Q and A. Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam: “A more inclusive world after a long armed conflict”

Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam made history in the early 1990s as the first  — and thus far, only — Moro woman editor in chief of the country’s longest running Catholic newspaper, The Mindanao Cross, in Cotabato City.

Guiam, however, was not just editing the paper from 1991 to 1995 while teaching Anthropology at the Notre Dame University, she also became the guiding light of young Mindanawon reporters in and out of Cotabato City who were sending stories to Manila broadsheets, as she would patiently explain, as an editor, professor and anthropologist, how to report conflict responsibly, including how to avoid improper use of the words “Muslim” and “Islam,” among others.

Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam stresses a point on the role of Bangsamoro women in conflict and peacebuilding. MIndaNews photo by GG BUENO

An expert in gender and development in armed conflict contexts and in peace studies and other social development-related issues, Guiam, who retired in December as Professor III at the Mindanao State University in General Santos City where she also headed its Institute of Peace and Development in Mindanao, has published numerous articles and chapters in books on the impact of conflicts on Mindanao’s diverse populations, including a benchmark study on Child Soldiers in Central and Western Mindanao.

She is presently the National Inclusive Education and Gender Specialist (NIEGS) of the Basic Education Assistance for Muslim Mindanao (BEAM-ARMM), a program funded by the Australian Government. She is also one of the conveners of the Independent Working Group of the Transitional Justice Dealing with the Past, which aims to organize a massive social movement to push for the creation of a National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission for the Bangsamoro in order to start the process of healing and reconciliation among conflict-affected communities in Mindanao.

MindaNews interviewed Prof. Guiam during a break from a conference at the Waterfront Hotel in Davao City on her thoughts on the Bangsamoro peace process under the Duterte administration and the role of women in helping facilitate the creation of what she refers to as a “more inclusive world after a long armed conflict.”


Q. I guess you must have heard this said several times, that the Duterte administration is the last card of the Bangsamoro, that in no other time in Philippine history have we been benefited by an administration that will, according to them, really address the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro. Do you agree with this assessment or
A. This administration has been in power for the last eight months and so far, what I have seen and heard are only talk, it’s rhetoric. What I want to see is a concrete action. For example, they have already declared that there’s no need for a negotiating panel because everything has been agreed upon by both panels so now they have created implementing panel but I have asked the chairman several times when is the implementation going to start? It’s already eight months and there’s a looming deadline for the BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) to finish its task and there’s going to be a State of the Nation Address in Julyand this administration wants all this to be factored in in the SONA. I’m not sure whether my assessment really is it’s high on rhetoric but very low on concrete action because if it has hit the ground running so to speak, it should have accepted the set of recommendtations that the TJRC (Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission) has already presented several times. It has been launched and there was this big recommendation about creating the National Transitional Justice (and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro or NTJRCB). Until now we haven’t seen … We wanted to see the formulation of an EO because we know that a legislation will take so long a time.

Q. So we’re still waiting for that EO on the TJRC recommendation. But that was among the promises of the President, Secretary Dureza and chair Santiago
A. Exactly. Exactly. So we have already launched the supplemental reports and these reports of which I am a big part of, in the listening process, as the lead coordinator and one of the main writers of that report, and we are saying that it’s still taking the usual bureaucratic line … like ‘we can’t do this because you have to do this first.’ But there’s nothing concrete like… I want to get a sense of .. real commitment, like when exactly …. will you come up with the EO because I believe that both panels have to make a decision on that. No one panel will do a unilateral decision on this.

Q. Secretary Dureza or chair Santiago attended the TJRC supplementatl reports’ launching?A. She (Irene Santiago, GPH Peace Implementing Panel chair) was in the launching in Makati. She was sitting right beside me. She was in the Darapanan launching. She said ‘we would like to express on behalf of the government that this has already been repeatedly mentioned and we are already in the process of implementing.’ It’s very vague. It’s couched in very vague terms.

Q. Even before the KL meeting in August, she already committed that they would really recommend to the President “ASAP.”
A. Exactly. And I picked up her earlier statements about some other recommendations, what she considers the “low-hanging fruits” that do not need legislation…

Q. And what are these low-hanging fruits?
A. For example, the integration of the teaching of Bangsamoro history in the schools which can be done through …like a decision in terms of higher education, you go to the CHEd, in terms of basic education go to DepEd. Even that, except that there’s a law which was passed as a result of Sonny Angara’s bill but you know, when you pass something like that, you need to have full government support because you need to create an enabling environment for that, because if you just say, ‘oh we integrate.’ What materials do you use? You have to train teachers how to teach it and considering the state of education in all levels in Philippine Education, it’s going to be a hard time because first of all, there’s not much support. I’ve just been around the island provinces in the ARMM doing an assessment on qualitative learning outcomes and am seeing the sordid state of education in the island and in remote areas. What I’m saying is you say one thing but you don’t do the necessary things that make this thing operational. That’s going to be a problem

