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At Large

A woman chief negotiator?

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The youngest appointee to the Supreme Court in over 80 years, Marvic Leonen brings to the tribunal not just youth but also experience—forged from his stint in the academe and in landmark cases in behalf of indigenous communities (he is himself a native Cordilleran), human rights victims and the environment.

But his greatest “claim to fame” so far is that of chairing the government panel in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Some months back, the negotiations reached a critical junction with the signing of the “framework agreement” that sets the parameters for the final “comprehensive” agreement that will formally bring an end to decades of conflict with Moro rebels, or at least with the largest, best-armed of these rebel groups.

That is precisely the reason, though, that some have questioned the wisdom of pulling out Leonen from his post in the peace panel. Though tantalizingly near, the prospect of peace is still up in the air, and Leonen’s leadership, not to mention the ties he has established with the Moro panel members and his intimate knowledge of the various remaining sticky issues, are too valuable to lose.

President Aquino himself confessed to feeling “apprehensive” about the effect on the peace talks of Leonen’s appointment, fearing that the accord could “fall apart.”

But Leonen himself said the peace process would not get derailed even if he steps away from his duties as chief negotiator. “Each member of my panel is capable of chairing [it],” he declared.

Teresita “Ging” Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, likewise assured that Leonen’s departure would not derail the talks, declaring that the negotiations are “on track and moving toward the completion of the comprehensive agreement by the end of the year.”

* * *

But by far the most reassuring statement issued on the occasion of Leonen’s appointment came from his MILF counterpart, Mohagher Iqbal.

In a letter addressed to Leonen, Iqbal endorsed Leonen’s appointment to the Supreme Court, emphasizing, in a rather intriguing statement, that his group “can work with any chairman of any gender” with the continuation of negotiations.

Was this because of some reports that members of the P-Noy administration have allegedly cautioned against the appointment of a woman (there are two of them—Prof. Miriam Coronel Ferrer and Yasmin Busran-Lao— in the government panel, not to mention Deles herself) as chief negotiator? The explanation goes that the MILF leaders, who espouse a conservative approach toward Islamic edicts, will never be able to accept dealing with a woman chief negotiator, and thus bring the peace process to a grinding halt.

But Iqbal’s letter, as well as his going out of his way to brush aside the issue of the gender of the next government panel chair, speaks volumes of how far the MILF leadership has gone in understanding gender issues.

In fact, some have pointed out, at the beginning of the talks with the Aquino-appointed panel, the MILF delegation did not include women as negotiators or consultants. Now, after almost three years, the MILF has three women consultants, “so there has been progress, slow but at least present,” comments an observer.

A woman as chief government negotiator? Why not, Choc-nut?

* * *

Speaking of the role of women in the peace process, a role too often overlooked and taken for granted, the “Women’s Peace Table” was formally launched yesterday at the closing ceremony of the Second National Women’s Summit organized by the Women and Gender Institute of Miriam College.

The “Women’s Peace Table,” convened by women from civil society, media and business, and Muslim professionals, was set up “as a ‘connecting, mediating and educating’ table, bringing the voices of women from various levels into the peace negotiations and in peace building, and giving the women’s perspective on the issues not only currently on the table of the peace negotiations but also on what women deem to be critical to a successful post-peace agreement reconstruction and recovery.”

Coinciding with the launch of the “Women’s Peace Table” is the kick-off of the “Women’s Peace Fund.” Both occasions were graced by Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, the guest speaker at the Summit’s close, who signed a memorandum of understanding for her office’s seed contribution of P20 million to the Fund.

* * *

The Women’s Peace Fund operates under the slogan “Small funds and fast.” It is seen as providing small funds for livelihood projects to women in conflict-affected areas, as well as to those displaced by war. “It is our hope that people who have long awaited a ‘peace dividend’ will find relief through this initiative and a relapse into violence will be averted,” say organizers.

They have already met with women’s grassroots groups in Moro-dominated areas as well as those in ancestral domains of indigenous peoples, where the women “designed the program themselves and are passionately committed to its successful implementation.”

At the launch, three women from Cotabato City, Basilan and Lanao spoke on behalf of the thousands whom the Women’s Peace Fund hopes to reach. “With women as drivers of economic growth, the objective of inclusive economic development in the new Bangsamoro will hopefully be achieved,” organizers said.

Indeed, whether in the government and MILF panels, or in communities and businesses, women are ready to take their proper place of leadership and responsibility in shaping the new future of the Bangsamoro, of Mindanao, and of the Philippines.


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