Questions for Samira Gutoc

Samira Gutoc has become a turncoat. She has shifted loyalties to presidential candidate Isko Moreno Domagoso, who is no opposition candidate. She has turned her back on the popular principles that made her rise as a Mindanao and Moro lady activist:

  • Her decision to resign from the Bangsamoro Transition Commission after Rodrigo Duterte’s joke about owning responsibility if soldiers fighting terrorists in Marawi would rape women.
  • Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao that she said posed problems of “policy questions on handling terrorism at the expense of civilian evacuations.”

Samira’s fearless voice was rousing, piercing through the din of Marawi’s war fusillades. She herself and her clan were “bakwits” (evacuees). “No Muslim had better chances to the Senate,” one Marawi city political leader had lamented. But that is where she ends. The Samira of today is in a quandary, a confused woman who cannot show coherence before the prying public.

It has been said that Isko Moreno’s candidates were instructed not to attack Duterte and the Marcoses, that the idea was to project him as a “healing president.” Samira herself echoes that when I had questioned her loyalties: “Isko is no ideologue,” she responded, after I inquired regarding his position vis-à-vis the crimes of the Dutertes and the Marcoses.

The outspoken Samira is now silenced by the false veneer of Isko’s “healing presidency”: by not saying anything negative about Duterte and Marcos, one is in fact a fierce ideologue of perpetrator and abettor justice. “It will be a rule of law,” Isko says, but at the same time protective that the axe will not fall on the Dutertes and the Marcoses. How then does one heal wounds without applying medication?

Someone from Mindanao said, “Let us see the bigger picture – putting a Moro in the Senate.” But what kind of Moro? A Moro who kowtows and turns her hair into pigtails is no real Moro. No, the bigger picture instead is our need for a Moro senator who can exact justice from six years of Dutertismo’s abuse of power, wanton disdain of the Constitution, impunity from extrajudicial killings, blatant plunder and corruption, and historical revisionism.

In fact, by identifying herself with a middle grounder like Isko, Samira has become disconnected, discombobulated, disjointed. Too early in the game, before even being elected, she has learned how to fork her tongue.

We can only pit Samira against the landscape of the “bigger picture” if she can positively answer the questions she needs to answer. These are simple questions.

Will she work to exact freedom for the politically motivated imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima? That is non-negotiable. A No automatically drops her from our list of candidates. The problem is her principal, Isko. He has said he will not drop the charges against de Lima. Even if those charges were manipulated by Duterte?

Will she restore the country’s membership to the International Criminal Court? Will she then welcome its prosecutors to investigate extrajudicial killings in the Philippines? There is a necessarily parallel question: Will she support Duterte’s arrest in the event the ICC issues the warrant of arrest? Again, this is non-negotiable. She has no option other than a Yes to all three questions. Isko’s position is neither here nor there: “I won’t provide cover or help or press the ICC. My presidency would not harbor grudges against anybody.”

Moreno has also said he can appoint Duterte as a member of the cabinet if Isko wins the presidency. Can Samira work with that? But that is a non-negotiable where the ideal answer must only be an unequivocal No. One cannot borrow the Harry Roque line: “It’s the prerogative of the president.” That is a spineless answer. What Duterte needs after 2022 is accountability, not reward for breaking the law and for a job badly done.

In 2019 when she ran in the opposition, Samira’s stance on China was forthright. She said the “public outcry on the ‘taho’ hurling incident involving a Chinese woman and a policeman should translate to similar backlash on China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea.” One wonders if she still say that again now that Isko has said his views in his typical nebulous fashion: He will use The Hague ruling as a bargaining chip but “he cannot blame Xi Jin Ping for insisting the West Philippine Sea is theirs.”

Lastly, what will be Samira’s position on the Marcoses? Isko is, of course, the most generous to the Marcoses of all the candidates. He said he does not favor the atrocities committed under Marcos martial law, “but Bongbong Marcos may be a changed man.” Haven’t the courts here and abroad already proven Marcoses’ guilt? Will he send Imelda Marcos to jail? We doubt that.

A middle grounder finds it easy to turncoat because there is no hard principle that one abides in. Isko’s “healing presidency” is a case of middle ground that makes for a spineless government. As for Samira, the “lady activist,” she has become a transactional politician even before being elected. That is a disease that must be extracted from our body politic.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.