‘Bangsa Bae’ in focus

Let’s attempt to etymologize some uncommon terms for the uninitiated. “Bangsa Bae” is a portmanteau of the words “bangsa” meaning nation and “bae” for woman. It refers therefore to a woman of a particular society, as popularized by the Maranaws of Lanao.

“Bangsa” is a Malay word referring to a group of people with a common history, traits and culture. It is best understood by Filipinos to be the derivative of the Tagalog word “bansa” or nation, which explains their close affiliation with the Malay race. “Bangsamoro” refers generally to the Moro nation.

Circa 1970, when the rebellion for merdeka (independence) was conflagrating Morolandia and the rest of southern Philippines, “Bangsa Bae” became the buzzword to mean the women, especially mothers, wives and sisters of the Bangsamoro mujahideens who joined the struggle. Bangsamoro, being a generic term, includes the “bangsa bae,” but because of the significant role played by the women, they were given separate recognition and identity. This gave more substance and respect for the gender in the society less known but whose contribution to the struggle for self-determination is not less significant. They are not less brave and, in fact, suffered most mentally, psychologically, including physically. Their role is for the most part unrated and unsung. Their pains and anguish were not caught in words in history books and other printed materials. They teetered on the verge of anonymity. Faced by such fear, the Bangsa Bae find themselves in a new struggle — to remind historians and policymakers of their important role in shaping the destiny of the Bangsamoro and to a large extent the Filipino nation.

These thoughts came flooding my mind as I read some materials about a forum with the theme, “The Impact of the Bangsamoro Basic Law on the Bangsamoro Women: A Dialogue.” It was sponsored principally by the Philippine Muslim Women Council and co-sponsored by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance and Australia Aid, held on 17 September in Cagayan de Oro City.

PMWC, an aggrupation of Muslim women professionals, mostly highly educated and holding high positions in the government bureaucracy, professional fields and tribal culture, is in the forefront of this continuing struggle for recognition and Muslim women empowerment. They come from the major tribes of Morolandia. It’s raison d’etre gained traction amid the wave of gender equality campaigns sweeping the modern world, including Morolandia in southern Philippines. It is blazing a trail for the Muslim women’s active role in governance, politics, culture and other fields in society. Now, they are attempting to challenge the historical dominant images of alpha male Moro heroism, which historians and storytellers are wont to picture. They demand credit and the proper recognition they richly deserve.

Its recent renewed activism is inspired by its president Bae Norhata Macatbar Alonto, Commissioner of the Social Security System, chairperson Bae Zaalica Yusoph and deputy chairperson Bae Wendy Balt Papandayan, who had to shy away from socializing and the public eyes because of her high position in the judiciary.

The roster of attendees speaks of the interest of the Bangsa Bae in the region to articulate their aspiration, which they have harbored for a long time. They have protested in silence and are now coming out of their sheltered, laid back and conservative shell to assert their right for history to record. They attended the forum resplendent in their colorful and intricately designed cultural attires representing their tribes with the Maranaw women, in their “landap a malong” tubular garment dominating in number. Thirty came from the island provinces of BASULTA (short for Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi), including Zamboanga City; five from Maguindanao, while 45 from Lanao del Sur and Marawi City. There were nine original mujahideens of the Moro National Liberation Front and six junior commanders who also attended. The profile of the attendees struck a chord of nostalgia when they were in the dense jungles of Morolandia uncertain what the future held for them. Their presence was a sight to behold.

(To be continued)


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