Q. In passing a Bangsamoro law, fears have been expressed about the possibility that Congress will say ‘hindi nga kayo magkasundo sa MNLF at saka sa MILF’ so how as a Bangsamoro woman do you intend to make the men…
A. That’s really a problem. Througout the years, women played significant role in the struggle not only on the sidelines but many of them were also in the frontline as combatants. But when the peace negotiations came, they were not given a space in the table to make decisions, to help craft a meaningful agreement and I guess part of the reason that it failed is because the women never really put their thoughts on it as part of the decision-making…

Women must be part of the decision-making process in building peace, Prof. Rufa Cagogo-Guiam said. MindaNews photo by RUFA CAGOCO-GUIAM

When we say that we want our voices heard, we want to say that we want to be part of the decision-making. It’s not only the men because in the real world, it’s both men and women. If you’re only talking about the men and their role in it.. it’s missing half the picture.
Throughout history, women have really played a major role in creating the kind of society we have right now. We may not have been recognized, our contributions to development are not recognized at all, but if not for the women we’re not going to have this kind of development that we have right now.
What we are asking is when we talk about the contributions of women, we talk about how women can help facilitate the creation of a more inclusive world after a long armed conflict but then we are not asked to part of that decision- making. They always make the decisions for us.

Q. What about the discussions on the Bangsamoro, the Bangsamoro law in relation to federalism, to the bigger federal project?
A. Exactly. I haven’t seen any reference to improving gender relations because that’s the aim why many of us women want to have a voice or a space in the table. It’s because we want to improve gender issues, we want to improve society’s image of women, (not only) relegated to the domestic sphere… If you notice, after an armed conflict when the men first disappear because they are part of the combatants or they are killed during war, the women take up the cudgels for what the men leave behind, the responsibilities…
So what we are saying is that the war has changed the gender relations in a way by force … we have to make decisions because the men are not there…
Even in times of peace, women should be having a significant role in making decisions because like for example, health care, education. All this, what they consider as not the big things in life but they are the small things that when you add it up, it’s practically the whole range of development is covered by what women do and yet we don’t get that recognition, we don’t get that power to put our voices there.

Q. Basically what we’ve also been hearing, the louder voice actually, also belongs to the men in the Bangsamoro, right? The dominant voices for instance, itong the elder ones, because there seems to be some problem with “franchise” over their peace agreements. But you also know the complexity of the situation and .. violent extremism is coming in..
A. That’s the reason why all the more the women should be involved because they are grounded in reality. In the remote places, it’s the women who are left behind so they know movements of people who want to recruit the youth for extremist concerns. I’m seeing that in Basilan, for example, I just got back from there. I’m seeing the restiveness of the youth and if that’s not going to be addressed, I mean I’m too scared to paint a scenario of what’s going to happen if that’s not going to be addressed ..
The men always say we settle the gender thing afterwards, after we get an agreement. But … I think it’s a wrong way of looking at it because you have to make a negotiation, factoring already how to deal with the imbalance of the power relations between men and women. This is precisely (why) any peace agreement has to .. improve the way things are done.. I’m quoting something from a DRRM (Disaster Risk Reduction and Management) perspective of ‘building back better,’ meaning, even at the beginning you already address possible .. you already troubleshoot even before something happens so that one thing that you can do is to integrate the gender perspective in any of these negotiations. Like … in the listening process, violence against women ranked as second of the highest number of incidences, of atrocities against the Bangsamoro.

Q. Number 2?
A. Next to massacres. But in massacres also, there was a significant number of women and children. But rape — and one of the facilitators called this systematic rape because .. some women were picked up, brought to the naval boat

Q. Palembang
A. Palembang, and then they were raped, then they were unloaded, then another set of… Also I think in Zamboanga Sibugay, there was also an incident. So how are they going to address that if we forget that half the population were violated? It’s not only cultural, it’s basically how the women were treated during those..

Q. You are a highly respected Moro woman, you’re in the academe and you’ve been conducting all these trainings on peace, on Mindanao history, even for the generals since the 1990s. There has been this call about the leaders of Moro fronts uniting but some say this might not be possible at all. Ano po ang panawagan ninyo doon sa kanila
A. I think it starts with the leadership of the country, kasi he was the one responsible for bringing up the possibility of creating so-called peace tables … with the different groups. But as a President riding high on a popularity vote and perception of most constituents in the whole country, he was supposed to be negotiating with all these leaders, with different groups on a powerful level

Q. On a position of strength
A. Yeah. He had that maximum position of strength. He could have used that when he dealt with these groups. He could have said, “okay I want you to put your acts together because I’m in a position of strength, I could easily say I’ll put the whip on you, if you don’t follow what I want. I can bring you back to jail or do something to you.” So that’s what I expected and I was surprised because like a soft, you know, he’s like cowing into the position of the rebel leaders which .. maybe from a political analytic view, we are saying that he was not negotiating on a position of strength after all. Because he toed into the line that they wanted and it was a leverage for them to say, “oh, we make more demands because the President has granted us this leverage.”

