For the inhabitants of the SOCSKSARGEN region, the name Luwalhati R. Antonino has already become a household name. She had retired from mainstream politics since 2001, immediately after she finished her third term in the House Representatives, but her name has never escaped public consciousness spanning various strands within our contemporary historical epochs.
Her appointment as the new chair of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), replacing Atty. Jesus Dureza, makes her name even more prominent, even invading now the national political landscape.
Known formerly as Malacañang in Mindanao, MinDA came into existence by Virtue of the recent passage of Republic Act No. 9996.
Lu Antonino was lately given a thunderous applause, by a throng of people attending the Mindanao Business Conference (MBC) National Tuna Congress in General Santos City, when former Senator Mar Roxas publicly announced that she had been appointed by President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III to the highest public post in Mindanao, a position with a rank equal to that of a cabinet secretary.
The inter-generational perpetuity of the name Luwalhati R. Antonino is attributable not only to her family’s political grandeur, but also, and largely, to her character as a person, as a mother, and as leader to her own people. She, as is well known, rides gloriously on the splendors of her own achievements. Lu, as she is fondly called, is her own woman.
Lu is the wife of another political leader, former City Mayor and Congressman Adelbert W. Antonino, who is widely regarded as the primary architect of the radical transformation of General Santos City as one of the major economic corridors in the country. [quote1]
She is also a mother to a former Congresswoman and now an incumbent City Mayor of General Santos City, Darlene Magnolia R. Antonino-Custodio, who, owing to her no-nonsense positioning on major national issues and concerns, her high-profile development works, and to her intrinsic political charisma, has succeeded to decorate the national political stage.
Cynics had, at first, questioned the logic of Lu Antonino’s appointment to her new job, but their commentary had later on lost its sting, which has turned out later to be a magic spell that further strengthened the philosophical foundation of her installation to a grandiose position in Mindanao.
Lu Antonino does not fall from standard vis-à-vis her appointment as MinDA chair in terms of academic qualification. The Qualification Standard or the QS attached to the position of a MinDA chair requires one to be a member of the Philippine Bar or a holder of a Masters degree.
A holder of a Baccalaureate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Santo Tomas, Lu Antonino had pursued higher levels of education, until she earned not only one but two Masters Degrees: Masters Degree in Arts and Masters Degree in Business Administration. She earned all these degrees from the University of New York, New York, USA.
There are some people who asked, rather maliciously, how Lu Antonino’s Baccalaureate Degree in Chemical Engineering would play a role in the pursuit of a nagging political question in Mindanao.
Concededly, pursuing a theoretical or purely academic postulation along this lane is extremely difficult, considering that discourses of this nature are not in abundance, if not a rarity.
It is difficult, but it can be done. It is difficult, but the formula is simple. One only need to pay an analytical visit to Lu Antonino’s political narratives, embellished by the abundance of her experiences as a social researcher, a legislator and a development advocate.
Chemical engineering is defined as a branch of engineering that deals with the application of concerned branches of science to the process of converting raw materials or chemicals into more useful or valuable forms. In one aspect, the process requires the mixture or merger of various substances in order to make a new, but useful material. [quote2]
To undergo this process, one needs to be endowed with extraordinary talent and skills in creating a happy balance and perfect homology between and among, at times varied contra and cross-repelling, substances.
This applied theory in chemical engineering is perfectly relevant in social engineering works involving social classes, economic and political forces, and religious factions, which, almost always, embrace competing interests.
A study of her political and organizational history as a three-termed congressperson, and as a leader with extensive organizational and development experiences, would reveal how Lu Antonino displays an admirable savvy of combining and balancing varied, and diametrically opposing, thoughts into ONE universally accepted idea.
Unarguably, this kind of expertise in social craftsmanship is what we need today in Mindanao, an Island soaked into decades of social ferment, division and bloodletting.
Unless the different antagonistic social fibers that comprise Mindanao’s tri-people society are embroidered into one sympathetic whole, without defacing the integrity of each and every filament, a powder-keg, which is Mindanao, is still likely to burst into a social conflagration destroying every part of the Island and every piece of our dreams.
There is no question that her academic attainments are far above the standards attached to the post to which she was appointed. During her elementary and high school days, she was prominently placed on the topmost part of the academic list. She earned two relevant Masters Degrees in one of the most prestigious and respected universities in the United States.
