Opening Remarks by Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles at the Celebrating Women in Peace

Friday, April 1, 2016 - 14:30

By Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
April 1, 2016

Today is April Fool’s Day whose origins are lost in the mists of history.  But today, in fact, we mean to rejoice, and not to make fools of each other, in a belated celebration of March as Women-in-History month.

We need not look too far back in time to trace the origins of March 8 as International Women’s Day. 105 years ago, on March 19, 1911, women of the Socialist International pressed for equal rights for women, including the right to vote, in the first International Women’s Day celebration worldwide.  But it was a tragic factory fire in New York City, barely a week later, that seared into global consciousness the need for working women’s rights and, by that token, of women’s rights all over the world.  123 out of 146 fire victims were young migrant women from Europe: in death as in life, women were not equal.

I recall these details to stress two points. The first is that grief and pain are the underside of victory and success.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire fueled women’s labor organizing and the passage of legislation affirming the rights of women workers in the United States, blazing a trail for similar struggles.  The second point is that all struggles for social change are of one piece. Class oppression interlocked with gender oppression on that fateful day in New York City, engulfing over a hundred garment workers in its scorching flames, or plunging them to the pavement nine and ten floors below.

For us in the Philippines, this incident is more than just remembered history, as we mark this May the first anniversary of the fire that engulfed the Kentex rubber slipper factory in Valenzuela, Bulacan; more than 70 factory workers died that tragic day, most of them women.

And so, we must reach across class and creed as we seek peace for the Bangsamoro and lumad in particular, and the Filipino nation as a whole.  Religion and ethno-linguicity may define us, but they do not divide us.  And even as March 8 is bittersweet for us women, today is also bittersweet for those who have struggled so hard and so long for equal rights for the Bangsamoro and the lumad – to land, to selfhood and governance, to justice, for a future.

But today we rejoice, we celebrate: as women, as peace advocates. Notwithstanding a temporarily stalled BBL, today we count our blessings, not least of which is the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, whose second anniversary many of us here celebrated in Cotabato City a few days ago.

And, today, there is more to celebrate for we are launching or unveiling four things – call them labors of love.

The first is Kababaihan at Kapayapaan, or K&K magazine, its fifth and final issue.  K&K is OPAPP’s twice-yearly publication, launched in March, 2014, making the links between gender and peace. This being our last issue, as we end our term in June, we beg your indulgence for featuring in the pages of this final volume the story of OPAPP, including the profiles of the women and men who have led the organization in the country’s fight for peace in the last six years.  

The second item on the agenda is One Million Peace Women, spearheaded in the country by Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute.  One Million Women seeks to draw international recognition to a million women who have built peace by challenging the harmful status quo, its structures and ideologies.  Fancy that: their stories will be made available online, and to download their accounts one story a day will take 2,740 years, if I reckon correctly.  Talk about critical mass.

The third activity is the launching of a twin volume on the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security: The Philippine Experience. The first volume details its development and substance, the second provides the database on where Filipino women stand in matters of peace and security. 

The fourth activity is the launch of the Assessment of the National Action Plan in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, undertaken by Women Engaged in Action 1325, WE ACT 1325.  The evaluation does NAP an invaluable service by pinpointing its early strengths and weaknesses, particularly as it undergoes localization in the ARMM, and making critical recommendations on the way forward.

It’s all very well, you might say, but it’s all words, words, words – a magazine; a million stories for, by and about women; a two-volume book; and an assessment report.  But it is plain to see why women must employ words as allies and deploy them as weapons.  It lies in the fact that we women are in the business of renaming and redefining and, therefore, words are our stock-in-trade.

As the American writer James Thurber says, “Don’t get it right – get it written.”  And another American, the poet Adrienne Rich, enjoined the sisterhood, “You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it.”   (Which reminds me – I do so need to get my life back.)

And there’s another point that makes all the difference: having done the deed, we women can claim the word.  And, speaking the word, we can change the deed. This verbal bonanza is not empty gong or clanging cymbal.  It is women’s lives in raw narrative, it is women’s wisdom distilled from women’s pain, it is women’s experiences making up the warp and woof of pioneering and innovative programs.  It is seeing the world through women’s eyes and counting the true costs of past, present and future.

This is not to say that we yearn for an all-women universe, not at all.  In fact, the problem with many Filipino women is that they love Filipino men too much.  But that is another story.

In any case, before I close, let me say two more things.  The first is to acknowledge some of the women who have poured their passions and seasons into the twin struggles for gender and peace, particularly in the last six years.  This is always difficult to do, knowing we cannot name them all, but I wish to highlight – I have had to choose, with great difficulty – a select few who exemplify some extraordinary accomplishments of women in peace and security work in the last six years. 

