From the “comfort women” in World War II to the current mass abduction and rape of schoolgirls and women sold to slavery, conflict has taken on new forms and meanings, sometimes with motives that are beyond comprehension. History has not been remiss in reminding us about the scars and wounds of war and conflict deeply etched in humanity’s soul. And, while much of the conflicts are caused by guns fired by men, the trail of blood always leads to a grieving woman’s doorstep and a weeping child’s nightmare.
It has always been up to the women to dress the wounds of war. Indeed, the time has come for all governments to make sure that women are given a greater role in preventing armed conflict or, once it has broken out, in resolving it and ensuring its enduring and inclusive peace dividends.
In the Philippines, we are now striving to do our best to accomplish both under the remarkable leadership of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. Our current endeavour draws its context from decades of internal armed conflict involving various armed fronts, arising from our history of colonization but also fuelled by 14 years of martial rule, from 1972 to 1986. At the present time, our peace agenda engages five peace tables involving two armed Islamist liberation fronts in Southern Philippines, the longest-running communist insurgency in the world, and two of its regional splinter groups.
The signing by the Philippine Government of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or the MILF on March 27, 2014, is historic not only because it signalled the end of a long-standing war in Southern Philippines but also because it is the first agreement of its kind in the world to bear the signature of a total of three women, which accounts for one-half of the six-person negotiating panel of the Government and about one-fourth of the total number of its signatories. It is the first such agreement to bear the signature of a woman as Chief Negotiator - Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer.
In addition, 69% of the Secretariat of the government Panel, including its head, and 60% of the legal team, including its head, are women. This table expressly committed to enforce the right of “Women to meaningful political participation, and protection from all forms of violence” in its source document, the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro; and yielded gender-sensitive provisions in its respective annexes on power sharing, wealth and revenue-sharing, and normalization, as well as in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law now pending approval in Congress. Today, women representatives in Congress are among the staunchest champions pushing for the passage of the law while, on the side of the executive branch, a woman co-chairs the Joint Normalization Committee which is overseeing the multiple security, transitional justice, and socio-economic interventions, which seek to ensure that peace will endure not only in the law but on the ground.
Clearly, we have not been timid about assigning Filipino women leadership roles on, around, and beyond the peace tables. This boldness has not come about by accident. A well-organized and dynamic women’s sector has helped to keep government on its toes.
In 2010, the Philippine government adopted its National Action Plan, or NAP, on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), becoming the first country in Asia to adopt a national policy that makes operational its commitment to UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. Initiated by civil society peace and women’s rights organizations, the Philippine NAP rests on four pillars, consisting of two targeted outputs – briefly identified as (1) Protection and Prevention, and (2) Empowerment and Participation; and two cross-cutting support processes – namely, (1) Promotion and Mainstreaming, and (2) Monitoring and Evaluation.
The story of the Philippine NAP may be best conveyed through the metaphor of weaving – more specifically, mat-weaving which is common to Asian countries. Weaving is not a skill learned overnight but goes back to generations. Hence, the Philippine NAP, although crafted in three years, benefits from decades of consciousness-raising and organizing of women, peace, and human rights advocates. Drawing on the experience and technology of social movements, the Philippine NAP collapses time because we do not want to reinvent the wheel.
But, like a good mat that pulls all the fiber strands tightly together, it also collapses space because, building on civil society energies, wisdom, and experience, it wagers on the government and its instrumentalities to be the bearers of gender equality, gender justice and women’s empowerment. In a word: gender mainstreaming in the bureaucracy and by the bureaucracy.
Today, the Philippine NAP is anchored and provided legal basis by Philippine law, led by the Magna Carta of Women and recent legislation adopting human rights and international humanitarian standards as part of our national law. Thus, we can say the Philippine NAP rests on a core design of interwoven laws and legal mandates, to which we add one more legal strand – an earlier law, entitled Women and Nation-Building, that furthermore requires all government agencies and local government units to allocate at least 5% of their budgets as a gender and development (GAD) fund. In this way, the NAP ensures available funds for immediate start-up and mobilization needs.
