A Datu’s Path Towards Peace
By Brent Harvey Jimenez
In common parlance, the word datu is closely linked with authority, conflict and warlordism. However, there is one datu who seeks to break this notion.
Datu Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan, fondly called Muss by friends and family, is a man of great influence and affluence. But despite his status, the 37-year old datu believes that humility, simplicity, and peace are paramount.
Muss is a Martial Law baby and was born in Cotabato City. He is a descendant of the Iranun-Bugasan Sultanate and a member of the Royal House of Maguindanao.
His mother and father are first cousins, and incidentally, descendants of Sultan Kudarat, the ancient Muslim sovereign who reigned the Sultanate of Maguindanao in the 17th century.
As a genuine Islamic datu by blood, he also has a lineage to the prophet Mohammed through Shariff Kabungsuan, from whom all datus stem from.
Clearly, royalty runs through his veins.
But even so, growing up was not easy for Muss.
Being a datu, there were certainly a lot of expectations. He was expected to be a leader, to have people under him, and to protect his people with his own power. He recalls the words of Datu Sariff—that a datu is someone who is tough, courageous, but will not fight; he may at times be a coward, but he will not run away from a problem.
Muss also grew up seeing so much violence. His father, Atty. Tahir Lidasan, had been ambushed several times. In his childhood years, their political opponent in Parang, Maguindanao, attacked his father.
Muss has seen more violence than an ordinary person can take—and his other experiences are better left unsaid.
And perhaps it is all this violence that has shaped his worldview on violence—that it is cowardly, that nothing good will ever come out of it.
And because of this, Muss has set out to become an advocate of peace.
But that propensity for peace was most influenced by his father.
His father was a lawyer. And as a lawyer, he tried to maintain the lawyer’s classical oath of office—to make the long story short, he didn’t grow rich by being a lawyer.
Oftentimes, Muss’ father would take him along with him, especially in political campaigns and court hearings.
His father, who mostly handled criminal cases, once brought him along to Marbel for a case that lasted for more than 10 years, in which four Iranuns were accused of murder and kidnapping. What struck him was that his father did not even ask for them to pay him—for his father, ensuring proper justice is served is more than enough.
And it is this sense of justice that Muss, and many other people of all walks of life, truly respect and admire.
This dedication for service, patience and humility is something he took after from his father. And he infuses it in his life and his leadership.
Even as a datu, Muss sometimes rides jeepneys and public transport. He does this not only to be more humble, but also to attach himself and be closer with people. Too much air conditioning and luxury, he says, can negatively change the way you look at the world.
Interestingly, Datu Muss was also raised in a Catholic school. For many years, he studied in Notre Dame University. It is through this experience that he was able to see and admire the good things of a religion other than Islam, allowing him to better understand his Christian brothers and sisters, as well as strengthening his relationship with Allah and becoming closer to Islam.
Now, Muss is based in Davao City. But his journey to the City of Royalties was not something he planned.
When Muss’ term as Provincial Board Member of Shariff Kabungsuan ended in 2007, he planned to run for office. But his clan decided that Maguindanao wasn’t ready for him. He accepted the wisdom of his elders, and eventually, he came to Davao.
He finished law school at the Ateneo de Davao, and he has fostered a good relationship with the Jesuits. Through the years he has had partnerships with the university during the administration of Fr. Samson, SJ, organizing the Muslim Atenista Conference in 2006.
It was Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, current President of the Ateneo de Davao University, who invited him to work at the Ateneo. He accepted Fr. Tabora’s offer. Now, he works as Executive Director of the Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia (Al Qalam).
With this, Muss has set out to pave the way and cement the road towards lasting peace. He envisions a Bangsamoro that is no longer divided, a Bangsamoro whose citizens are not merely citizens of Bangsamoro, but of the world—without, of course, compromising their ethnic and religious identity.
For him, for peace and security to become a reality, the individual person or Bangsamoro must learn and know that he has a role to play in helping the community. No amount of system or political peace negotiations will work if the individual will not change.
Even in light of the recent bombings, Muss remains positive that this peace and this vision are achievable.
And it is this vision that anchors him in Mindanao and keeps him from pursuing the many opportunities abroad.
In pursuing that vision, he has chosen to stay and work with Al Qalam. And he sees Al Qalam as the bridge—that which will bridge the gap between Muslims and Christians, among different communities, to arrive at a better understanding and achieving the vision of a collective concern for all people.
Muss is married to Bai Oleh Sinsuat Limbona-Lidasan. They have two children, who now study in the Ateneo de Davao Grade School.
Though Muss is often busy with work, he finds time to spend time with his family, especially with his children. To Muss, bonding with his children not only relieves him of all the stress as a datu and as Executive Director of Al Qalam, but it gives him fulfillment, which fuels him up for succeeding days.
His children, too, inspire him in his work. And he believes that through his work with the Al Qalam and the Ateneo de Davao, he can help make his vision for Mindanao and the Philippines a reality.
And he hopes that vision of peace truly becomes a reality within his lifetime.