In The News

Woman to Chair Philippine Government Peace Panel

December 12, 2012

Mindanao dominates the headlines in the Philippines this week for several reasons. There is the horrific aftermath of Typhoon Pablo (known internationally as Bopha), which slammed into an area of the island that typically does not get hit by storms. On a lighter note, but one that also riveted the nation, hometown boxer Manny Pacquiao (from General Santos City in Mindanao) was knocked out this past weekend in a surprise, convincing defeat – leading to speculation about whether his sterling career is on the wane.

Not surprisingly, some good news about Mindanao – that the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro is being fleshed out in Kuala Lumpur at the next round of peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – got pushed to the back pages of newspapers. The goal is to finish the details this year – and the news is that the government panel has a new chair, Professor Miriam “Iye” Coronel-Ferrer, the first woman to hold this position.

Above, residents of Marawi city attend a peace forum in southern Philippines. Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer will become the first woman to chair the government’s peace panel, and has attracted attention from gender advocates. Photo/Karl Grobl

For more than two years, Attorney Marvic Leonen has been heading the government’s efforts that reached a successful interim conclusion with the signing on October 15 of the Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro. However, in November he was appointed to the Supreme Court at the tender age of 50 (in the Philippines, justices have mandatory retirement at age 70). This takes him out of his service as an academic (at the College of Law of the University of the Philippines) and public service (as a public interest lawyer and as peace panel chair since 2010), and puts him in an entirely different arena (when issues regarding the Framework Agreement come before the Supreme Court, he will inhibit himself).

As senior member of the government’s panel, it is perhaps not surprising that political science professor Coronel-Ferrer was chosen to succeed Leonen as chair. She has long worked in this area, with writings about the government’s peace thrusts in the 1990s, the 1996 peace agreement, and advanced academic work comparing the movements in the Cordillera to the Mindanao movements for autonomy. She has been a prolific presence even as she was on the panel, explaining the government’s August 2011 proposal and the process that led to the Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro.

It is inevitable these days that people focus on the fact that she is a woman. It’s true that this is the first time a woman has headed this peace panel, but the appointment is the culmination of a long build-up. In fact, for the past dozen years the overall head of the government’s various peace efforts, the presidential advisor on the peace process, has for most of the time been a woman. Teresita “Ging” Quintos-Deles was in the post from 2001 to 2005, the late Annabel Abaya in 2009-2010, and Deles again since 2010. The MILF, which many would call socially conservative, signaled early on that they had no objection to a woman heading the government’s panel, and in their welcoming statement reiterated that it should not be a factor in the negotiations.

As noted, the MILF itself has taken to including women in its delegation to the peace talks and in its outreach. Recently, Cababay Abubakar, a consultant to the MILF, published on the official MILF website an examination of Bangsamoro identity that used the inclusive “his/her” locution. And, in the last round of talks, when two of the peace panel members were not in Kuala Lumpur (they had gone to Djibouti for the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation meeting to discuss the latest developments in Mindanao), MILF asked their female consultant attorney, Raissa Jajurie, to join their panel in the formal plenary sessions.

As the Framework Agreement was being finalized in early October, the gender advocates in the room (both MILF and GPH) were led by Emma Leslie of Conciliation Resources to scan the text to see how many times women’s issues were dealt with. Laughingly, they said that this would be what gender advocates in the peace movement would do. Sure enough, last week in the Waging Peace Conference, the presentation by Women Engaged in Action on 1325 (We Act 1325 – referring to UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security did just that:  counted the number of times gender concerns came up (three) in the Framework:

  • In the section on basic rights:  “Right of women to meaningful political participation, and protection from all forms of violence;” and
  • “Right to equal opportunity and non-discrimination in social and economic activity and the public service, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender and ethnicity.”
  • In the section on normalization:  “The Parties recognize the need to attract multi-donor country support, assistance and pledges to the normalization process … for return to normal life affecting combatant and non-combatant elements of the MILF, indigenous peoples, women, children, and internally displaced persons.”

This is generally seen as not enough, with much more work to do. We Act 1325 and Asian Circle 1325 both made submissions to the two panels (and for good measure to the International Contact Group). The fact that so much movement has happened on women’s issues – including the construction of a National Action Plan for the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 – is a testament to the long dedication of organizations focusing on this issue.

Professor Ferrer has long been associated with these efforts, so one can expect that while she chairs the government’s side a discussion on women’s concerns will continue as the panels work to finalize four annexes.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines, and represents the Foundation as part of the International Contact Group for the GPH-MILF negotiations. He can be reached at srood@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

Write a comment:

* Required

Comments are moderated. Please be polite and on-topic.

 characters available