Women leaders want peace process to continue

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 27 March) –Women leaders, during a two-day conference here that started Friday, expressed their desire to save the peace process despite the setback after the Mamasapano incident.

The Mindanao All-Women Conference discussed how the Women’s Peace Table, a network of organizations and women leaders led by the Mindanao Commission on Women (MCW), can save the peace discussions.

The women leaders called to cease military offensives in Mindanao and advocated for the continuation of the peace process and resumption of the deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The discussions coincide with the first year commemoration of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

MCW founding chair Irene Santiago said that she is hoping the discussions in the conference will lead to actions that will help “reclaim” the peace process as the people’s and not just the negotiators’.

Likewise, Anak Mindanao Party List representative Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman said that women’s perspectives and expertise should be included in the peace process, considering that more than half of the population in the country are women.

For so long, Hataman said, that displaced women in Maguindanao, including children and families, have been the human cost in not pursuing the peace process is already too much. For decades now, some communities in Mindanao have lived in fear and trauma due to intermittent encounters between the military and various Moro rebel groups, she added.

Aurora Javate de Dios, professor and executive director at the Women and Gender Institute of Miriam College, said that pursuing the BBL is one big step in beginning peace. “It might not be the only solution but it is the most important first step to take.”

Santiago said that, at the end of their discussions, they hope to be able to create a position paper and an action plan for their involvement in the peace process.

These outputs, however, do not include a call for the resignation of the President, said Santiago. “That is not going to solve the problem,” she said. “What we need to ask for the President is accountability.”

“We need to acknowledge where the country’s president is coming from. There are so many expectations from him: to say sorry, to appear in occasions. But I think we also have to differentiate his unfulfilled obligations and unmet expectations; know the difference and react accordingly,” Hataman said.

“He is the President – not just of the PNP, not just of the families of the SAF 44 – of the entire nation, including the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao. It’s important for him to remain as everyone’s president, seeking justice not just for certain groups of people but for everybody,” she added.

Amina Rasul, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, echoed the same idea and said that democracy is not at its best when the voices of women are not accounted for.

She said that the very same discussions on Mindanao, which she pointed out were already being discussed three months before the Mamasapano clash happened, were brought up again in the Senate as though these are detriments to the country. She described these discussions to have a sour mood.

“There were never any discussions on betrayal,” Rasul stressed, noting that what is important right now is to bring back sobriety and to stop the blame game. “Let’s look at the BBL and how important it is so that we can lay down the ground work for a just peace and a strong democracy in Muslim Mindanao.”

Meanwhile, former Senator Santanina Tillah Rasul had this to say to the people in the senate who have limited knowledge on Mindanao: “Know more about the BBL by reading through it.”

According to the event’s press release, the aftermath of the Mamasapano has affected 11,000 people from 12 communities. “Women, men, and children, as well as the elderly and disabled have since been living in temporary evacuation centers.”

“The challenges to us are therefore: first, to identify the most strategic connectors and the most strategic dividers that we, as the Women’s Peace Table, can address in the current crisis and beyond; and second, to plan and implement strategies effectively so that the peace process can result in a healed and reconciled people able to walk together to the full life we all desire,” Santiago said in her speech.