In late May, IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker and Program Officer Jennifer Freeman were in the Philippines for the second Women PeaceMakers (WPM) Asia Regional Network summit with WPMs Thavory Huot of Cambodia, Mary Ann Arnado, Milet Mendoza and Bae Liza Saway of the Philippines.
Our first of 10 days in the Philippines was anything but slow. We would later travel to the island of Mindanao, to the frontlines of conflict’s aftermath, but our first stop was the capital.
The morning found us in a meeting at the Manila Office of the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process, where we were encouraged to peek behind the scenes and find that the role of women in the peace advisement appeared somewhat substantial. The implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 under the Aquino administration is a priority, with a blueprint drawn from the 2009 Philippine Magna Carta for Women and its roots in the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the 2010 National Action Plan (NAP).
According to Gettie Sandoval, who is charged with moving the priority of women’s participation forward, they are “pinning down the doable” in concrete areas at all levels of governance and engagement. There must be a “staging and pushing” of the NAP into the justice system and security reform, into the negotiation processes and even into the standards for housing and latrines – as well as all the areas intended by U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. While we had some hesitation as to whether everyone who might be engaged in the formulation of the plans and activities had been consulted, it is true that there is movement for building platforms for greater women’s participation.
And, that same day, the afternoon was dedicated to one such platform. Our Women PeaceMakers summit coincided with the international launch of the first All-Women Contingent of the Civilian Protection Component (CPC) of the International Monitoring Team (IMT), which monitors the cease-fire in Mindanao between the army and Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It was an honor for us to be there for the “Women PeaceMakers Solidarity Launch of the All-Women Contingent” and add our congratulations for the first all-women’s unit to monitor a cease-fire. The women peacekeeping force is organized by the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC), headed by WPM Mary Ann Arnado. A founder of MPC, Mary Ann has been instrumental to the civilian impact in securing the cease-fires of the last eight years. Their work certainly contributed to the unprecedented decline in cease-fire violations since the formation of the IMT: an average of only one violation annually for the past two years, down from over 500 in the years before the IMT.
Those gathered to hear from the Women PeaceMakers and honor the All-Women Contingent ranged from the head of the IMT Mission from Malaysia and the chief of the AFP Peace Process Office to the head of the Government of the Philippines Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, the Deputy Commander of the 64th Infantry Division and members of diplomatic corps from the E.U., U.K. and U.S. Mary Ann kept to the background but was repeatedly recognized for all of her work and inspiration to solve the aftermath of conflict in Mindanao. Seeing Mary Ann work – her capacity to instill hope and produce new ways of thinking and responding – is rousing.
The Asian Network of the IPJ Women PeaceMakers had gathered to share their work, experience and support, and in Mindanao we would visit the headquarters of the IMT and the All-Women Contingent center, as well as the army command, revolutionary groups, indigenous, displaced and resettled communities. From the halls of government in Manila, we then headed to the island of Mindanao for the field portion of our trip to see what the decisions made in the capital mean for those living and working on the frontlines.