Women, peace, and security; these are the three things that Humphrey alumna Sharifa Pearlsia Ali-Dans is an advocate of. Her life as a public servant has been a long and fulfilling one.
She pursued Public Administration at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas in Austin in 1990 under the Hubert H. Humphrey (HHH) Fellowship Program. Her concentration was on Public Policy and Women’s Participation. That same year, she also did an internship with the Capital Area Council, the equivalent of exposure to local government in the Philippines.
When asked if she enjoyed her time there, “Absolutely. The whole experience widened my horizon in the field of women’s participation. My career as Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government – Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DILG – ARMM), and my passion for women, peace, and security has holistically anchored me well in my role as the Chairperson of the Technical Working Group that was tasked to craft the ARMM Gender and Development (GAD) Code (MMA Act 280) and Implementing Rules and Regulations. The ARMM GAD Code is the only regional Gender and Development Code in the country. The WPS (Women, Peace, and Security) is covered by the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 for which the Philippines is a signatory, and has translated it into a National Action Plan. The ARMM is a model region for the Localization of the National Action Plan (LNAP). Engaging with the Local Government Units (LGUs), local chiefs of police women’s protection desks, and CSOs through our own provincial/city/municipal Local Government Operations Officers encapsulates the concerns on women’s issues, anti-VAWC, anti-trafficking, and peace and security. The GAD Plan and Budget is a challenge, particularly since we are a conflict-affected region and local leadership changes every three years. One must have the passion to do this and my US study experience has anchored me well on this.”
After her return from her scholarship, she joined the Department of Education (DepEd) Region 9 Regional Learning Materials Center (RLMC) in 1997 as a Project Development Coordinator. They produced materials written by teachers in English, Science, and Math. Their project in Basic Education under the Australian Aid (AusAID) gave her the opportunity to study in Brisbane, Australia as an AusAID RLMC PROBE Fellow. In 2001, they turned over the project to DepEd. This is when she joined the Office of the Regional Governor as Chief Administrative Officer, HRM Division, ARMM. And in September 2005, Regional Governor Dr. Paouk Hussein appointed her as Assistant Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government ARMM.
Protecting women and ensuring everyone’s safety in a conflict-ridden area
ARMM has been conflict-ridden for more than four decades already. A lot of families are in poverty and this has made them yearn for a better life abroad. One of the biggest problems (and the most challenging) in the region is the illegal trafficking of domestic helpers and workers. Since Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Sulu are in close proximity to Sabah Malaysia, traffickers get to send workers through the backdoor to work in Lebanon, Jordan, and Mongolia among others. Just a year ago, 14 women were rescued at a brothel in Sabah by Interpol with the participation of Tawi-Tawi’s Women’s Protection Desk. These women were being drugged to service men.
“We do not want our women to end up doing these things. They are victims and we need to work with the LGUs and our local police in these islands to be vigilant so that our women do not end up victims. We do not want their dreams for a better family life to be shattered by these (shady) traffickers. Trafficking of drugs, arms and persons are lucrative businesses and we, at our level with the participation of law enforcement officers, have to do our jobs to fight these illegal activities.” – Sharifa Pearlsia Ali-Dans
Taking advantage of the arts to promote government efforts
It was last year when Commissioner Fatmawati Salapuddin of the National Commission on Muslim Filipino (NCMF) approached her, asking if she could act as a peacemaker or mediator in a film. She considered the DILG’s Barangay Justice Program (BJP) and thought that this could be a good avenue to emphasize the role of the BJP in settling disputes. “I originally thought the role was a cameo one, so I said ‘yes.’ I then got an email from the Assistant Director who told me I needed two weeks of shooting and additional four days for Intensive Acting lessons. So I took a leave from work,” ASec. Sharifa mentioned.
Multi-awarded Director Sheron Dayoc wrote and directed the film “The Women of the Weeping River.” The film is about “a story of two women attempting to stop the cycle of violence that results from a blood feud in their Muslim community.” It won the most number of awards, including best supporting actress by ASec. Sharifa, at the 40th Gawad Urian Awards last July 20th. The script was in English and had to be translated to Tausug. ASec. Sharifa noted that an almost one hundred percent Tausug non-acting cast put the translation in the proper context. The crash course in Acting was led by actress Ruby Ruiz.
Of taking risks and getting into filmmaking
“I can assure you, at 64, acting was not in my bucket list.” But ASec. Sharifa’s motto is Carpe Diem, translation: seize the moment. At the age of 63, she was doing some zip lining at Mt. Hoyohoy.
After her experience of partaking in the creation of a film, she was left in awe of the people in the industry. “The discipline, passion, and commitment of the cast and crew – down to the production design, cinematographer, lights man, clapper, etc. – were awesome, especially after working in all types of weather just to perfect a shot. All the members of the cast went through filming rain or shine without any complain. We have many scenic spots in the rural areas, and this experience provided an avenue to show a rustic village and the beautiful walk along the foggy forest. It was like walking in the clouds. Ahh, so serene and to capture it in film is just amazing. You have to be there yourself to be mesmerized by it all.”
One of the things that ASec. Sharifa appreciated was that, given their shooting location, they were able to buy Marang fruits (harvested from the tree itself) directly from the farmers. “We don’t get to do that when we are in the city.”
Recognition from the Humphrey alumni community
When asked what it felt like to win the award, “I feel so humbled and truly blessed to have won the Gawad Best Supporting Actress Award in my first acting experience. To receive the congratulatory greetings from my co-Humphreys was so truly inspiring. I felt like I won it all for you guys as we welcome to participate in a challenging opportunity of a lifetime such as being an actor. Carpe diem. I love you all.”
Ending her story, she takes note of her Humphrey Fellowship experience – “The HHH Fellowship is a noteworthy program for middle managers and professionals wanting to learn more about the field they want to pursue. It provides anyone in this program the right anchor to one’s pursuits. It did for me and I am truly grateful to PAEF, Fulbright Philippines and the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.
For those aspiring Humphrey fellows, we hope to pick up from the promising brains out there. This has become more competitive and challenging but I am hopeful we will always have more joining us in this program. In Shaa Allah. Thank you for the opportunity you have given me.”