Talking peace and gender | Inquirer Opinion
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Talking peace and gender

In the course of many years chairing or taking part in the negotiations with the government for an end to the Moro insurgency and the return to peace, Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission and chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front delegation in the peace talks, has had the hardest time dealing with his female counterparts.

“I have faced five peace-negotiating chairpersons on the government side, including a former general, a diplomat, and a former Cabinet secretary. But I found the women most difficult to negotiate with,” said Iqbal, turning slightly to Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, who assumed the chairmanship of the Philippine government panel after UP Law Dean Marvic Leonen was appointed an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

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This should assure critics that Coronel-Ferrer and Ging Quintos Deles, the presidential adviser on the peace process, vigorously defended the interests of the government and the nation in the course of the peace talks. These same critics have accused the two women of having succumbed to the “Stockholm syndrome,” the phenomenon of hostages sympathizing with and taking the side of the hostage-takers. Indeed, say those crying foul over the testimony of the two women at the Senate hearings on the Mamasapano killings (which also turned into a hearing into the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law), the women have been acting more as “spokespersons” of the MILF rather than as representatives of the government.

In fact, says Coronel-Ferrer, Iqbal and his panel members “quarreled with us,” pushing vigorously for their side while the government negotiators pushed back just as energetically.

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“Still in the pot,” replies Coronel-Ferrer when asked to describe the status of the peace process in this period of contentious debates and attacks on the draft BBL.

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Certainly adding spice and heat to the pot are what Coronel-Ferrer describes as “rude memes”—manipulated images circulating through social media that mock and ridicule her and Deles vis-à-vis Iqbal and the MILF.

Indeed, so rude and offensive have the memes been that women leaders from the academe and civil society, not normally what you would describe as part of the “Yellow Army,” have issued an appeal to the public to stop viewing the malicious postings that they described as “anti-woman, [of] chauvinistic mentality” directed mainly against the two women peace negotiators.

Mary Ann Arnado, who says she is “no big fan” of the government negotiators, declares that she takes “personal offense [at] the foul images” that make fun of the negotiators in a “highly scandalous and sexually-perverted manner.” The memes, she adds, reflect an anti-Muslim, anti-peace attitude, and she lays the blame for them squarely on Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano because “it was he who resorted to verbal attacks that poisoned the minds of the public against these two women.”

For her part, Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, of the UP Center for Women’s Studies, says the memes are proof that “Philippine culture is sexist and … a whole lot of men out there think it’s okay to be sexually violent to women.”

Regardless of one’s own personal stance on Mamasapano and the BBL, wrote Estrada-Claudio in an article, “I am incensed that whenever some people disagree with a woman, they degenerate to hitting her through the sexual and intimate. This is a hatred of women, our bodies and our sexuality masquerading as political commentary.” She described the folk behind the memes as “sexual harassers” and urged the National Bureau of Investigation to look into and identify the offenders.

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Women’s role in society, especially in this fragile period, was certainly a central topic in the forum “Women Moving the Peace Process Forward.”

Chair Iqbal had a hard time extricating himself from a rather sticky situation when he declared that he personally believed that women and men had “different” roles to play in society because women and men had “different” attributes.

Young Moro women at the forum immediately contested the assertion, saying they themselves were seeking to carve out new and different but relevant roles in their society and communities. Amina Rasul, the moving force behind the forum, attempted to come to Iqbal’s rescue, saying that through history Moro communities have proven amenable to supporting women in leadership roles, such as the greater number of votes her mother managed to garner in the latter’s run for senator in 1986, winning more votes than a male Muslim who is also a former senator.

Indeed, many women, Muslim or not, are closely watching developments in the Bangsamoro, especially the fate of women and women’s initiatives under the Sharia law and within the Bangsamoro system. That, too is a legitimate concern that those debating the BBL should take into ac count.

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Two women legislators present at the forum, including Rep. Susan Yap of Tarlac, who sits in the House committee on women and gender equality, stressed that many questions remain unresolved in the process of negotiating the passage of the BBL.

It is now up to all parties involved in hammering out an acceptable form of the proposed law to arrive at common points of agreement, said the congresswoman. But such sober and enlightening discussions can take place only in an atmosphere of sobriety and frankness, without silly memes and name-calling getting in the way.

After all, as Iqbal himself declared: “peace is more natural than war,” even if many parties seem to think that waging war and continuing the fighting—while insulting those who disagree with them—is more desirable than living in peace and amity.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Transition Commission, Marvic Leonen, Miriam Coronel Ferrer, mohagher Iqbal, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Teresita Quintos Deles
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