(Thank You Speech by Prof. Miriam Coronel Ferrer Awarding Ceremony, Hillary Rodham Clinton Award for Advancing Women, Peace and Security, Georgetown University, Washington D.C. 22 April 2015)
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Georgetown University President John De Gioia, Ambassador Melanne Verveer Ambassador Staffan de Mistura
Ladies and gentlemen.
It took 17 years of hard negotiations before the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed an Agreement that aims to stop the war. This Agreement will enable MILF combatants and other disenfranchised segments of the Moro population to participate in meaningful autonomous governance.
It provides a road map for a new set of more democratic, representative and accountable political institutions.
It taps diverse modes for delivering socioeconomic programs to decommissioned combatants, the internally displaced and communities long affected by the conflict.
The Agreement also seeks ways to carry out transitional justice, to thread together the tattered fabric of social life and heal the wounds of centuries of conflict that began under Spanish and American colonial rule. We hope it will reconcile families, political groups, tribes and communities alienated from each other by prejudice, vendetta and injustice.
The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro acknowledges a different narrative of our national being, one that would bridge our majority-minority divide toward a shared future where fellow- Filipinos live in peace under one flag in an undivided territory.
Finally, the agreement of March 2014 offers a model for conflict resolution and politically negotiated solutions to armed conflicts. It drew from experiences in Northern Ireland and Aceh, and it now informs ongoing efforts in Myanmar and Southern Thailand.
*** Three out of six government signatories to the agreement are women, with myself as the chair. The MILF panel was all men. In all, just three of the 12 signatories are women. Still, it’s a big leap: nearly all past negotiations were exclusively done by men.
These three women were not alone. They were backed up by a strong and active contingent of women outside of the formal table. From them, we got the strength and fortitude to see the process through, a delightful dynamic of women inspiring fellow women.
Our peace process, indeed, was informed by the very goals of this award: to protect women against all forms of violence and advance the role of women in attaining peace and security in and outside of their homes. I speak especially of the women in the Bangsamoro, who have endured the burden of strife, and who must now secure their places in the public sphere as equal partners in peace and development.
The road to peace has not been easy. The momentum toward peace almost ground to a halt last January, when Special Action Forces of the Philippine police launched an offensive against militants belonging to the Jemaah Islamiyah . The operation took place in the vast marshland of Central Mindanao where MILF members also reside.
It ended disastrously, in a firefight that involved the police and different armed groups in the area, including the MILF. About 70 Filipinos died, with many more wounded.
The casualties could have been avoided if the police had observed the ceasefire protocols. Most of those killed were policemen, and their deaths rightfully generated public sympathy for the police but also stoked the flames or resentment against the MILF, the peace agreement and the draft law that would establish a new autonomous government in Muslim Mindanao.
Before long, the public discourse slid into bigotry against the Moros, the MILF as well as Muslims in general. Centuries of distrust and hatred resurfaced. Lost in the vitriol were the goals of the process. To stop the bloodletting that had counted more than 120,000 lives lost in combat since the 1970s. To bring to the fold the biggest non-state armed group in the country, and enable its moderate, reformist leadership to prevail over the more radical and violent ideologues.
As I speak right now, the ceasefire remains in place. But the vision of lasting peace is being shut out by the narrow horizons of certain political elites, and by a public fed with misinformation and driven by prejudices bordering on Islamophobia .
And misogyny too. If former secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton had been called a ‘funny lady’ in the course of her drive to find peaceful solutions and creative compromises in one area of conflict, I in turn had been called a “dumb bitch,” a traitor and a weak negotiator who bartered away the country to the Muslims/Moros.
Ms. Clinton wrote in her book, Hard Choices: “It is the unfortunate reality that women in public life still face an unfair double standard … an outrageous sexism, which shouldn’t be tolerated in any country.”
I know only too well how true this is. Yet we have gone this far in our peace process. There should be no turning back.
I am now a grandmother – my granddaughter, along with my sister Sheila Coronel, are here with me today. I don’t want Kaleigh Ysabelle here to inherit a country divided by prejudice, dishonored by sexism, and stunted by the narrow vision of members of its political class.
I have met many, many grandmothers in Mindanao who reject the same, and ask for respect and dignity for all.
Thank you Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security for this award, and to you all ladies and gentlemen for making peace, and rejecting war.
Special thanks also to all the other men and women who have provided our work with all the back-up support. Maraming salamat po.