It is moreover not left to one agency to implement the NAP but strands of the government bureaucracy are woven in with the establishment of the National Steering Committee on Women, Peace and Security, composed of the heads of nine government agencies, chaired by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and with the Philippine Commission on Women as vice-chair. The members of the Steering Committee are drawn from the Cabinet Cluster on Justice, Security, and Peace, together with the Department of Social Welfare and Development as well as the national agencies tasked to look after the rights of Muslim Filipinos and Indigenous Peoples; thus, making sure that attention is given to women and children from the most vulnerable segments of the population.
Eight additional agencies are stretched and pulled in which are involved in implementing the government’s PAMANA program, which aims at delivering development and good governance programs in conflict-affected areas. Altogether PAMANA operates in 46 out of 82 Philippine provinces, or roughly half of the total.
With all these mechanisms in place and interwoven with each other, we wanted to make sure that the NAP would not end up as another document which may be good to read and display on the bookshelf but nowhere used and practiced. Especially, we did not want it end up as just a wish-list. In the same way that mats have a history of long, hard, and sometimes rough use in Philippine households – for sleep, work, protection, and even décor – we intend the NAP to be a felt presence – it should make a difference – in women’s lives.
Thus, we required each of the 17 concerned government agencies to identify a specific program or mandate funded from its GAD fund (thus, already deemed gender sensitive and empowering) and to now pass it through a peace-and-conflict lens. The peace lens requires that GAD plans are borne out of an understanding of the layers of vulnerabilities of women in conflict areas.
Implementation of the Philippine NAP is a painstaking process because we want to cover all bases: policy, planning, implementation mechanisms, and budget. In 2011 the Philippine NAP focused on identifying and preparing the areas of thematic and geographic focus; in 2012-13 we focused on training in conflict sensitivity not only for GAD focal persons but other key personnel in the agency.
Modest initial results are being reported. We don’t mind this because we want it slow but sure. All plans will be judged by outputs and indicators by the end of the Aquino term in 2016.
Among the outcomes already being gleaned are the strengthened presence of women in peace negotiations and the implementation of agreements, as earlier elaborated; the establishment of “women-friendly spaces,” providing the needed measure of private and safe space for internally displaced women and children in evacuation centers; the adoption of explicit gender equality policies and mechanisms as an integral part of the governance of the Armed Forces of the Philippines; culture-sensitive trauma healing programs for Muslim women; the inclusion of WPS concerns in pre-departure orientation seminars and other training programs of foreign service officers; the increased though still uneven gender-based aggregation of data from implementing agencies. As well, local government units in the most severely conflict affected areas, led by the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, have been capacitated to launch their local versions of the NAP with major funding support from their own resources. And, just two weeks ago, we launched the first Government Executive Course on Women, Peace and Security, in partnership with a leading national university. We are finalizing the Philippine Report: National Action Plan on the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (2010-2014), including a Research on the Implementation of the Philippine NAP on WPS, for publication within the next two months.
The past five years have enabled us to weave a meticulous overlay of legal frameworks, implementing structures, institutional mandates, and, of course, always of personal passions and inclusive and inter-generational intentions. We should ensure that the NAP that we have begun to weave will endure the forthcoming transition to a new administration in 2016. Its strands, emanating from strategic programs of national and local agencies, must be strengthened and enhanced towards its twin goals of Protection and Prevention, and Empowerment and Participation, towards finally bringing all Philippine internal armed conflicts to a peaceful end.
Among the next action points which have been pinpointed is the improvement of the “women-friendly space” in evacuation sites, the strengthening of Department of Health programs to attend to the health and psychological needs of women and girls in conflict-affected areas, establishing a dedicated team of prosecutors for cases involving sexual and gender-based offenses under the Department of Justice, setting up of desks for victims of violence against women by local government units in all conflict-affected communities, proving strengthened support for women involved in peacemaking at all levels, strengthening the bureaucracy in charge of implementing the NAP, creating a comprehensive and accessible gender-aggregated data base as reference for future policies and programs, and intensifying localization of the NAP in PAMANA areas through the use of local government units’ Gender and Development Fund and access to services from national agencies.
The NAP should be useful, it should be durable, it should make a difference you can feel on your skin. May the High-Level Review that we undertake today move all member-states to adopt a National Action Plan and weave it tightly and strongly to truly make a felt difference in the lives of women and children caught in the middle of today’s most violent conflicts.