Bangsamoro women as walking bridges of peace

As part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), highlanders are excluded from claiming Indigenous Peoples rights over ancestral domains. Rich mineral and water resources are out of their reach. Poverty and illiteracy figures are worst than 1970 levels all over the ARMM areas.

These are some of the revelations voiced out in the All-Moro Women  Conference on Peace  Processes: Realities and  Options, held in Cotabato City on December 1 and 2. The conference highlighted the peace processes of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  with the Government of the Philippines (GRP).

The meeting was attended by close to 120 participants and guests coming from different faiths, peoples’ communities, and organizations. The delegates came from  faraway places in the ARMM  (Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan, Marawi City, Lamitan City), and from Davao, Zamboanga, General Santos City, Sultan Kudarat province, North Cotabato and Cotabato City, and Manila. The  conference was convened with the support of the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), and the local Governance Support Program in the ARMM (LGSPA).

As the two-day conference  drew to a close,  women in  their   long dresses, gaily-colored headdresses, and veils are huddled intently in small group discussions about the final conference statement. The conference hall itself is festooned by Maguindanao ethnic motifs embroidered into various colored textiles hanging close to the ceiling. Into this colorful scenery, which is  part of the Mindanao-wide Week of Peace celebrations that featured a peace march, exhibits, solidarity wall, series of consultations,  games, and a concert, the proceedings focused on the all-important questions of indigenous people’s right to  self determination, unity across the liberation fronts, and  women  participation in the peace processes.

The conference urged all  parties to fast track the peace process and show sincerity in the full implementation of the signed GRP-MNLF peace agreements and concluding the GRP-MILF peace talks.

Keynote speaker was former Senator and woman leader Leticia R. Shahani who impressed upon women – empower yourselves and attain our goals – regardless of  changing roles, believing in the innate dignity and worth of the human person and interacting with men as equals. She also reminded that there are avenues opened to women by U.N. protocols and access to 5% of the local government unit (LGU) budget for gender and development projects, as well as training and skills program in TESDA. Shahani’s opening message became more urgent in view of the worsening situation in the Bangsamoro areas.

Deteriorating Situation in the Bangsamoro Areas

Amina Rasul of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy reported that there is less access to electricity and water by the ARMM population in the 1990s compared to the 1970s. Rasul reported that their office is helpless to access data from government on the two billion pesos (P2B) seed money  given to ARMM and where the money was spent. Looking over the budget prepared by the Department of Budget from 1997 to 2003, Rasul ascertained that capital outlays received only a miniscule 14% share even as this is a priority in the war-devastated areas of ARMM. The World Bank study of International Institutions cited that 74% of the budget went to pay salaries of personnel like teachers, ARMM workforce, and DOH basic personnel services, and that ARMM had to absorb 20 devolved national offices.  Being an autonomous region, ARMM could not partake of national project development funds. The Governor’s office itself, received only 4% of the budget.  

Atty. Raissa Jajurie, Mindanao Convenor of SALIGAN (Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal-Mindanao) stated that the peace process has not ensured a solution to problems of injustice, displacement, land conflict, summary killings and military operations. There are human rights violations and killings over land, resources and hatred based on discrimination. There has been no restitution of rights, no programs for healing dialogues and culture of peace where life stories and anger are released.  MNLF and MILF have furthermore no clear policies regarding the advocacy, persecution, and pursuit of  justice. Finally, there is lack of  solidarity actions elsewhere in Mindanao to promote openness and willingness to understand tri-people (indigenous peoples of the lowlands and highlands, and settler Christians) participation. A successful final peace agreement is one that the people in general (Mindanao and nationally) perceive  to be relevant, is understood and supported. There is need to bring in more stakeholders’ participation,  and participation of women in the peace processes.

Highlights of the Ongoing Peace Processes

                MNLF

Atty. Randolf Parcasio of the MNLF, and former Southern Philippines Development Authority Administrator,  updated the conference on the status of the GRP-MNLF Peace Process.  The GRP now agrees to meet the MNLF and OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries). A tripartite meet was held last November 10 to 12 in Jeddah. The OIC Peace committee for the Southern Philippines consists of: Bangladesh, Brunei, Malaysia, Turkey, Pakistan, Senegal, Libya, Somalia, Indonesia, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The OIC-Southern Philippines Peace Envoy  is Ambassador Al Masry of Egypt.   

