Mags Maglana and the wizardry of collective action – Part 2

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

By Lina Sagaral Reyes

With research by Leigh Franchesca R. Anino

Maria Victoria Maglana, or Mags, is determined to offer an authentic “alternative to the Duterte dynastic playbook.” Maglana is running for a congressional seat in District 1 of Davao challenging incumbent, Paolo Duterte, the son of President Rodrigo Duterte, in the Dutertes’ own bailiwick.

“I am proud of what Mags has done, her willingness to throw herself into the fray despite the toxicity, the atmosphere of hate prevailing in elections. She could stand a chance for she has the qualities of transformative public leadership,” said NGO leader Inday Santiago.

Photo and graphic from the Mags Maglana Facebook campaign page

Hair as meaning-bearer

Mags is also known for sporting a singular cord of plaited hair dangling down her right shoulder to her chest which she calls a queue (also spelled “cue”). We imagine her fingers clasping for a moment the knotted tip of that ponytail as she took to a higher stage of courage by running for public office.

Hair has been a meaning-bearer in women’s lives, scholar Rose Weitz writes in “Rapunzel’s Daughters,” a book that surveys the roles of hair and hair styles in women’s lives through history. A chosen hairstyle reveals how a woman would come of age, defy gender norms, and establish a personal identity.

“I get asked about it a lot. I started growing the queue in 1996 as a reminder of something. Its significance for me has evolved,’’ she said in a chat-message.

“A handy conversation starter. I’ve had sales personnel comment about it,” “ice-breaker,” and “kids like playing with it.”

Maglana’s queue or that singular cord of plaited hair dangling down her right shoulder shows not just her personal identity but also the courage to stretch borders. Photo from Mags Maglana’s Facebook account

“Someone said it is a sign of my attitude of ‘calculated irreverence’ because while I respect cultures and institutions, I am not beyond stretching borders to the next freedom, or stage of the possible.”

This stretching of borders includes Maglana’s audacious move to get involved in electoral politics. For Mags, it begins with the assertion that her cause is not only a matter of a group push but also a personal decision.

“I have to own it, I must claim my own agency. I was convinced this has to be done. We need to win to put forward an alternative, a better choice, the real voice to the Duterte dynastic playbook. We cannot continue to let a single-family rule over our city for more than 30 years,” she said.

The better, alternative choice to the dynastic playbook

“Now, would she win the elections? Of course, she has to campaign. Funds have to be raised, she must have theI would not want to use the term, machinery, because it connotes all that is bad about Philippine electionsthe people, the organization,” added Santiago whose expertise is peace building and conflict resolution.

“She knows her being there will help clean the stables. I am certain that she won’t only claim a seat on the table of policymaking but will also be transformative. Mags will turn the tables for good,” enthused Santiago.

Mags might be seen as an outlier for the constituency of District 1. But, while she seldom includes it in her narratives, she does not come out from the woodwork of activism and development alone. As a daughter, and therefore scion, she shares the bloodline of the fierce nationalist Constancio “Tanciong” Maglana, the first congressional representative of the lone district of Davao Oriental after Davao province was split into three. He served in the 6th and 7th congress.

Other leaders in Mindanao who knew her as the adept facilitator in multi- stakeholders consultations shared the same sentiment.

For Era Espana and Sylvia Okinlay-Paraguya, both Lumad leaders, it is an endeavor they do not want to get involved in, but they are happy someone like Mags has committed to taking the chances. Espana was a former commissioner at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples while Okinlay-Paraguya is Chief Executive Officer of a national federation of cooperatives.

“If an opportunity comes for us to lead as in Mags’ case, we women must grab it and learn the ropes along the way,” says Okinlay-Paraguya though she herself would not want to get involved anymore in electoral processes.

Espana shares the same thought as she detests the compromises one must make and the energies one must expend to win an election. “I would rather be tighusay, the mediator in my community,” Espana said.

Maglana puts forward an alternative, a better choice, the real voice to the Duterte dynastic playbook. Photo from Grace Mahinay’s Facebook account

Increasing women’s political participation 

Maglana’s candidacy further shines a light on the latest data showing that the proportion of women in Congress had gone down almost two notches since 2019 to 28 per cent, from a high of 29.8 per cent in 2016 and 2017. This makes the 50:50 ratio between female and male legislators by 2030, as targeted by the Sustainable Development Goals 5, a bleak impossibility.

Scholars of gender equality have pegged 30 percent as the minimum proportion for any minority group to achieve a high degree of influence in a parliament.

On the other hand, the World Economic Forum’s Gender Parity Index in 2021 placed the Philippines in 17th place, a slide of eight places from former 9th place in 2020.

The paradox-irony of Davao as most gender-responsive LGU

A day after the global observance of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence (16DAAGV) in November, Mags joined a webinar on the “Women for Leni” online community.

During the discussion, Maglana looped back to where we began the conversation more than two weeks ago. Mags ventured to confront the same paradox-irony that weighed heavily on her mind and on the minds of many feminists for sometime now-that while Davao is one of the most gender-response local government units (LGU), its former leader who is now in Malacañang is according to her, “the biggest, loudest, and most abusive voice against women.” This time she has found a resolution to the contradiction.

Graphic by Leigh Franchesca R. Anino

She said: “Kaya pa rin naman nating makita, na mahiwalay ang civilian bureaucracy sa mga elected officials ng gobyerno, sa mga pulitiko,” (It seems possible to consider citizens as separate entities from politicians) that is, having a misogynist leader and a gender-aware citizenry and legislations simultaneously.

She explained the paradox by recalling the story of the Integrated Gender  Development Division at the Davao City hall. It raises eyebrows but the laws that made Davao the most gender-responsive LGU was crafted not by a single person or party alone but was achieved by, and because of, its own engaged and progressive citizenry.

Naipundar yan dahil sa pangungulit ng maraming women’s groups and people’s organizations matapos ang mahabang struggle at hanggang sa ngayun, tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang kanilang engagement” (The legislation was passed due to pressure from women’s groups and their engagement continues to this day).

Maglana’s campaign material explains why she is going head-to-head with a Duterte in their own bailiwick.

” Kung tatanungin mo sila bakit sila sumusubok kahit sa panahon sa matinding  pandemya”  (If you asked them why they pressed on despite the pandemic)and to a certain extent they are effectivethey will tell you it is because they get strength from (their advocacy), because of the vibrant partnership with the women’s movement and the community.”

We would have wanted to see Mags flip the head-tail or quickly touch her queue’s knotted tip when she reached that eureka moment thus symbolically forming an ouroboros before an onscreen audience of almost 5,000 viewers.

But no, she never did. In fact, the head-tail this time was inconspicuous as it was slung at the back of her head and none of her gestures called attention to it. We must say here was wizard Mags, the ponytailed woman, the facilitator extraordinaire of consensus in communities, foregrounding not herself but the wizardry of the collective voices and action of the citizenry in her native city. WWW

Read Part 1


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.