‘Between a rock and a hard place’
It is thanks to a Filipino Muslim woman, former Sen. Santanina Rasul, that we officially celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, since expanded to a celebration in the entire month of March.
But at the same time, says Amina Rasul, daughter of the senator, some two million women in the proposed Bangsamoro area in Mindanao are caught “between a rock and a hard place,” with thousands forced to flee their homes with their children in the face of the military operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao. Other women wait in mounting tension and fear, as escalating rhetoric, especially from government officials and reckless social media posts, tend to paint Muslims as unreliable partners in the quest for peace.
As one woman participant at a recent forum asked: “When our officials declare ‘pulbusin ang mga Muslim, (ground Muslims to dust)’ how do you expect us to react?”
It is bad enough that “Moro voices” have very little opportunity to get themselves heard by the rest of the Filipino people. But Moro women are at the same time constrained from airing their sentiments not only because of cultural factors, but also because there is little opportunity for them to speak collectively and to be heeded.
Maybe that’s the reason the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, headed by Rasul, along with its partners—the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, Unicef, Australian Aid, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Local Government Development Foundation, Zabida, Philippine Legislators’ Committee for Population and Development, Senate Muslim Advocates for Peace and Progress, Women in International Security, and Harvard Kennedy School of Government Alumni Association—sponsored last Monday a forum on “Women Moving the Peace Process Forward.”
* * *
A diverse and interesting mix of panelists was invited to the forum, including Mohagher Iqbal and Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, chairs of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and of the government panel in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, respectively.
Taking a look at the menu for the lunch following the forum, Coronel-Ferrer said she couldn’t help but empathize, since she and her fellow travelers on the road to peace are feeling “steamed, boiled and fried” these days. Not to mention being beset by “hysterical” voices, most of them of men, crying out for justice and vengeance for the 44 police commandos who died in Mamasapano.
For his part, Iqbal, who seldom reacts to barbs and accusations (even during heated confrontations with senators during the Mamasapano hearings), calmly spoke about how “women’s insecurity” in Mindanao, because of the decades of violence and fighting in the island, has “hampered development in Mindanao.”
Iqbal admitted how women (and children and the very old) are disproportionately represented among the victims of conflict and disasters, noting a study that found that women are “15 times more likely to die” from such cataclysmic events.
Still, he added, the MILF has slowly tried to get more women involved at the highest levels of policy- and decision-making, with four women part of the peace talk delegations since 2004.
* * *
Among the panelists was lawyer Roslaine Lidasan Macao-Maniri, a consultant with the MILF panel, but who came to the forum representing a new organization, the Society of Empowered Royal Ladies in the Cotabato Empire. The Cotabato Empire, explained Rasul, is one of four royal houses that still maintain links to the Sultanate of Sulu. Her presence at the forum, said Madame Roslaine, was an attempt to “redefine the role of the royal houses” which have kept largely silent in the wake of the contentious processes leading up to the establishment of the Bangsamoro entity.
“We must move on and remain focused on our objectives,” stressed retired general Emmanuel Bautista, an undersecretary at the Office of the President where he is executive director of the Cabinet Cluster on Security, Justice and Peace. “Winning the peace” should be the goal of the entire government, he said. The military establishment, he assured, remains committed to the peace process despite recent events.
Also part of the process is the international community, represented in the panel by Mo Bleeker, who hails from Switzerland, and chairs the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission, composed of a mix of foreign and Filipino observers. The commission, she said, is currently engaged in collecting data and views of people from all over the Bangsamoro on such issues as security, peace and development.
* * *
A Catholic nun, Sr. Erlinda Hisug of the Oblates of Notre Dame, spoke of the efforts of her congregation to inform the public about the salient points of the BBL and the future of the Bangsamoro. The general ignorance, if not indifference of the populace to the BBL, said Sister Linda, is “disappointing, discouraging.” She noted that there is still a lot of “mistrust and lack of interest” on the part of ordinary folk toward our Muslim brothers and sisters and toward the peace process.
Having witnessed the hardships caused the people by the “total war” launched in 2000, Sister Linda bemoaned the continuing violence that affects the families caught in the crossfire of contending forces. “Life in evacuation centers should not be considered ‘normal,’” she asserted.
In my next column, I shall share the views expressed by participants at the forum, including those of members of Congress who were present (“Please don’t make us out to be the villains,” pleaded one), as well as of the Bangsamoro women who had come all the way to Manila to share their views and gain a wider vista on this crucial period in our history.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.