Mayor Dadah: "I am my own me"

Posted on October 23, 2019

By Verlie Q. Retulin

When civil society leader Sitti Djalia Turabin–Hataman was asked to reenter the world of politics and run, this time as mayor of Isabela City, Basilan, she resisted. 


“I was consistent in saying, ‘No, I don’t want to’,” she said. “Ayoko, ayoko, ayoko.”


Those around her were intrigued. “Why don’t you want to run?” they asked. “We thought you wanted to help the people and the community?”


But there is wisdom in her refusal. Afterall, Turabin–Hataman, 42, spent the previous seven years of her life in the political sphere. Not only did it expand her horizons and worldview, but her entry to politics also launched her into a personal quest that allowed her to find a greater purpose and discover more about herself along the way.


In September 28’s Kwentong Kabaro, Turabin–Hataman shared her life’s story as a Moro and a Muslim woman, including her hopes, struggles, and how she managed to stay true to her identity throughout.


Emerging from the shadows


Dadah, as she is fondly called by her friends and constituents, is the wife of politician Mujiv Hataman. Mujiv formerly served as a party-list representative and the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) from 2011 to 2019.


When the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was established early in 2019, he turned over the ARMM government to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, headed by Al Hajj Murad Ibrahim.


Meanwhile, during the 2019 midterm elections, Mujiv ran and won as the representative of the lone district of Basilan to the House of Representatives.


On the contrary, Dadah is not interested in the world of politics. She is already at peace doing community work and has even founded Pinay Kilos (Pink!), a non-government organization that focuses on empowering women in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.


All of these, however, changed in 2010, when she was appointed as the executive director of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF). Suddenly, she was thrust into the limelight and it made her uncomfortable.


“That was the first time that I became a public figure,” Dadah said, adding that prior to her appointment, she only considered herself a “shadow” of her husband in the political realm.


Transitioning from civil society to government and, in the process, finding her own identity as a public figure proved to be challenging. In one of the events that she graced as NCMF head, for instance, Dadah recounted that she was treated as “the secretary of Mujiv Hataman,” and people assumed that she was there to represent her husband.


“Personally, that’s okay for me,” she said. “But I also have an office to represent. So I asked myself, ‘Masyado na ba akong nagmamataas porket opisyal na ako? (Am I being arrogant because I am already a government official?) Is it right to assert my identity?’”


Meanwhile, in another gathering that she attended with her husband, the organizers also prevented her from speaking “because Mujiv already spoke” and “they don’t want it to look like a family affair.”


“Why me?” Dadah asked herself. “Why is it that it’s not him whom you did not allow to speak?” she added, insisting that it was she who helped conceptualize the event in the first place.


But she did not protest. Instead, she took a step back and repeated the question: “Tama ba ‘to? Nagi-inarte na ba ako (Is this right? Am I being too demanding)?”


The turning point in all of these happened in yet another event, when then peace secretary Teresita Quintos Deles introduced Dadah as “the Executive Director of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos who is incidentally the wife of Mujiv Hataman.”


Then it dawned on her. “Incidentally. It just so happened that I am his wife and that we’ve been partners in so many things,” Dadah explained.


“But I have my own identity. I am my own me.”


Dadah responds to the questions raised by her kabaros during the event’s open forum.

Defending her identity


Dadah’s public service stint did not end at NCMF; in fact, it only marked the beginning of her political career. 


In 2013, Anak Mindanao (AMIN) party-list—one of the groups that she helped organize—tapped her to run as their first nominee at the House of Representatives. The group, however, consulted the idea with Mujiv, their former representative, first before taking it up with Dadah.


Naturally, it made her furious. “Are you asking me because you believe in me or because I am the wife of Mujiv?” she asked, stressing that this should be made clear right from the start because she and her husband have different leadership styles.


“I won’t allow myself to be a shadow,” Dadah maintained.


While Mujiv is not a bad person, Dadah explained that it will be difficult for her to stay in his shadow if she gets elected. “I won’t be able to make my own decisions because everything should go through him first.”


Winning the coveted seat did little to change Dadah’s image within the party, either. Senior members, for instance, would still raise matters with Mujiv first before talking to her. But Mujiv would always point them to her and say, “’Huwag ako. Siya ang kausapin ninyo (You should directly talk to her, not to me).”


