assets (two Muslims and one Christian) gunned down my husband on 19 December 2000. We reported it to the police but nothing has happened.
After his burial, a group of non-Moro vigilantes came to confirm if he was really an MILF member. I didn’t feel safe. I remember spending three nights on a boat in the open sea until the municipal government gave us security assistance. I feared that the perpetrators would also come after my two children and me.
My husband’s death didn’t only leave me with grief, trauma and fear but also the immense responsibility to provide for my children. Every day was a battle financially. I was not used to work because my husband was a good provider for the family but I had to carry on one day at a time. I don’t know how we survived. All I could remember was being pushed to stay strong for my two sons. I had to stand as a mother and a father for them.
Being a widow, I didn’t have much time to grieve, as I had to be strong and pick up the pieces of hope for my children. It was not easy moving forward. I distanced myself from my friends so I could reflect and rise above the trials. I travelled, attended seminars and meetings as much as I could just to divert my attention. In 2002, I joined a 45-day course on peace and development at the Silsilah Dialogue Center in Zamboanga City, which helped me a lot to reflect, heal and determine ways to move on.
Despite the rough journey, I feel proud by just looking at what my children have become. I was able to raise them well. I got a job at the BDA in 2006 and I am honoured to serve the Bangsamoro. By setting myself as an example, I am able to promote the positive image of Muslim women.
Whatever happened in the past, let us be hopeful for peace in the Bangsamoro.
*Tausug is an ethnic group in the Bangsamoro. Tausug people are part of the wider Moro ethnic group.