  • Let me start off, of course, with GPH peace negotiating panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, or simply Iye – she with her nerves of steel, crystal clarity of mind, and unflagging conviction, who is the first woman in the world to sign a major peace agreement as chief negotiator.
  • Indeed, there is  much to highlight of women’s leadership in the Bangsamoro peace process; please allow me to quickly run through some of these –
  • The CAB is the first agreement of its kind in the world to bear the signature of total of three women, which accounts for one-half of the GPH negotiating panel and about one-fourth of the total of its signatories.  Let us acknowledge the other two women who signed the CAB: Secretary Yasmin Busran-Lao, who has just been appointed for her second term as Secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos; and former Deputy to the National Security Adviser, now a Commissioner of the National Police Commission, or NAPOLCOM.  Having acknowledged the women, let us also recognize the GPH male signatories to the CAB, as good as women throughout the negotiations:  Former Agriculture Secretary Senen Bacani, GPH panel member from the start up to now, and alternate panel member, now chair of the Commission on Human Rights, Chito Gascon.
  • On the side of government, women headed three of the four working groups which worked on the annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which now comprise the substance of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro: namely, Secretary Yasmin Lao for the Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities, NEDA Regional Director Lourdes Lim for the Annex on Wealth Sharing and Revenue Generation, and then Usec. Zen Brosas for the Annex on Normalization.
  • We are very proud indeed of the young, brave, brilliant, and beautiful women who comprised the GPH legal team for the negotiations: first chaired by Johaira Wahab, now a foreign service officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs; whose post was then assumed by Ana Basman, now deputy executive director of NCMF – both of them only in their early 30’s as we end our term!  Let me also mention the other young and bold women of our legal team: Armi Beatriz Bayot of the Office of the Solicitor General, recently honored by the UK government as the most outstanding foreign scholar in Britain for schoolyear 2014-15, when she took time off for further studies as a Chevening scholar; and Amirah Pendatun, who has also just joined NCMF.  Again, I feel compelled to acknowledge the lone thorn in the team for being a young and bold Moro who works so well with women, including his bosses: Al Amin Julkipli, recently appointed as NCMF commissioner, representing the youth.
  • And then there is Iona Jalijali, head of the GPH panel secretariat, who nursed two babies through the six years of negotiations and CAB implementation.
  • Let me also underscore that GPH has pushed to have women in all the independent bodies created by the CAB, missing out only with the Independent Decommissioning Body: namely, Ret. PNP General Lina Sarmiento, who now heads the Claims Board on human rights victims of martial law, for the Independent Police Commission; Atty. Cecilia Jimenez for the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Ms. Mo Beeker of Switzerland; and Karen Tanada for the Third-Party Monitoring Team.
  • But it hasn’t all been just about the Bangsamoro peace process.  In the last six years, OPAPP worked to bring to completion decades-old peace agreements with splinter groups of the CPP/NPA/NDF.  As a result, the country is less one rebel army as we come to the end of our term.  Late last year, the Cordillera Regional Law Enforcement and Coordinating Council announced that the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army, or CPLA, exists no more; instead we have the Cordillera People’s Development Forum, which has been duly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  On this same track, before we end our term, we are targeting to sign a similar Closure Agreement with the RPM-P/RPA/ABB which will, in turn dismantle or decommission the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, or RPA, based in western Visayas.  Please let me recognize the OPAPP officials, two women, who are overseeing the two closure processes:  Undersecretary for Programs Gettie Sandoval and Director Marj Ibanez.  I must also mention that there were women, as well, on the other side of the table: Marcela Bahatan on behalf of the Cordillera Bodong Adminsitration, and Veronica Tabara, on behalf of the Revolutionary People’s Movement of the Philippines.
  • It is also important for us to share today, because very few know about this aspect of OPAPP efforts, the small but crucial steps we have taken to further embed the peace agenda among our security forces, particularly by institutionalizing the foundations of peace studies in the curriculum of the PNP and AFP.  Specifically, in the Command and General Studies College, or CGSC, of the AFP, we have incorporated a 40-hour module on the peace process, including an overview of our different peace tables; CGSC courses are a requirement for promotion in the military.  And we are now in the process of integrating the same peace process module in the curriculum of the Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC) for the Philippine National Police Acadmy (PNPA) as well as in all the training modules of the PNP.  Please meet the woman who has been pushing OPAPP’s work on security sector reform: Assistant Secretary for Policy Jennifer “Apple” Oreta.    
  • We cannot conclude our acknowledgements without recognizing the CSO women, who have pushed for the adoption and who continue to monitor and assist the implementation of the National Action Plan on UNSCR, 1325, notably WE-ACT 1325 , chaired by, Jasmine Galace.   
  • There are many, many more women to acknowledge,  but we still have a program to complete.  Let me just end this part by acknowledging the women who faithfully lobbied with Congress and monitored each painful day when Congress, both chambers, failed to move the BBL. There are many of you, including urban poor women in Metro Manila, but I think everyone will agree that someone deserves a medal for always being there, every excruciating heartbeat of the process: the ever-present Sr. Arnold Ma. Noel of the Missionary Sisters Servant of the Holy Spirit.


Thank-you to all the women who never gave up and will continue to push with all their hearts, minds, and all their strength to finally bring an end to all war in the Philippines.

And, finally, let me conclude with another quote.  If you don’t mind, it’s from James Thurber once more (he was part of our English lit course in college, you see, and I am an English major).  He said, “Men” – and I should say women and men – “must   learn before they die, what they are running to, and from, and why.”

Sisters and a few valiant brothers, I believe we have some consensus on what we stand for, what we stand against; and why.  And knowing this, let us celebrate our unities, and let us celebrate our differences.  In fact, we must also celebrate our contradictions, and our challenges.

In the last six years, we have seen it all: celebrations, challenges, contradictions; we have seen confusion but also compassion and commitment.  As we mark our last celebration of women’s month under the Aquino administration, I wish to thank all of the women and, yes, also the valiant men, who have stood by us through the best and the worst times.  You made the celebrations more exhilarating and the disappointments more bearable.  It has been an awesome ride with you.

Belated happy women’s month, everyone!  Thank-you and good day!