Dadah’s first term as a lawmaker was not smooth-sailing, either. Unfortunate events including the Sabah crisis (2013), Zamboanga siege (2013), and the Mamasapano clash (2015) all happened during her first term in office.


Moreover, two glaring realities also confronted her as a Muslim leader.


The first one was the prevailing fear and prejudice against Muslims which she witnessed first-hand through her peers in the House. “Is that what you think of us?” she often asks under her breath, especially during committee meetings.   


The second, perhaps more heartbreaking one, was when she realized how people’s expectations of her changed when she crossed over from non-government to government work.


“At the NGO, people are very much willing to welcome you and help in your advocacies because they know that you’re not pursuing other interests,” Dadah explained. “But when you’re already a congresswoman, the expectation turns into, ‘She has the government’s money so she can meet any and all of our demands.’”


“I don’t like that. I have a problem with that,” she bared. “Lahat ng gawin kong mabuti, pagdududahan kasi nga isa akong Hataman. Not for anything, pero nanghihinayang ako doon sa message na pwedeng ibigay ng ginagawa namin (All the good things that I will do will only raise doubts because I am a Hataman. Not for anything, but I feel deep regret for the message that we wanted to convey).”


It was then that Dadah realized her discomfort in politics and decided not to gun for a second term anymore.


The decision did not materialize, however, as AMIN failed to find another nominee to take her place, forcing Dadah to run again during the 2016 elections.


During her second stint, she had to deal with one of the Duterte administration’s priority legislation: the revival of the death penalty in the Philippines.


Dadah was against the policy. However, her stand came as a surprise to many since Sharia Law provides for death penalty.


She admitted that it was an uncomfortable zone for her because it’s human rights, and knowing more about the issue will be similar to opening Pandora’s box because she doesn’t know what else she would discover.


But Dadah took a leap of faith and held on to one of the Islamic teachings that she holds dear: “God is the most just and most merciful.”


In a speech she delivered to explain her vote, Dadah said she consulted with Muslim religious leaders and learned that the Sharia Law—which is seen as very harsh and brutal—provides a clear manifestation of God’s infinite mercy and compassion towards His creations.


“And I, foremost as a Muslim and more essentially as a human being, cannot afford to transgress this Mercy every creation is entitled to. Sarili ko pong buhay hindi ko kayang panagutan, I cannot afford, and is most afraid, to be held accountable for another life, even just one life. Thus, I vote No,” she stated.


Going back to her core 


But just when everything seemed to be in order again, Dadah’s life took another turn.


On May 23, 2017, the Marawi siege happened. And Dadah thinks it’s partly because “the community felt that they were left behind.”


“Although there are many factors that led to the incident, it is a known fact that our people’s, particularly our youth’s frustrations over the seeming loss of our struggles, the imminent failure to realize our aspirations, became a vulnerable sentiment used by these groups to their advantage,” Dadah said in a privilege speech.


“Where did we fail? When and how did we lose them?”


She thinks that, had she remained in the communities and talked about peace, “perhaps I could have convinced a child or two that it is possible.” Thus, in October, weeks before the liberation of Marawi was declared, Dadah stepped down from her post to go back to the communities that she first served, to knock on every household and appeal to the hearts and minds of the children.


“…going back does not only mean being with them physically. It also means, for me, being heard when I speak, not as a person of influence or power, but as me. It also means, being spoken to without the barrier of a title or a position, just me,” she concluded in her last privilege speech before the House.


Dadah argued that going back won’t be possible if she stays in power since the people in grassroots communities will only see them as politicians and a part of a government that they consider an enemy.


“How will I be able to do that if I am an agent of the institution that they do not trust?” she asked.


After her resignation, she continued to work with Pink! and AMIN Foundation. She focused on issues concerning culture and identity and later organized the exhibit, “Muslims of the Philippines: History and Culture.”


Dada realized that it’s easier to connect the Muslims with the rest of the Filipinos through culture. She found truth in one of her children’s remark: “The Filipino people do not hate us. It’s just that they do not know us.”


Reentering politics


With Dadah back in the grassroots, it seemed as if life has come full circle for her. But her story is far from over.


A year after her resignation, her supporters are back, asking, even pleading with her to reenter the world she thought she already left behind.


