Marawi civic leader Samira Gutoc-Tomawis running for senator

MANILA, Philippines – Former Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) member and assemblywoman Samira Gutoc-Tomawis will run for senator in the 2019 elections.

Gutoc told Rappler on Monday, October 8, that she decided to accept the nomination of civil society groups to be part of the opposition’s Senate slate.

“Throughout this 6-month journey and 16 months as an evacuee leader, I accept the challenge…the invitation to run for the Senate under the opposition’s slate,” she said. 

Gutoc, a resident of Marawi City who has spoken out against Duterte’s martial law, said she will run on a platform of non-discrimination and giving voice to Muslims in Mindanao. (READ: Marawi resident makes emotional plea vs martial law abuses)

“It’s about including the indigenous person, the Bangsamoro, in the national discourse. We are contributory to the national progress. We also want to be part of the nation-building process,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

“I think that after a 25-year vacuum for a Bangsamoro voice in the national legislature, we need to stand up for those who are affected by violence, not just during Martial Law in the 1970s, the one declared last year, but over the last 20 years, lack of legislation addressing minorities,” she said.

Legislation she would focus on, if she wins as senator, would be an anti-discrimination law and a law creating the Lake Lanao Development Authority. Lake Lanao is the body of water adjacent to Marawi City and is a critical natural resource. 

Eagle eye on Marawi

Gutoc also said she would closely monitor Marawi rehabilitation as a Mindanaoan senator and do her part to ensure the participation of Maranaos in the rebuilding process. (READ: Residents to gov't planners: Build better Marawi for us)

“Definitely looking into people’s participation because having been there for 16 months, we don’t see the clarity and direction and we see a vacuum really of people’s voices in the rehabilitation process,” she said. 

Gutoc has been on the frontline of Marawi recovery efforts, serving as the focal person of Ranao Rescue Team, a group of volunteers that helped civilians escape from fighting in the city.

Marawi rehabilitation, to her, has been largely “contractor-led.” 

“The reason why TaskForce (Bangon) Marawi [has] to wait for opening up Ground Zero is there’s no contactor to address rehabilitation. There are requirements still lacking despite the Swiss challenge that was supposed to make it faster,” she said.

The top contender to receive the billions-worth contract to rebuild Marawi’s Main Battle Area, Bangon Marawi Consortium, was disqualified due to a lack of funds. The government is now in talks with another group, PowerChina.

Duterte appointee

Gutoc made headlines back in July 2017 when she made an emotional account  of alleged military abuses  in Marawi City during a speech in Congress. 

But before her vocal opposition to martial law, Gutoc was a Duterte appointee. She had been a member of his BTC, the 21-member commission that helped draft the Bangsamoro Organic Law. 

She resigned from the BTC out of her opposition to Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao. The civic leader had also protested the President’s lighthearted remark about soldiers raping women in Mindanao. 

Rappler asked Tomawis how she would explain to voters her stance on the Duterte administration’s policies given that she once served it.

She said she had always been involved in civic work, regardless of administration.

“There has always been that public streak in us as a volunteer worker for the past 20 years. I’ve been a volunteer electoral advocate with Namfrel for the past 20 years in Marawi. Then I was appointed under Aquino as an assemblywoman. I was appointed under Duterte as a BTC commissioner for 3 months so if people get to know me they know I’ve been working with sectors and communities,” she said. 

Gutoc planned to file her certificate of candidacy on the first day of the filing period, Thursday, October 11.

The opposition will bare its official Senate slate for 2019 on October 17, the last day of the filing of certificates of candidacies.

So far, the once-ruling Liberal has already announced its first 3 senatorial candidates: Reelectionist Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, and former Quezon lawmaker Erin Tañada. All 3 candidates are scions of opposition leaders during the dictatorship of former president Ferdinand Marcos. 

The opposition coalition earlier released an initial list of 18 names being considered for their final slate, including Gutoc. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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