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With Framework Agreement Signed, Women Walk Road to Peace in Southern Philippines

October 31, 2012

By Maria Isabel T. Buenaobra

On October 19, The Asia Foundation held the Manila launch of the book, Dynamics of Gender and Conflict in Mindanao, written by conflict experts Rufa Guiam and Leslie Dwyer. The release capped the weeklong excitement over the signing of the Framework Agreement on October 15 between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It also provided an opportunity to bring together women and men leaders and advocates from Bangsamoro who witnessed the conflict first-hand to share emotional stories of what this Framework Agreement means to them, and how decades of violent conflict has affected their lives.

Mindanao Daily Life

During their research, the book authors discovered a rich diversity of women’s peace-building activities in conflict-affected Mindanao. Photo/Karl Grobl

At the book launch, author Rufa Guiam acknowledged that “decades of conflict have wrought substantial changes in women’s lives, as well as in male-female relationships. Women and girls have often borne the brunt of conflict, but have also taken on new roles.” Through their research for the book, the authors discovered a “rich diversity of women’s peace-building activities in conflict-affected Mindanao, and a capacity for mutually enriching dialogue on the prospects for local conflict resolution.” Guiam also emphasized that women’s participation in peace-building efforts should not be limited to resolving local conflicts, but should include participating in formal Track One and Track Two processes. From 1996 to mid-2011, male representation in the GRP’s panel for negotiation with the MILF was 82.6 percent, with two women (Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Yasmin Busan Lao) currently of the five on the government’s panel. Partly because of civil society’s call to include women in the peace panel, the MILF for the first time in 2011 enlisted the services of Moro women in the ongoing negotiations – including Muslim lawyer Raissa Jajurie as a legal consultant. For the Track Two processes, advocacy efforts should continue to allow women’s networks and civil society groups to monitor the implementation of the UNSCR 1325.

The book release brought together panelists Karen Tanada, women’s rights and peace activist with the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute; Fatsi Salapuddin of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos; renowned journalist and professor Luz Rimban of Vera Files; and Danton Remoto, head researcher of TV5, who offered comments on the book findings and its timely relevance to the signing of the Framework Agreement.

Fatsi Salapuddin, wearing an all pink dress and hijab (head scarf) emotionally recalled the week’s events. She recalled how on the eve of the signing of the landmark peace agreement, some 150 soldiers and Filipino Christians came together for a running race called, “Hijab Run for Peace: Religious Understanding Now,” an event organized by the Young Moro Professionals Network in support of the framework agreement. Although Fatsi is affiliated with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) from which the MILF split some 20 years ago, she is part of the Bangsamoro community being negotiated by the MILF. As a former NGO worker during the conflict and a government official at the start of the peace agreement, she said she saw all 30 years of her advocacy work flashback before her eyes like a film when she witnessed the signing. She recalled the hardships borne by the Bangsamoro women throughout the conflict years and felt euphoric that finally, peace will come.

Karen Tanada expressed a similar happiness, and said that all the hard work and sacrifices finally bore fruit and resolved to continue to work with them to realize the dream of peace.

Luz Rimban recalled how the many stories she has covered on Muslim Mindanao – its conflict, its men and women torn and uplifted by war, its youth forced to migrate because of the war –  have honed her skills as a journalist and sharpened her appreciation of the nuances of the conflict. She cited the story of Sarah Balabagan, a Filipino contract worker in Saudi Arabia who suffered abuse, as well as the many other women who in order to survive have assumed roles (including moving abroad ) not typical of many Bangsamoro women.

Danton Remoto recalled how he had spent months researching the plight of Bangsamoro women and men in order to contribute to the writing of the script of the film “Bagong Buwan,” (“New Moon”), produced by acclaimed director Marilou Diaz-Abaya, who had just died of cancer at the time of the book launch. He said that the Bangsamoro stories need to be told and retold through the creative arts, films, and novels.

As the book findings show, despite the gender disparity in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao and the challenges faced by women in conflict situations, women have risen from enormous obstacles encountered during the conflict. However, substantial efforts must still be made by the Philippine government, local governments, development partners, and civil society groups to strengthen women’s capacities as peace builders and peace makers in a post-conflict setting, including their participation in peace prevention and peace processes, in the framing of the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro, and continued monitoring of the implementation of the Philippine National Action Plan on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and 1820 which called for women’s full participation in peace-building activities. It is only when women participate in peace processes that a truly sustainable peace can be attained at last in the southern Philippines.

Maribel Buenaobra is The Asia Foundation’s director of Programs in the Philippines. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.


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