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UN Security Council High-Level Open Debate (VTC) on “Pandemics and the Challenges of Sustaining Peace”

Wednesday, 12 August 2020
H.E. MR. ENRIQUE A. MANALO Permanent Representative, Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations
New York, USA


Madame President, Excellencies,

The COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed an unprecedented crisis that exposed the fragility of societies, and in particular threaten the gains already achieved in finding just and lasting peace in conflict-affected areas.

Recognizing the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the work to achieve peace, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its affiliates from 19 March to 15 April 2020, days before the UN Secretary-General issued his appeal for a global ceasefire on 23 March 2020. Recognizing this initiative, the Secretary-General said that “upholding these commitments will be crucial to enabling an effective response to, and recovery from the COVID-19 crisis,” encouraging “both sides to build on this momentum and translate these expressions of good will into a lasting political solution”. The ceasefire demonstrated the Philippine Government’s commitment to the swift and unimpeded provision of public health assistance, especially the safe movement of healthcare workers, to stricken communities in dire need of immediate medical care. 

Conflict-affected regions, to begin with, lag in development -- economic, infrastructure, social, human and sustainable development. COVID-19 prompted governments to impose restrictions that affect economic activities to protect public health, while having to reassess needs and redouble efforts and human and financial resources to assist and support conflict-affected regions bounce back once such restrictions are loosened.

Despite the onset of COVID-19, armed conflicts and violence persist. Clashes between government forces and non-state armed groups and between clans still erupt, displacing populations, affecting civilians and livelihoods.

With the setback in the implementation of peace agreements and communities beset with new and grave challenges caused by the pandemic, sentiments around neglect and grievances against the government are stirred, paving a rich ground for violent extremism. As such, it is important to catch up on the implementation of the peace agreements to continue the critical work of resolving long-standing issues of “unpeace” and address the causes of armed conflict. 

Madame President 

The impacts of COVID-19 are disproportionately felt by vulnerable groups in conflict situations, especially women.  In conflict situations, the women and girls are mothers (sometimes of female-headed households as widows or single-parents), daughters (including orphans) and sisters who are not just passive bystanders or only victims or targets. You will also find women who are combatants and non-combatants but still are members of the armed groups, whether state or non-state. 

Women’s existing vulnerabilities prior to conflict, such as lack of education, poverty, discrimination, marginalization, non-recognition of rights, are multiplied a hundred-fold in times of conflict with the occurrence of internal displacement and gender-based violence in emergencies (GBViE). These vulnerabilities are further sharpened during the pandemic because their physical, social and economic capacities to deal with their multiple roles and burdens as care-givers and breadwinners are further limited, stretched or weakened, and their access to social services are undermined by community quarantine restrictions.

To address the impacts of armed conflict and COVID-19 on women and other vulnerable groups, there is need to ensure the functionality of mechanisms that were established to empower, promote and mainstream women and gender equality.  Institutions accountable for protecting the human rights of women and girls before, during, and after conflict situations and for preventing incidences of violence against women (VAW) must remain fully operational to ensure that the gender-responsive and culture and conflict-sensitive and peace-promoting approaches continue to be observed. 

It is important to recognize the important role of women, youth, elderly, differently-abled, cultural minorities, and other vulnerable groups in the spaces for peacebuilding, whether in conflict prevention, conflict management, conflict resolution or conflict transformation. There must be a commitment to continuously promote and increase their meaningful participation in all stages of decision-making in the peace promoting policies, programs, and projects.  As such, responsive and timely measures must be undertaken to address the impact of the pandemic on these vulnerable sectors, taking into account their added vulnerabilities caused by the intersectionality of natural disasters and armed conflict, and to strengthen their capacities to respond to the impacts of the pandemic.

Madame President, 

In the context of the Philippines, peacekeeping operations play a role in humanitarian assistance. In cases of clashes between clans, which are prevalent in Mindanao, peacekeeping missions serve as the first responder to mitigate the armed conflict, directly communicating with the parties to the conflict and mediating to decrease the tension. They also help build and strengthen capacities on conflict resolution to address the persistence of violence on the ground and help reach local peace agreements between those involved.

Strengthened coordination between the peacekeepers and the local government units should be pursued to ensure that communities, particularly the vulnerable segments of the population, are protected against threats of armed conflict and from COVID-19 infection.  There is a need to sustain capacity building on conflict-sensitive and peace-promoting approaches, including conflict resolution processes for peacekeepers, government and humanitarian aid actors involved in peacebuilding work or who are delivering interventions in conflict-affected areas, to ensure that stakeholders continue to benefit from the peace dividends of the peace pacts forged.  This will help minimize frequent horizontal conflicts that indirectly affect the peace process. Moreover, this should be done together with a robust information and education campaign on minimum public health standards and disease awareness and prevention. 

Madame President,

The ASEAN Community and its partners, including the United Nations, are being called upon to extend support for ASEAN member states that are pursuing peace and development in troubled and conflict-ridden communities through humanitarian support to adapt to the risks of COVID-19.  This humanitarian intervention will serve as a foundation to effectively resume the implementation of the peace agreements forged. 

The United Nations should encourage cooperation among its Member States in addressing the fissures that were magnified by COVID-19. These are heavy on development but have lasting impacts on peace.  Channeling resources to health, education, socio-economic development and environmental protection will benefit the quest for peace in the long-term must be encouraged.

The UN should also continue to offer technical and core support for the institutional development of states with internal conflicts, and this should be tailored and context-specific.  The Security Council could facilitate knowledge and experience sharing by harnessing other countries’ good practices and lessons learned in managing and mitigating these crises.

Madame President, 

While we are in the middle of a crisis and we cannot begin to guess its end, it is never too soon for a post-pandemic recovery plan. We are bracing for a steep decline in economic output, and a steep rise in the cost of social safety nets to soften the drop to the floor.

Giving special priority to countries plagued with internal conflict in terms of financial aid, humanitarian assistance, and vaccines against COVID-19 will ensure that the gains of the peace process and peacebuilding shall be sustained.  

Reprioritization of programs and funding should allow for existing peacebuilding initiatives to continue to mitigate the risks arising from conflict and the pandemic. The financing strategies should be flexible and be informed by conflict and context analyses, taking into consideration also the secondary effects of the pandemic. The distribution of support to communities should be based on a conflict-sensitive assessment to prevent escalation of conflict and to give priority to the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. 

To bridge the gap between today’s crisis and the future we want, we must address the vulnerabilities COVID-19 has exposed. The Philippines believes that addressing the challenges of sustaining peace in a COVID-19 context is anchored on sound strategies, with a clear political vision for the UN field missions and integrated into a culture of accountability. 

Given the multi-dimensional risks to sustaining peace, global leadership and cooperation, more than ever, are needed to combat “the biggest test that the world has faced since World War II.” 

Thank you. END