But, it is not at all accurate to conclude that Lu Antonino’s expertise in social engineering is just a product of mere classroom initiations or of a wheel-chair theory development process.
It is an adeptness honed by actual lifetime experiences that enabled her to develop a high degree of social tolerance and natural impulses that abhor the devils of war and a powerful drive to contribute for the attainment of lasting and meaningful peace. [quote3]
Lu Antonino was born and raised with a very conservative family in Kiamba, Sarangani Province – a municipality where the luring beauty of nature abounds. It is further made fancy by its enthralling beaches, by its placid springs, brooks and swamps and by its majestic mountain ranges which are host to thousands of living creatures, whose beauty and wonders prove the divine artistry of Someone Omnipotent.
However, despite its natural splendors, the Municipality of Kiamba had its share of the most detestable form of violence that characterized the ferments of the ‘70s.
It was during this decade that the Moro struggle for self-determination was first waged, having been triggered by the infamous Jabidah massacre. Kiamba then was not only considered as a zone of war, but it also served as a theater for actual combat. Destructions to property were pursued with impunity, and the killings were done en masse, in an almost genocidal proportion.
The spate of violence that frequently visited the Municipality of Kiamba during these trying times had prominently influenced Lu Antonino’s processes of acculturation as she passed through the different vicissitudes of her youth.
It is also during this troubled period that the young Lu Antonino had developed too much hatred for violence and for which she made a solemn pledge to contribute largely to the common efforts to end the bloodletting in Mindanao, if given a chance.
It would seem that her unexpected appointment as MinDA chair is a chance she had been waiting for since her childhood.
Her understanding of the situation in Mindanao was further bolstered when she served as the President of the Mindanao Legislators Association (MLA), and as she worked in consultation with various sectors in Mindanao in consonance with the discharge of her functions as a three-termed member of Congress.
Her immersions with the different social sections in the Island further widened her appreciation of the Mindanao situation and the needs of its people.
There are few segments of society that had attributed certain fallacies to the appointment of Lu Antonino as MinDA chair in their vain attempt to discredit or demean the logic behind her appointment and cast aspersion on her integrity as a leader of Mindanao.
They questioned the propriety of Antonino’s appointment because of her active opposition to the establishment of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), an offshoot of the peace agreement forged between the GRP and MNLF during the incumbency of the then President, Fidel V. Ramos in 1986. She was unjustly labeled as an anti-Muslim because of her no-nonsense opposition to the establishment of the SPCPD.
This criticism is wholly misplaced. Lu Antonino’s opposition to SPCPD was not anchored on ethnic prejudice or bigotry nor a blatant repulse against the processes of peace, but on a perception that the Council would not simply work, and that it would only plunge the Moro people into the abyss of false hopes.
The eventual collapse of the SPCPD, even before it fully existed, and the corresponding demystification of its leader, Nur Misuari, rendering him totally insignificant in the political scheme-of-things in Mindanao, had ratified the correctness of Lu Antonino’s social positioning. What she feared all along had actually happened.
In addition, there are quarters which tried to force a comparison between the two leaders for the purpose of painting on the public consciousness that the former MinDA Chair, Jesus Dureza, is a better specie than the incumbent chair, Lu Antonino.
A comparison, especially if fraught with gender stereotypes, is an obnoxious game. No less than the eternal line in Desiderata is revealing of this sham: “Do not compare yourself with others for you may become vain and bitter for always there is a better or lesser person than yourself.”
But still we are pretty sure that if an objective comparison is to be made Lu Antonino could emerge as substantially different from or even better than her predecessor.
Surely, unlike her predecessor, Lu Antonino will not transform Mindanao into a plantation economy as a developmental approach to peace, considering its extractive nature, and its deadly impact on the life situation of the basic sector.
Surely too, unlike her predecessor, Lu Antonino will not cuddle the different factions of the Moro Elite and use them as an armed counterpose against the legitimate Moro causes so that the eventual reincarnation of a Frankenstein responsible for the Maguindanao massacre, and which eventually devoured the very government responsible for its creation is prevented.
Truly, we expect a different Mindanao under the auspices of the new MinDA chair.
(Note: The author Ben Sumug-oy, is a former activist who is now writing a column in one of the leading newspapers in Mindanao and is finishing a law course in the MSU College of Law, General Santos City Campus.)