WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: The Gabriela link. Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 March) — In September last year, the 10th Infantry Division began deployment of its Peace and Development Teams (PDTs) to implement its Peace and Development Outreach Program (PDOP). The Division initiative would anticipate the implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) or Oplan Bayanihan, the AFP roadmap for 2011-2016, touted to be a “paradigm shift” adopting the “whole-of-nation-framework” in executing a security strategy that puts the welfare of the people at the center of its operations. In this way, the Plan argues that the AFP would “win the peace” and win the war. And so, operations other than war (OOTW) are to be strengthened to “win the sentiment of the people and create an environment conducive for sustainable development and a just and lasting peace”.

Don’t look now, but soldiers going into communities are not going to win the sentiment of grassroots women affiliated with women NGOs – much less create what the IPSP hopes to be an environment conducive for sustainable, just and lasting peace – when they come up to women and ask them if their organization has links with Gabriela. Truth is, grassroots organization of women is more the norm than the exception in community villages. And yes, long before the AFP thought up the IPSP, Gabriela had been getting the women organized in their communities. So?

Does being a member of Gabriela make one an unfit citizen of this country? I would argue that Gabriela and the community organizing it has done in the communities have actually made it possible for many women to be exemplary citizens who can take care of their own needs and work for empowering other women to address gender concerns. It is when women have a voice and the means to make things better for themselves and their children that just and lasting peace in the grassroots stands a chance.

Why would soldiers immersing into the community go around asking women who work for gender empowerment and grassroots development whether they are members of Gabriela or if their organization is being supported by Gabriela? Is either or both a crime?

Soldiers must have a reason for asking grassroots women about their ties to Gabriela. I asked some officers why a soldier would ask a woman leader he meets in the community if she is a member of Gabriela or if Gabriela supports the activities of her group. They said it’s likely because soldiers need to educate the community on the methods used by left-leaning elements to recruit its mass base so the people can protect themselves from leftist infiltration. So the question is actually a conversation starter, building up to the soldier launching on an education campaign to counter what he assumes to be the educational input the women might have had with Gabriela or such like groups deemed to have ties with the CPP-NDF-NPA.

When I went to the IPSP workshop at Camp Aguinaldo last February 9 and 10, I was nonplussed to find that it was about generating the evaluative criteria to assess the effectiveness of the Plan’s implementation. That was six weeks into IPSP implementation and the AFP had yet to design for its monitoring and evaluation. That, to my mind, is not the way to do things, but that was the way it was done.

Not surprisingly, without the standard to guide the soldiers’ conduct of immersion into the barangays, instances of disconnect like this show up this early on the ground. Oplan Bayanihan boasted of implementing effects-based operation – that is, it would reckon its operations in terms of its effects on the people. Here is an effect of soldiers labeling women NGOs: the women resent it.

I’ve just about had it with community women seeking help to allay their fears of soldiers who knock on their doors with the kind of questions they ask. It’s ironic that OOTW meant to be a “people-centered human security strategy” is just generating a mounting sense of insecurity among women out there in their own communities of residence.

If the AFP wants to win the sentiments of the community, alienating the women and conveying suspicion of their movement for grassroots gender empowerment are not the way to do it. Putting community women on defensive for being Gabriela members or receiving support from Gabriela is not the way to win their hearts at all. Lecturing them in the guise of educating them that the way they have been empowered is merely a diabolical, pernicious seduction by the Left intended to expand its mass base is tantamount to calling these women stupid and gullible. That would not win their minds either. That insult would not likely make women receptive or sympathetic to Johnnies-come-lately who accuse, imply, or judge them in this light.

There are reasons why women in the barangays want to be empowered. The most compelling among these is the desire for ignorant men to stop accusing, implying, and judging them to be stupid and gullible. The sooner that the AFP understands that, the sooner it can rethink how to successfully engage women in their communities for forging working relations that could being about just and lasting peace there. Because if truth be told, women hold up more than half the sky. They are the ones who really feel the need to work towards creating conditions in their communities that would allow them to live there permanently.

Women are a resource to our grassroots community. Gabriela recognized that early on and has worked to make women find their voice to participate more constructively in communal decision making and community transformation. Gabriela does not think that grassroots women are gullible and stupid. And that is why Gabriela wins at least a seat in Congress every time. Grassroots women –whether they are members of the Gabriela Women’s Party or not – put Gabriela there to speak for them. Beyond the politics of the Left and the Right, grassroots women know the truth that Gabriela stands by them with a clear understanding of their need to improve their life situation and find security in their homes and in their community.

As we understand it, the IPSP was intended to make those in the mountains come down when they realize that life in their home communities could actually be so much more tolerable. I don’t think the IPSP was intended to make those in communities feel it safer for them to rather be up in the mountains. The IPSP was implemented to win people back into their communities, not for women who are there now to feel that they are threatened just because they work to make things better where they are, for themselves and for their children. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).