Parcasio reminded the delegates that a review of the past, and learning from it, accelerates the charting of the Bangsamoro destiny. The 1976 Tripoli agreement was aimed to establish autonomy in 13 provinces and all cities therein in the Southern Philippines. MNLF believed that strong autonomous governments are the seed of a federal form of government. But this was never realized in the next 20 years, and no final agreement  reached, only the establishment of a provisional government to prepare for an autonomous government. The second phase was to be the enactment of a law to repeal the organic act that created the ARMM passed after 1986, admittedly a unilateral act on the part of government. The MNLF has always asserted that the name ARMM is not  accurate, since the autonomous region consists not only of Muslims, but of indigenous peoples of the highlands,  Christians, and members of other religious denominations. But the name ARMM prevailed that renders the peace process  at a deadend. With a failed transitory period in phase 1, how can phase 2 proceed, coupled with the detention of MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari.

                MILF

Maulana Alonto, Panel Member MILF, GRP-MILF Peace Talks,  praised the  organized Bangsamoro women who are the martyrs of the Bangsamoro revolution in the historic struggle for freedom against colonialism up to the present.  Women  have shown resistance, patience, courage, self sacrifice. A book needs to be written about them.

Updating women on the peace process, Alonto noted that a primordial issue is being negotiated, believing that political  settlement is possible between Bangsamoro and national  struggle.

In the initial stages, between 1997-2000, MILF has seen new models in settling conflict and peaceful negotiations. The MILF entered into the negotiations free from any commitment, and open to new formulas which refer to international humanitarian law and respect for evacuees in the conduct of negotiation, and the United Nations declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples leading to higher forms of self governance.

In the security aspect, the Tripoli agreement is basically about security and ceasefire. The GRP-MILF peace process involves international communities in the International Monitoring Team (IMT) which consist of 60 people from five countries, namely: Malaysia, Japan, Brunei, Libya, Canada, beyond the confines of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries), with the main purpose  to oversee cessation of hostilities.

The 11th-13th GRP-MILF exploratory talks focused on territories and maps, and memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain, prior to the resumption of peace talks in the presence of the international community. In the transition period, MILF supports institution building.   Whereas the MILF respect the sovereignty and territory of the Philippine nation-state, Alonto said ‘we must correct the injustice in the past. We are addressing the issue of captive nations  arbitrarily included in modern nation state. This is the flow of our negotiation with the Philippine government.”

Maj. Gen Datuk Mat Yasin Bin Man Daud, Head of Mission IMT4 (International Monitoring Team), said the IMT recognizes that women organizing in Mindanao has  played an effective role in lasting peace and sustainable development. He said  that in war, the most affected and least heard in the peace processes are  women. They play a crucial role not as spectator but as motive force in view of the fast changing circumstances and day-to-day changes in the political climate, and a lot of healing that has to happen. Long-term development can be achieved with peace promotion by Bangsamoro groups that includes the participation of the indigenous communities through the institutionalization of political processes and provision of mechanisms.

Expectations

Guiamel Alim, Executive Director of the Kadtuntaya Foundation said that in 1996, the Bangsamoro expected their lives to improve with the signing of the peace agreement. The people have not seen this happening. Though the agreement may not be the end-all solution to a centuries-old problem, it can be the venue so talks must resume. The NGOs can provide links  and make the difference.

Atty. Suharto Ambolodto of the Rule of Law Effectiveness, Internationals affirmed that  women  are active in civil society assessment. He said the peace process is going well but it is straining from too much expectations, on top of so much expectations placed on peace talks in 1986, in 2001 and in 2006. MILF has reminded us what the 400 years fight was all about as a legitimate basis for asserting our nationhood and honor.  The majority-minority  dialogue has evolved to a dialogue of nations and the right of self-determination by the indigenous Bangsamoro people. MILF has broadened the process. Inclusive and participatory processes have enhanced  multi-sectoral  and civil society / NGO formations support, and secured the cessation of hostilities. Another era of hope is being ushered in of peace, security and prosperity given needed  resources.