It became a struggle to say “no” not only because she didn’t want to but more so because she felt that she will lose herself in doing so. “This is not me. I know that it will be for the good and that I’ll be able to help. But that won’t be me,” she insisted.


Their eldest child even told Mujiv: “You know, I’m very lucky to have you both as my parents because you are totally different persons and I get the best from the two of you. But Ama, if you insist on making Ina like you, I will get two of you and I’ll lose my Ina.”


And so Mujiv made a final request days before the filing period: “Just face them (your supporters) and tell them that you’re not running and it’s final.”


To this, she yielded. The entire trip to the venue was agonizing; it felt as if she’s being led to her execution. “What’s worst,” she told Mujiv, “is that you’re the one who’s taking me there.”


Inside the venue, Dadah met face to face with her supporters. “When I opened the door, I felt as if I was pushed inside,” she narrated.


Perhaps it’s the number of people present or the hopeful look on their faces that suddenly triggered the gush of tears, then, eventually, the change of heart. “I saw them and I just cried. This is beyond me,” Dadah told herself.


Finally, when she decided to run, she told her supporters that she will not campaign for herself. “I’m proud to say that I finished the entire campaign period without telling the people to vote for me,” she said.


Instead, her visit to the communities involved discussions on governance, financial literacy and interfaith sessions. “For me, if you’re going down to the communities, you might as well give them something. Whether or not you win in the elections, if you’re able to change to their mindsets even just for a little, then that’s already a victory on its own.”


During this period, Dadah also had to respond to several issues that were thrown her way, including justifying her position on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). She was in favor of the legislation; Isabela City voted no.


“If Dadah wins, she will include Isabela in the Bangsamoro,” her opponents said of her. In response, Dadah made sure to explain her vote to her constituents during her community visits. However, she maintained that, despite of her vote, she will stand with the decision of the majority as a Muslim leader. 


Then there’s a more classic one: “Dadah is a kind person. But she’s just being used by her husband.” That, Dadah said, is the biggest lie of all.


She and her female opponent had been on the receiving end of sexist tirades, too. They were pitted against each other, with attacks that were often below the belt and shallow.


“Idaan na lang sa beauty pageant.”


“Sino ang mas moral?”


“Sino ang nagparetoke? Sino ang may karelasyon?”


“It’s ugly because they are sensationalizing womanhood,” she mused, adding that the discussion should always focus on the issues and the opponent’s track record.


Lastly, there was the issue of religion. As a Muslim, Dadah was painted as an anti-Catholic to the people of Isabela, a city whose population is predominantly Catholic. But she is untenable. “If they use religion to divide us, let us use religion to unite us.”


What people did not know is that she spent her grade school and high school years in a Catholic school. Thus, she is familiar with the Catholic religion and has even memorized the prayers and even the mysteries of the rosary.


She mentioned this in one of the meetings and was even prodded to do a “sample” just to ascertain that she’s telling the truth. To her audience’s surprise, she was able to recite the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Angelus effectively.


“Big mistake,” she smiled impishly. “If that was a trap set by my opponents, then they made a very big mistake.”


The experience also allowed Dadah to connect with her future constituents in a deeper level. Now, they are sending her photos of children wearing hijab. “They now wear with pride what was previously seen as a symbol of fear,” she remarked.


Overall, the 2019 elections in Isabela City “is about people rising above their fears,” she said.


But beyond the halls of the city that she now leads, Dadah is also a pillar of love and strength in a household that is blessed with five children who are always more than happy to see her home.


Each moment they seize, to the point that her youngest kid told her, “I did not want to sleep because I do not want to wake up without you.”


Along with their political stature is also the need to acknowledge that there is a constant threat to her and her husband’s security. Such matter has already been discussed by their family. Aside from the standard protocol, however, is an added request from their children:


“If you leave, if you go to Basilan, whatever it is that we’re doing, make sure that you wake us up and say goodbye.”


“At least give us a chance to say ‘I love you’ before you leave.”


And, even with an early flight and five kids to say goodbye to, Dadah always makes sure to fulfill that promise before she leaves.


“Sometimes, when they could not wake up, I’ll take a video of myself kissing them and telling them that I love them. Then I’ll send it to them so that they’ll know that I went to their room before I left,” she shared.