Their being accustomed to the responsibilities of housekeeping and motherhood, their tenacity, female stubbornness and lack of ego — these qualities of women fueled, to a great extent, the peace movement for Muslim Mindanao that is now in its crucial phase, said Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, the presidential adviser on the peace process.
As the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is on its final stage of review and decision-making by Congress, Deles took the time to extol “womanpower” in her talk before the Multi-Sectoral Peace Dialogue Towards a Consensus on the BBL organized by the Miriam College-Women and Gender Institute (MC-WAGI) and the Women’s Peace Table at Miriam College in Quezon City early this month.
“What I wish to take note of is the grudging admiration underlying comments on how women never took their eyes off the ball through the worst hours of the crisis when what we worked so hard on and so long for threatened to be undone — by cynicism, by prejudice, by political grandstanding,” she said.
The dialogue aimed at achieving a unanimity of positions on the peace process within the Women’s Peace Table (WPT) also featured women lawyers’ monitoring closely the peace process and indigenous peoples and lumad leaders in the Bangsamoro areas in Mindanao. The WPT, launched in 2013 after the signing of the final annex on normalization by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and in anticipation of the eventual passage of the BBL, is an initiative of women leaders and groups who wanted to ensure that the BBL is gender-responsive and women’s voices are heard.
Its lead convener is Irene Santiago, who chairs the Mindanao Commission on Women and Mothers for Peace, with co-conveners Amina Rasul-Bernardo of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy and Aurora Javate-De Dios, executive director of the Women and Gender Institute of Miriam College, which acts as WPT secretariat.
“We women are in it for the long haul, come rain or come shine. That is what motherhood and housekeeping have taught us: the tasks are manifold, the days long and weary. And when something goes wrong, we do not throw that thing away, or pass the problem on to someone else — whether the problem is housekeeping or shepherding a bill. We fix it,” said Deles. “Call it tenacity, call it female stubbornness, but when you want to make the world a better place to live in, you don’t give up ship.”
Deles added that she and Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chairperson of the government peace panel, experienced first hand the threats when they became subjects of visual sexual vulgarities that ironically became an “eye-opener” because fortunately, she said “many, if not most, women have no problem with egos so Iye (Ferrer’s nickname) and I emerged from the experience relatively unscathed.”
“Of the male ego much has been said, but the female ego does not easily bruise because we don’t have too much ego to start with,” she said, “or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that women’s egos are sturdier and more secure. We don’t break out or break apart so easily.”
Aurora Javate-de Dios, executive director of MC-WAGI, also underscored the role of women in lobbying hard in order for their issues to be considered highly for discussion. “We have come to a crucial point in the process where peace hangs in the balance,” she said, but even in the near-end phase of legislative deliberation, she said women have not faltered in their dedication to give a semblance of a beginning for peace in Muslim Mindanao.
“We need to correct the historical anomaly that has been snatched away by inaction and rejection and we should lobby even harder,” she said.
Amina Rasul-Bernardo was critical of the legislators who did not value the peace process and the draft BBL. “To them, the peace process is a story of ignorance and discrimination,” she said. “A lot of legislators ask questions that have nothing to do with BBL.”
She said ignorance and discrimination figure prominently even now that peace advocates are nearing a time when their efforts are bearing fruit. Recalling the beginnings of the strife in Mindanao, she cited the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who used the rebellion in Mindanao to justify his declaration of Martial Law, even if he was the one who created the chaos in the first place. “Muslims and Christians became ignorant of each other. Two million people in Mindanao have suffered and fighting has gone on for two decades,” she said.
Lawyer Sittie Amirah Pendatun, a member of the legal team of the government peace panel, also credited women for always staying their course even with difficulties such as the delay in deliberations due to the lack of quorum in the House of Representatives and the intricacies of legislation, such as new discussions with Senate Bill 2894, the draft BBL’s Senate version as against House Bill 5811.
“We have a fighting chance and we’re thankful for the women peace advocates who continued to fight even without the limelight,” she said. “We wish to see you all at the finish line.”
The delays in the passage of the original draft BBL or HB 4994 have been caused primarily by the Mamasapano tragedy and there have emerged many concerns over its provisions, most particularly its proposed parliamentary form of government. In response to this, the ad hoc committee on the BBL in the House of Representatives created a substitute bill (HB 5811) which aims to address issues on constitutionality in the previous draft.
Deles said the success of the BBL will depend on good governance and that women are critical to good governance.
“It has been said that gender in the Philippine bureaucracy is like a beer bottle with majority women at bottom and middle levels and few at the top,” she said. Not surprisingly, she said this was true of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which has been controlled and dominated by males since its birth in 1990 — until Gov. Mujiv Hataman appointed a critical mass of female managers who today play a vital role in transforming the ARMM.
She said this harnessing of brilliant, competent and dedicated women must continue on to building the durable structures and institutions that will function and thrive in the future Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. “It will not be a bed of roses for they will still need to overcome prejudice and other obstacles at all levels, but it can surely be done.”
Diana G. Mendoza is a freelance journalist.