Q. So he missed this opportunity?
A. He missed … I think he squandered that opportunity because he is so popular. It’s like I’m reminded of Cory Aquino squandering her opportunities when she was riding on the crest of popularity and she didn’t negotiate for the writing off of our debts because she had that popularity, she could have done that and I think this one is another missed opportunity. I mean, if I had the power to whisper into his ears

Q. That was going to be my next question. If you were given an audience with the President
A. I would have told him, I still would like to tell him, ‘look, you are very powerful, you are very popular, you can use that as a political capital to create that environment for these people to talk. (He can say) “come on, put your acts together. What are you fighting for? Is it selfish interest?”… He could have done that. Again, I’m thinking also that he’s looking also at the political interests that are within his circles that he cannot refuse …

Q. Well, he missed that opportunity but does he still have another opportunity given the situation now. Kaya pa ba?
A. He still is President and he still is popular so he can still.. But again, as they say, the bridge is already crossed and he has missed some things. He cannot turn the clock back so that’s quite hard. But if I had a chance to tell him, I would have told him… because Misuari was on the run, he could have said “Nur please, for the sake of the Bangsasmoro..”
It’s true he’s the only President who invoked addressing historical injustics and .. I will give him a lot of credit for saying that but I’m not sure how he operationalizes from the cognitive to the operational. I’m not sure how the process goes because I’m saying that if that is the centerpiece of your program, if you are riding high on that note and I’m sure almost all Bangsamoro voters voted for him because of that. Everywhere you go, like from Cotabato to GenSan.. they have already reproduced that statement he said in tarpaulins, put in strategic places for people to be reminded … that the historical injustices against the Bangsamoro  should be addressed. Some groups especially from the networks from CBCS (Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society) put it up in tarpaulins so they want to remind themselves we can make singil, you can hold him accountable for what he said. Look, you wanted this, how come you are not creating this commission to address these historial injustices?

Q. Because that is what he has been repeatedly saying: we have to address historical injustice but it’s rather slow and the mechanism is there in that National Transitional Justice..
A. Exactly. The mechanism is supposed to be agreed on and it has to be independent. For me, if it still running on the strength of government influence, it’s not going to work.

Q. It should be independent
A. It’s going to be stretched in all directions, it’s going to be pulled by political interests. Right now I’ve been hearing some people saying “oh maybe I can sit there as commissioner.” Can you imagine? This is a serious thing to be left only to the men

Q. and to people who only want to be appointed
A. Exactly. And to people who have vested interest because you can imagine people who would be placed there who are not vetted or the term they are using is lustration, not checked for what their roles were during martial law and they’re placed there. You can imagine the kind of direction that sub-commission would be, for example, you put someone who is a landlord in the Land Commission. My goodness, how can he address injustice when the one who is settling the injustice is the one who was the culprit, the perpetrator in the first place?

Q. It’s almost the middle of 2017 and next year is already pre-election year and
A. I know. They’re going on a frenzy, feverish pace to put up this enabling law whatever they call it. But I’m afraid if they do so without a lot of thinking, on its implications in the kind of Philippines we will have afterwards, then it’s going to repeat the same…

Q. You think the inputs of the Transitional Justice Commission would be helpful in the final crafting of a Federal Philippines Constitution? That would help?
A. It is not factored in in any of the recommendations. It’s just saying, first things first, you cannot do all the things at the same time. We need to address historical injustice first because that’s the one thing that created this conflict in the first place. For example, we looked up three main themes in historical injustice — violence, neglect and marginalization of the Bangsamoro — and it’s manifested in the way the Filipino identity has been imposed on the Moro and that’s why its easy for them to justify all the injustices that were committed because after all, the Bangsamoro is a non entity as far as the Filipino bigger entity is concerned. So if you don’t address that, then they repeat the same thing as what happended before that, you only address the peripheral issues, not the root cause.

Q. And it may likely also be Bangsamoro subsumed under the bigger federal project?
A. I have a lot of apprehensions with that. That’s why I said, you remember there was a big conference on federalism in October last year and all the ten or more experts on federalism all over the world did not say it’s a panacea. They all said it has its problems because it depends so much on the political maturity of the people who want that to happen. As long as the issues of bad governance will not be addressed, as long as the issues of historical injustices will not be addressed. whatever system it is, it’s not going to work.

[Peace Talk is a series of conversations on the Bangsamoro Peace Process with leaders from civil society, government and revolutionary fronts. Interviews with residents in conflict-affected areas in the Bangsamoro are in multimedia format]