The following is an excerpt from an article in the March issue of Our Mindanao magazine. It was written by former IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus. For more information on the state of the peace process in Mindanao, please read the IPJ’s 2010 interview with Arnado.
The question that is frequently asked is “Why an All-Women Contingent of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus in the Civilian Protection Component (CPC) of the International Monitoring Team (IMT)? Why women?” The knee-jerk reaction, albeit a nasty one, is: Why not? Why is women’s participation in any formal peace and security structure always put into question?
After explaining the long litany of reasons why women should be part of the formal cease-fire mechanisms as mandated by U.N. Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, which has been there for more than 10 years already, the follow-up questions thrown to MPC are, “Are these women trained? Can they possibly do it? Will they be effective? Can they make a difference?”
I will not even belabour to answer these questions as I not only find them chauvinist and arrogant, but they are also posed as a booby trap for women. Why is it that women should bear the burden of proof of showing that they could make a difference while the men have long been making a total mess of our security situation? Again, the naughty answer can be, “Well, we don’t even have to make a difference. Like you, we have the right to be here. Period.”
For the women in Mindanao, especially in the conflict-affected areas, the All-Women Contingent in the CPC is a triumph of our decade’s old advocacy to operationalize UNSCR 1325, which calls upon all members of the United Nations to promote and recognize the participation of women in peace and security processes.
The entry of women in the CPC-IMT is unprecedented in the long and arduous history of the peace process in Mindanao. As Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles expressed in her keynote message during the launch of the All-Women Contingent, “Today, our civil society counterpart is launching an all-women peace-keeping force, 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.”
As stated in the Agreed Framework on Civilian Protection, the CPC is tasked to monitor the compliance of both the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the following commitments:
a) To monitor the safety and security of civilian communities in the conflict areas;
b) To monitor and ensure that both Parties respect the sanctity of places of worship namely mosques, churches and religious places and social institutions including schools, madaris, hospitals and all places of civilian nature;
c) To monitor the needs of the IDPs and the delivery of relief and rehabilitation support efforts in conflict affected areas in Mindanao;
d) To strengthen ownership of the peace process by supporting and empowering communities to handle conflicts at the grassroots level;
e) To monitor acts of violence against civilian in conflict affected areas; and
f) To strengthen linkages and information-sharing between IMT and Peace Panels.
For Bencita Saliling, an Arumanen Manuvu who hails from Carmen, North Cotabato, her participation in the CPC is a hard-won achievement not only for women but also for the Arumanen Manuvu tribe. “Since childhood days, the only thing I know whenever there is fighting is to run away for safety in the evacuation centers. The thought of armed groups was already horrifying, how much more to monitor and report the violations they have committed against civilians. I could not even dare to face and talk to soldiers and rebels alike. That was then completely unimaginable. Seeing that as my new role now in the CPC signals the beginning of a process of genuine conflict resolution and transformation. Peace is now possible as the then unimaginable is already happening.”
For Rohanifa Atar, who is a young Moro woman from Lanao, her involvement in the CPC is a breakthrough. “I could not even bring myself to talking with men, how much more to military soldiers and rebels. But the presence of these brave and courageous women in the CPC had boosted my confidence. If people from other countries have left the comfort of their homes to help us here in Mindanao, if they are doing this to protect Bangsamoro civilians, how much more is expected of me as a Muslim woman?”
Dinah Montecillo, a Cebuana from Kauswagan and a wife of a pastor, is now accused by some of her neighbors as anti-Christian because she dared to visit Maranao communities in Lanao del Sur. “Being in dialogue with the Maranaos can be misconstrued as a betrayal in these highly polarized societies. I don’t mind these comments anymore even if sometimes I get deeply hurt. What is important is my faith that the peacemaking work that I am doing is very much pleasing to God. If that is anti-Christian to some people, so be it. I realized that we are all victims here whether you are a Muslim or Christian. And that is why I am working together with Muslim and indigenous women in the CPC so that altogether, we can stop our men from attacking civilian communities.”
Why women? Imagine a place without your mothers, grandmothers, wives, girlfriends, aunts, daughters and granddaughters? That is like missing the other half of the world. If we want to have a meaningful change on the way the peace process moves in Mindanao, we cannot continue to begrudge the women their rightful place in peace and security processes.
For more information on the IPJ’s work in Mindanao, please see our “In the Field – Philippines” page.
 Established in 2001, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus is an alliance of over 50 grassroots organizations from indigenous, settler and Bangsamoro communities which seeks to strengthen grassroots participation in peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front and works toward an inclusive political settlement of the armed conflict in Mindanao.