ALEOSAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/04 October) – Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
Thirty members of the All-Women Corps in the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), most of them wearing white blouses, took their oath of service Monday morning, pledging their “time, efforts, skills and talent on a 24/7 basis, to assist, accompany and defend the Constitutional and internationally guaranteed rights of Internally Displaced Persons.”
Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza, who administered the oath, later said, “24/7 is not easy.”
The members, aged between 20 and 62, is the contingent of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus to the Malaysian-led IMT, which oversees the implementation of the 1997 general ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The deployment of an all-women peacekeeping force, said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles in her keynote address, is “most likely the first we ever had in our history of waging peace in the country.”
“I have always been optimistic that gradually and one day, we would live to see ourselves go beyond the rhetoric and witness women really move to the front and center of the peace process. Today is one such day, yet still, I am caught up in amazement of it all,” she said outside the MPC-CPC office at the old terminal site. The office was blessed after the launch.
Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, MPC secretary-general and herself a member of the All-Women Corps, said the deployment is their way of “operationalizing” United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 which acknowledges the importance of the participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives in peace negotiations, humanitarian planning, peacekeeping operations, post-conflict peacebuilding and governance.
The resolution was adopted ten years ago.
Arnado said the deployment of the All-Women Contingent is also intended “to send a strong message that we mean business.”
Lisa Ugay, MPC-CPC Coordinator and also a member of the All-Women Corps, said the 30 members are from various ethnic and religious origins and from various areas in Mindanao. The youngest member is from Lanao.
The Civilian Protection Component of the IMT is contained in an agreement signed October 27, 2009 by the government and MILF. The agreement also provides that when the IMT ceases to operate, “the civilian protection component shall remain in place and continue to perform such function.”
The government and MILF peace panels agreed on an initial membership of four: MPC, Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC), Moslem Organization of Government Officials and Professionals, Inc. (Mogop) and the Non-Violent Peace Force.
MPC has been assigned to five field sites: in Aleosan, North Cotabato; Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte; Sarangani; Sultan Kudarat and Davao. The next launching will be in Kauswagan, Arnado told MindaNews.
MinHRAC has been assigned the field sites in Maguindanao and North Cotabato, as well as Zamboanga, Basilan and Sulu, MinHRAC executive director Zainuddin “Zen” Malang, said.
Deles lauded the deployment of the All-Women Corps.
She said women bear more than their fair share of suffering during conflicts – “from rape and displacement, to the denial of the right to food and health care,” but women who know the price of conflict so well “are also often better equipped than men to prevent or resolve it.”
“Bilang mga nanay, unang praktis ng mga kababaihan ang pagpapalaki ng anak at pagdisiplina sa kanilang asawa. Sa pag-aayos ng di pagkakaunawaan sa kanilang mga pamilya, na ang batayan ay pagmamahal at pantay na pagtingin sa lahat, nahuhugot ng kababaihan ang kanilang kakaibang abilidad na mag-ayos ng gusot (As mothers, the first practice for women is taking care of their children and disciplining their husbands. In resolving conflicts within the family, where the basis is love and fairness for all, the women are able to draw this rare ability to resolve the conflict),” she said.
“We are brave and our courage knows no limits, whether we are monitoring or restoring a ceasefire, assisting displaced families, or negotiating terms of identity and entitlement because, in our hearts, we are fighting for the future of our children and generations yet unborn. Handa tayong ibuwis ang buhay natin para sa ating mga anak, kung kinakailangan, at sinisikap nating hilumin pati ang mga sugat na hindi nakikita ng mata. (We are ready to sacrifice our lives for our children, if necessary, and we try to heal the wounds that are unseen). Women peacemakers have insisted on programs for reconciliation and healing, in addition to sustaining communities in war-torn areas by being mothers, teachers, evacuation managers, and relief operation coordinators. At ngayon naman, bilang peacekeepers. (And now, as peacekeepers).
Arnado mayor Loreto Cabaya, Jr. welcomed the peacekeepers in the town previously known as home to vigilante groups. He later told MindaNews he hopes they will now be known as “home to peacekeepers.”(Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)