Inspirational Message of Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles during the GZOPI Women's Forum

Thursday, June 9, 2016 - 07:00

During the GZOPI Women’s Forum - Conference on the Visibility and Connectivity of Filipino Peace Women, held in Goldland Millenia Suites, Pasig City
By Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
09 June 2016

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Good morning.  Magandang umaga.  Assalamu aleikum.

A month ago nearly to this day, most, if not all, of us trooped to the polls to choose new leaders for the next six years.  The results were stunning, even shocking, depending on where you stood.  But they were not totally unsurprising.

I start on a sobering note this morning because what happened, or did not happen, a month ago on election day has a way of upending, and redefining, or, at the very least, impacting on, our lives as peacewomen.

Before I proceed, let me underscore the three objectives of this conference.  The first is to strengthen solidarity among us women peacebuilders.  The second is to share our experiences, initiatives and gains especially in pursuit of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, or NAPWPS, in conjunction with other stakeholders such as government and other CSOs.  The third is to identify key areas and strategies for action.

The May elections ushered in new realities.  I propose to examine these new realities in the face of the challenges or objectives set by this conference.

The prime reality, of course, is that we shall have a new President in the coming six years.  Rody Duterte captivated millions of our countrymen and women with the promise of ending, or suppressing, criminality, including the scourge of drugs, within the first six months of his term.   He boasted a drug-free and crime-free Davao City as his Exhibit A.

Fifteen million voters agreed to the formula of extrapolating a city’s fight against drugs and crime onto an entire country.  Never mind if the formula is more like an impossible dream.  Any family who has lived with the pain of a drug addict son, or daughter, will buy into this promise.  Any community victimized or terrorized by unsolved crime will sign on to this quick solution.

The second reality is that our incoming President is sending contradictory signals.  On the one hand he is extending the olive branch of peace, particularly to the CPP-NPA-NDF, declaring that his government will sign a peace pact with them very soon, and appointing left personalities to his cabinet, among several confidence building measures.

But, on the other hand, the olive branch comes with the mailed first: for every suspected drug user, drug pusher, and drug lord; for every suspected criminal who will cross his path, or the path of police or paramilitaries or even ordinary citizens, he has one word: Kill.

And this angel of death now has the license to visit not only dorogistas and kriminals but also journalists who are allegedly corrupt.  But are journalists targeted for being corrupt or for being critical which, incidentally, they must be?  Note his warning to media: “If you hit me, I will hit you back.”  That gives us goose pimples because journalists use the pen, or computer, as weapon while he uses the gun.  And so media persons have become fair game, never mind due process.

There is a creeping culture of impunity which many of our kababayans are willing to tolerate, manifested, for instance, in such methods as shaming and killing.  And so LGUs, such as Cebu City and Tanauan in Batangas, are trotting out their own death squads and breathing life into the culture of impunity.  But solving violence with violence is a Faustian bargain with no winners, only losers.

Let me turn to the olive branch of peace being proffered to the CPP-NPA-NDF, advocates of armed conflict to change society.  Nothing wrong with that – the olive branch, I mean.  But when the peace offering includes release of all ”political prisoners,” never mind if they have beheaded and raped, such as the Abu Sayaff who are included in the NDF’s list of more than 500 alleged political offenders; or the NPA who have killed civilians through their own death squads – is that a just peace?  If the peace offering includes asking the NPA to pass sentence on a police chief they have abducted, is that not a slap on our justice system?

And so, dear sisters (and also brothers), as peacemakers, how do we gird ourselves for a new dispensation that is, at best, sending out mixed signals?

First of all, we have to read the signs well.  The signs in regard to women have not been encouraging: the rape joke, the wolf whistle at a journalist, the unapologetic rebuff of one of our own – Leni Robredo – as cabinet member. The caterpillar promises to metamorphose into a butterfly after June 30, but can he?  In weighing carefully words and actions, let us recall what the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.”

Second of all, we must strengthen our solidarity – across ideological, ethnic and socio-economic lines.  This is easier said than done but women must draw strength from each other, in our common experience of being violated, in the battlefield and out of it, and in our common resolve to fight patriarchy, whether of the right, left, or center.   I daresay we are being called to rebirth, rebuild, renew the Philippine women’s movement, 36 years after the  founding of the first feminist organization in the country.

Third of all, we must ensure that gains we have made through the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security are irreversible and we must build on these gains.  Whether they are modest, such as women’s spaces in evacuation centers; or they seek to inform our projects, programs and activities with a gender framework; or they target women as leaders – at the peace table or in top echelons of government.  Let us protect these gains.

And, fourth of all, we must learn to re-strategize and identify new priority areas because we cannot simply take things for granted anymore.  One example: the President-elect and his cabinet say that federalism will solve the problem of BBL.  Is this really true?  And how?  And, if not, how can we re-strategize so that federalism and BBL do not cancel each other out?  Federalism obviously resonates with Mindanaoans, including with some or many of our sisters, so we must go back to the drawing board and study federalism as hard as we did the BBL.

Before I end, just one word of precaution: on the integrity of words, and of process.  Let us guard against the corruption of words and trivialization of concepts.  Duterte has been called loose-tongued and foul-mouthed, but his apologists say he is simply joking, or kidding, and we should have a sense of humor and simply let it pass.  But, as women and especially as women peacebuilders, we value words and honor concepts.  That is why the ultimate indignity for us is the cuss word “Son of a bitch, Putang Ina,” which seems to be Duterte’s favorite expletive. 

The integrity we demand of words; we also demand of process.  We are alarmed over the haste in which Duterte wishes to sign a peace pact, cutting corners here, turning a blind eye there, in a variation on “talking for the sake of talking”; namely, better to talk than not to talk.

It seems the lessons of the past are lost on a new, although old, team that is gung-ho on peace at any cost – and we can understand the immediacy with which some may want to tackle and solve this peace table, considering how long it has taken to get nowhere.  Still we need to ask: Will the peace be just?  And will the peace endure?

That, I daresay, remains one of the inscrutable challenges that face us, dear sisters and women peace builders – not within the next administration, not after June 30, but even before yesterday.

Thank you.  Let us persevere.  We must endure.