JOLO, Sulu (MindaNews/22 October) — Now on its tenth anniversary, the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 has finally caught the attention of governments, civil society and other peace advocate bodies. The Philippines is the first country in Asia to approve a National Action Plan on 1325 and 1820 by virtue of Executive Order 865 signed in March 1, 2010 by then Philippine President Gloria Arroyo.
But very little is known of the humble beginnings that women organizations went thru in the process of realizing the NAP. For a country that is geographically spread out and with diverse cultures, local initiatives are hardly noticed and get lost in the noise of national debates. On top of this is the notion to ignore situations in far flung provinces because what matters is only where the seat of government is situated.
Resolution 1325 was introduced to us in November of 2007 during a Linking and Learning Conference in Davao City. At that time, conflict in different forms was all over the country. In Sulu, the situation was in very bad shape. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under the leadership of Chairman Nur Misuari, had frequent encounters with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). There were displacements and women and children were physically caught in the crossfire. On March 8, 2007 the Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women held a conference called “Women Talk on the 1996 Peace Agreement”. Women wanted to know what was going on between the MNLF and the Philippine government but the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process then headed by Former Secretary Jesus Dureza did not respond to the invitation of the women.
The situation in Sulu was chaotic particularly from year 2004 up to 2009. The AFP always claimed to run after bandits and kidnap for ransom groups but always ended up in the camps of the MNLF. Tripartite meetings on the 1996 Peace Agreement were scheduled then postponed then rescheduled. And armed conflict went on in Sulu that even its nearest neighbor, Mindanao, could not understand the situation. We were just helpless with all the bombardments and air strikes and ground combat. There was nobody, no institution that we could turn to for help, much more protection.
On February 4, 2008 the Ipil massacre happened where the AFP just opened fire on sleeping civilians in a coastal village in Maimbung Sulu. Women and children were killed and there was an outrage of protest by civil society in Sulu. But the case did not prosper because the family of the victims were pressured and convinced to accept compensation. Having been introduced to 1325, the Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women held a community symposium to mark International Women’s Day, March 8, 2008 in Maimbung, Sulu.
This particular activity was just intended to disseminate information primarily to the AFP so that they will be conscious of their military actions that had gone way overboard. The local AFP contingent was invited to the symposium with the Philippine National Police (PNP). The women also translated 1325 into the Tausug language and sent it to the MNLF camp with the hope to advocate it also with the non-state combatants and their leadership. This simple activity was supported by the Local Government Unit of Maimbung, the Initiatives for International Dialogue, the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue and a local group called Tulung Lupa Sug.
From then on, the Lupa Sug Bangsamoro Women joined the national movement of women’s organization for state obligation and formal processes started. We helped coordinate the consultation for the NAP in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on September 29, 2009 in Marawi City. This was only a week after the Eidil Fitri air strike by AFP in Sulu on September 20, 2009 that killed a pregnant woman and disturbed a very important religious ceremony for Muslims. In the September 29 consultation, we took another initiative to write the OPAPP asking them to shed light on government policy towards the MNLF. For the second time with, OPAPP under Former Secretary Avelino Razon, did not respond to us.
So we thought: when you are women and less educated and a national minority, then you get less chances of being heard. So we continued to tag along with the national women organizations, academe and peace makers; we needed support mechanisms, we needed the law that can be realized only with a national action plan.
The National Action Plan on UNSC Resolution 1325 and 1820 is important to us because we are caught in the armed conflict. However, it is yet to be implemented. Government agencies and functionaries that were identified to take on responsibilities have yet to familiarize with it. On our part as civil society, we take it on as part of our peace advocacies and support every opportunity for the welfare of our sisters all across the country.
As in our case, we make small beginnings. In June 2010, the Lupa Sug Bangsamoro Women wrote to the MNLF and GRP panels as well as the OIC PCSP (Organization of the Islamic Conference – Peace Committee for the Southern Philippines) during the Tripartite meeting held in Indonesia. We made a position asking them to provide for a Women and Youth Component in their proposed Fund mechanism for conflict-affected areas. We were informed that our position paper had a good reception then. We have yet to see what happens now.
The present administration is carefully traversing the road on the peace processes, cautiously avoiding “landmines of dirt swept under the rug” by its predecessor. Indeed, there is some optimism even in the far-flung provinces. The OPAPP under a new leadership, a woman for that matter, has been giving periodic updates of the progress of peace processes. We can see the hard work of women and men now led by Secretary Deles in the OPAPP, the institution that is also assigned to lead the implementation of the NAP on UNSR1325. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Fatmawati T. Salapuddin is from the Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women).