At Large

Peace women

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I can imagine the elation of supporters of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law gathered in Baguio, in Manila, and elsewhere in the country over news that the Supreme Court has, by and large, ruled that the RH Law is constitutional.

I say “by and large” because the high court, while upholding the constitutionality of the law, struck down fully or partially eight provisions mostly involving the rights of private and/or religious institutions or health practitioners. One such annulled provision was one punishing or sanctioning private doctors or institutions that refuse to provide RH services or refer their patients to others who would provide these services.

Alarming to me was the decision to also annul a provision allowing a married person not in a life-threatening situation to access RH procedures without the consent of the spouse. This means that a woman who wishes to, say, undergo a ligation can be prevented by her husband from doing so. But so will the husband who wants to undergo a vasectomy. Still, it’s a gross invasion of personal privacy, offensive and impractical.

I have other reservations regarding the eight provisions, but I say these concerns matter little, or not as much, when arrayed against the rest of the law. Finally, the government has the mandate to fully fund and implement its reproductive health policies, including giving young people age-appropriate, accurate and practical education on matters regarding sex, sexuality and personal responsibility.

Finally, we can make headway in the struggle to reduce the number of Filipino women (estimated at between 12 and 14 a day) dying due to causes related to pregnancy and childbirth; the number of babies dying at birth or very soon after; the number of teenage (or preteen) girls getting pregnant; and the number of families staggering under the burden of having too many mouths to feed with very little resources.

Congratulations to everyone who fought the good fight, and a warm embrace to the women whose lives have been and will be saved!

* * *

A “SECOND-CLASS woman” was an accusation—a jibe, a putdown, an insult?—hurled at Miriam Coronel Ferrer, chair of the government panel in the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the heat of an “intensive” discussion on “power sharing” in the new Bangsamoro entity. Ferrer thinks the “second-class” label was an allusion to her “aspiration” to be a man.

In other instances, the government panel members’ counterparts in the MILF panel would make references to the women panelists’ penchant for “kitchen economics,” meaning their attention to the details and intricacies of the proposed arrangements. “Some feminists would have been irritated or angry by such housewife-jokes,” Ferrer would write in an article. But she says she and the other women in the panel chose to ignore the barbed comments “since it was producing results.” Later on, she recalled, the men realized just how much their attention to detail was needed to push the agreement forward.

Ferrer was speaking at a “roundtable” that featured the women who had played major roles in the government peace panel. Aside from Ferrer, the women included Teresita Quintos Deles, the presidential assistant on the peace process, panel member Undersecretary Yasmin Busran Lao, Defense Undersecretary Zenonida “Zen” Brosas of the National Security Council, Iona Jalijali who headed the secretariat, and Anna Tarhata Basman who headed the government legal team.

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FACILITATED by broadcaster Cheche Lazaro, the discussion was by turns animated and candid, with the pressure to keep matters confidential lifted with the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

“My job was not to lose hope,” confided Deles, when asked if there were times when she foresaw failure. She admitted, though, that at times “you could see it wouldn’t move forward.” In such times, she said, she counted on “the gift of faith,” crediting a crew of “prayer warriors,” including Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, for keeping their spirits up.

From the beginning, confided Brosas, they were determined to present a human face to their MILF counterparts, introducing themselves by talking about their families and encouraging their MILF friends to do the same. Not such an easy task, she points out, since she was dealing mainly with hardened MILF military leaders.

But the panel members were likewise impressed by the concern that the MILF leaders, particularly chair Murad Ibrahim, had shown toward their own people, particularly their fighters. It was the MILF chair, they pointed out, who brought before the President his concern that “the fighters should be taken care of.”

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THE women all credit the “professionalism and good faith” shown by both sides. “The men were not full of themselves,” conceded Lao. “They were all looking forward to the end goal, which was peace.”

And while acknowledging the needs and roles of women was hard going in the beginning, the women in the government panel acknowledged that gradually, but genuinely, their counterparts began opening up to the idea of women as partners in the creation of the Bangsamoro, to the extent of even recruiting women to sit in the peace panel and the technical working groups.

Deles cited the “persistence and fidelity” of women, not just in the peace panel or in the advisory bodies, but even of women in the peace movement, to believe in and work on the cause of peace even at the darkest, most hopeless times.

“You just need to show up all the time” was her simple, powerful exhortation.

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