Atty. Mary Ann Arnado of the  Mindanao People’s Caucus said that peace processes should not only awaken expectations, but motivate the Bangsamoro to meet the challenges ahead. The  right to reclaim the  ancestral domain has received solidarity support in the region. The other challenge is to remain united. She cited experiences in other nations to uphold the right to self determination. In East Timor, for example, women were able to bridge various political leadership. Women  became bridges to build unity from communities to civil society and  political factions in order to strengthen and reinforce the efforts of men. Women  sit in the peace panels and security mechanisms.  Furthermore,  political gains can lead to economic gains that will enable communities  to sustain the local economy and facilitate development packages, while being aware and vigilant regarding the interests of the  business community and the international  governments. We must remember that the Philippine Supreme court has ruled that the resources within the area of the community are supposed to contribute to the national patrimony.   

The Bangsamoro people as people, not as individuals, have political, economic, social, religious and cultural injustices committed against our people in history until now. The U.S. has acknowledged that the Bangsamoro have valid grievances. Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga of the Bangsamoro Studies stated that this  recognition has resulted in more leeway for MILF to negotiate. He said  “our aspiration as a people  are expressed in many  discourses and literature so that we can  freely determine and develop our own political institutions, and  build on what we already have. So far the MILF and MNLF are not shooting at each other. We are united.”

Women Walking Bridges to Peace  

The open forum was the liveliest part of the conference where individual women publicly aired out their concerns in the presence of men, and in dialogue with them. Paramount in the assertion is the unity of all political forces, and  women participation in the peace processes.

Women urged the gentlemen of the two fronts to talk together and be strong in negotiation with government. Women are worried that the peace processes are shrouded in secrecy. They are concerned and ask how women can help especially to involve the civil society, and in this way even broaden participation in the peace processes which includes institutionalization of women solidarity and laws affecting women like the Muslim Code of Personal Law. It was shared that Bangsamoro communities  outside of the autonomous regions like those in Compostela Valley, Maco, Mabini and Pantukan  have participated in the consultations attendant to the peace processes. How about IPs in the highland and women in Sulu and Basilan in view of the ongoing war? How have the peace processes touched their lives?

While women’s outstanding work in crises situations have been cited, women said, they should always be included in the planning and implementation. Women clamored for participation in the peace processes. While all these negotiations are ongoing , women’s voices are not heard – voices that will heal war-torn communities. Citing the U.N. resolutions mandating women participation in peace building and peaceful resolution of conflicts in all levels, the Bangsamoro women asserted that women are equal partners in the struggle and rebuilding, and must participate in peace negotiations. Furthermore, women are very important in the life of men. “However, women are not given affirmation, perhaps because we cling to the tradition of the bangsa – pedestal women. But today, women are not content to be up on the pedestal. We have gone beyond that and are actually in the action. Men should take care. Women are partners of men to be by their side,” they said.

“Gender issue  has become a debatable subject among us women. We are Bangsamoro. What is our religion? Can we unite women on our issues as women?” they asked.

Indeed, the women believe that the framework for self determination  of indigenous peoples include environmental issues, agricultural production and capital, and women’s full and equal participation.

In the open sharing with resource persons, women took to the floor and affirmed that “today is the time to act, not when the peace processes are over.” Women are working in the transition period to build institutions, which is the task of everybody, including the grassroots. It is the time to improve our lives and assert the institutionalization of political processes: good governance, justice system, environment, and women take leadership role regarding official development assistance (ODA).

Conference Resolutions

The conference strongly recommended  that the organization of the Bangsamoro women and civil society organizations be included in the review and monitoring of the implementation of the GRP-MNLF final peace agreement as  a result of the tripartite meeting in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; call on the Bangsamoro mujahideen/mujahidat to increase their vigilance and to work with the civil society on the post-conflict road to meaningful peace; call on the Government of the Philippines  to provide the promised resource, to put into reality its declared intentions and commitments to peace based on justice, specifically to immediately release from detention Prof. Nur Misuari who is a symbol of Bangsamoro struggle; to stop all military operations in Mindanao, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Basilan and neighboring islands.

The conference affirmed that to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao and solve the Bangsamoro problem, the right to self-determination of the Bangsamoro people should always be upheld. The conference called on all stakeholders in the peace process, particularly international donor institutions to direct their aid towards resolution of the roots causes of the conflict and development projects that may truly be towards building peace in Moro communities and ultimately redound to national and global peace. (Maria Virginia Yap Morales)

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