Mags Maglana and the wizardry of collective action – Part 1

(or what’s hair got to do with transformative leadership)

By Lina Sagaral Reyes

With research and infographics by Leigh Franchesca R. Anino

We’d imagined bespectacled Maria Victoria Maglana, or Mags, a singular cord of plaited hair dangling down her right shoulder to below her chest from its roots at the top of her head crowned by a mostly silvered, bobbed hair.

“QUEUE, it is called queue (also spelled “cue”),” Mags readily replied when asked what that signature hairstyle was called which she had been sporting for about 25 years now. She wore it as the enduring OOTD: she wore it when she served porridge at the National PalugaOne. She wore it during the five-day online dialogue platform for leaders and thinkers, “Kusog Mindanao,” a gathering she facilitated shortly after she filed her candidacy.

The queue dangling over her right shoulder reveals how a woman comes of age, defy gender norms, and establish a personal identity.
Photo from Mags Maglana’s Facebook account

Maglana is running for the lone seat of the First Congressional District of Davao City in the forthcoming May 2022 general elections. Her candidacy challenges the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte himself by proxy as the incumbent congress representative is Paolo Duterte, the President’s first-born son, right in Davao City, their bailiwick, and where Paolo had won a landslide victory in 2019.

District 1 consists of 54 mostly urban barangays, 40 in the Poblacion, the commercial area and 14 in Talomo area. It is the most populous of the three congressional districts of the city though it is only second to the hinterland 3rd district for land area. It is also the most vote-rich. Excluding the registrants this year, District 1 voters (389,332) comprise more than a third (39.5 per cent) of the city’s almost one million voters in the 2019 elections.

It is in District 1’s Matina area, at Doña Luisa Village in Matina that Duterte himself resides. The son lives in Skyline subdivision, in the more affluent neighborhood of Catalunan Grande, where January Navares, Paolo’s wife is the barangay chair. 

Davao City’s milestones on women’s rights and its former leader’s abusive voice on women: paradox or irony?   

On the eve of the global observance of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence (16DAAGV) in November, we’d imagined whether Mags flipped that hank of head-tail as she talked seriously on the phone, contemplating on the extant conditions of gender inequality in Davao City and the country.

“Is this a paradox or an irony?” she began.

“The Davao local government has achieved several milestones on the issues of women’s rights and empowerment,” Mags, the 50-something gender empowerment and peacebuilding advocate, and facilitation expert continued.

She went on to enumerate the legislation passed by the city’s Sangguniang Bayan of Davao, like the Gender and Development (GAD) Code of 1997, that mainstreamed gender and development concepts by integrating GAD in all areas of governance, including the anti-harassment and the anti-discrimination ordinances.

She named the abominable flip side of this coin. “But the city’s political leadership that had gone to Malacañang is the biggest, loudest, and most abusive voice against women. And not only against women, but also against gays; he stereotypes gays.”

In hindsight, it appeared to us to be both paradox and irony; in fact, a ghastly contradiction.

Maglana facilitating a gender and peace building workshop. Photo from Violeta Gloria’s Facebook account

Dili ma-reconcile (we can’t reconcile) how in the same breath – ” she stopped midsentence.  We could sense she was trying to find the words as she fathomed this phenomenon, and then silence hung in the air for a moment, till she found her voice again.

“What this leader said in public pronouncements and his public conduct is an attitude, how (for him) women are viewed as sexual commodities. This stereotyping, this abusive language is not consistent with the quality of local legislation,” she went on.

“It weighs heavy on the mind.”

“Because there is a demonstration effect, in a sense, here. Public officials, hearing him would say that it is all right, pwede ra man diay dili motu man, ma-encourage ang dili sakto,’’ (that it is all right to disregard accountability, and encouraged misbehavior) she stressed.

Here lies impunity, and for Maglana people needed to be concerned that “it should be an election issue, that leader’s behavior.”

Maglana’s answer to observations that her candidacy in the Dutertes’ bailiwick was akin to banging her head on a wall.

5Gs: countering the 3Gs of Philippine election culture

Maglana was referring to an aspect of Dutertismo, the authoritarian regime and leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose political bastion was founded in Davao City in Mindanao since the 1980s, soon after the EDSA Revolution. This southern city is 946 aerial kilometers from Metro Manila.

Maglana had engaged in deep-diving scrutiny through op-ed pieces of that particular Duterte brand of misogyny since the days of the hashtag Babae Ko (#BabaeAko) social campaign in 2018. She had called out Duterte’s relentless verbal assault against “bad” women leaders such as Ombudswoman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Senator Leila De Lima, the journalist Maria Ressa, and Vice-president Leonor “Leni” Robredo.

Her perspectives, she said, are shaped not only by feminist sighting but also by the more inclusive lens of SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Equality).

These are embedded into Maglana’s 5-point legislative platform, that finds expression in the clever mnemonic, “5Gs/5Ms.”

She explained that 5Gs (aside from alluding to advanced cellphone technology) is the counterculture she and her group offer as the alternative to the “3Gs” of Philippine elections: guns, goons, and gold, referring to the culture of violence and vote-buying during elections. The 5Ms is an approximate Bisayan translation of the 5Gs.

Lawyer Romeo Cabarde, himself a SOGIE advocate and Maglana’s campaign coordinator, explained that the 5Gs and 5Ms catchphrase means:

  • Governance (Maligdong nga pangagamhanan)
  • Good quality of life (Maayung kalidad sa kinabuhi)
  • Grassroots-oriented approach to peace and human rights (Malinaw on nga katilingban)
  • Glocal solutions to disasters and climate change(Malahutayong pagdepensa sa kinaiyahan)
  • Genuine post-pandemic economic recovery (Matinud-anong pagbangon sal ekonomiya)

Mags foresees the 5Gs/5Ms agenda as an evolving political framework.

“We have to craft this right now as we cannot start a conversation with the people of District 1 without outlining where we stand. We are in a listening mode,” she said, adding that she was on her way to meet some senior women in the community.

Among these sages and crones that Maglana leans on to for advice and support is the feisty Patricia Sarenas, a two-term congress representative for the now- defunct Abanse! Pinay partylist and chair of MinCODE, the federated networks of non-government organizations in Mindanao.

Kami yung mga babaeng may lakas loob. Dili kami ma-terrorize ni Digong,” (We’re the women who dared. We cannot be terrorized by Duterte) says Sarenas.

Maglana believes in putting up the systems and mechanisms to make social services be accessible to the public as a matter of right. Photo from the Facebook account of Isabelita Solamo Antonio

Sarenas said that she has oriented Mags with the responsibilities that fall on legislators’ shoulders. She also bolstered Maglana’s stand on major issues such as the anti-terror law, peace in Mindanao, and the SOGIE bill. She believes that Mags must respond to the District 1 constituency’s need for livelihood opportunities as well as basic services.

Like Sarenas, Maglana takes an anti-patronage stance on service delivery. Both believe in putting up the systems and mechanisms to make social services be efficiently accessible to the public as a matter of right, without the people feeling beholden to politicians.

Read Part 2


Lina Sagaral Reyes is a grantee of the  Philippine Press Institute 2021 Fellowship on the Coverage of the Pandemic and the Elections, with funding from the Hanns Seidel-Philippines Foundation.