Mainstreaming Women’s Voices in the context of the 2017 Marawi Siege, Martial Law, and the Mindanao Peace Process

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The security crisis in beleaguered Marawi City and the implementation of martial law in Mindanao have apportioned a huge-impact on the peace and security situation and in the overall political climate in the Bangsamoro region. 

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Former BTC Commissioner Ms Samira Gutoc on mainstreaming women's voices and experiences in Marawi Incident

With the current political and security environment, the Pro Politics for Peace Project of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, in collaboration with the Regional Commission on the Bangsamoro Women –ARMM provided an arena for women political leaders, and CSOs including traditional women leaders in a forum “Harnessing Women’s Experiences and Voices on the Current Political and Security Environment: Boon or Bane for  the Mindanao Peace Process?”, on 13 – 14 July 2017 at the SEDA Hotel, Cagayan de Oro City.

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The forum served as arena for women’s conversation and sharing of experiences and perceptions in the context of the recent (2017) Marawi siege and the consequent declaration of martial law in Mindanao. It was participated by more than 100 women and few men participants from the 5 provinces of ARMM including Zamboanga City. Specifically the participants include LGU political leaders, provincial judiciary, traditional women leaders, ARMM regional and provincial executives, academe, religious and traditional leaders, and civil society organizations.

Sittie Jehanne Mutin, Chairperson of the Regional Commission on the Bangsamoro Women (RCBW-ARMM) welcomed the participants and encouraged the to share about their experiences and express their voices on the current political and security environment in Mindanao. Likewise, she assured them of RCBW’s and IAG’s continuous advocacy for mainstreaming women’s voices into the peace process, as well as in the national political discourse.

In addition, Prof. ReyDan Lacson, Program Manager of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance ((AG), explained that the main rationale of the forum is to build the infrastructure for inclusive dialogue among the Bangsamoro. He further said that, “We’re all in this together. So, we better get our acts together and sustain the dialogue, in order to have a full sense of what we ought do to achieve a sustainable peaceful future for all of us.  This has to be, because whatever may happen, we will always be Mindanawans forever”.

Mainstreaming women’s experience on the Marawi incident

Former member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), Commissioner Samira Gutoc, was the first resource speaker in the 2-day forum. She was in Zamboanga City on May 23, 2017 with the other members of the BTC, finishing the final draft of the BBL, when report reached them about the ISIS attack in Marawi City. According to her, upon receipt of text messages from family members, she instinctively shifted to action mode, while simultaneously asking what the hell she was sitting there for, in Zamboanga.

She added, “Each one of us was just looking at each other not knowing what to do. We were women who thought we were strong. We were women, who thought we could decide. We were women who thought we could control (our reactions) as we are advocates of peace. But right now [that moment] on may 23, 2017 we were very angry and un-peaceful”.

Ms. Gutoc asserts that hers is not the mainstream voice, because there are other voices that should be more mainstreamed. There are approximately 400,000 Maranaws who experienced the Marawi incident whose voices are presently outside of the conversation loop.  Therefore there are about 400,000 voices, stories, narratives of sufferings, and written papers as yet to be heard.

Ms. Gutoc admits that terrorism is now with us since 9/11, and its structure has been transformed into smaller pockets and cell groups. Addressing it, the governments should capitalize on the capability of the local governments. They should be made accountable in the implementation of the anti-terrorism, anti-crime, and anti-illegal drug programs in the local scene. Unfortunately, this was not the approach of the government on the Marawi incident. As an example the barangays were not tapped to help contain the crisis in Marawi City. The city government itself was not incorporated among the members of the inter-agency task force which is mandated to recover, rehabilitate, and reconstruct Marawi. This, according to Ms. Gutoc, is the reason why she is questioning the martial law approach of the President.

On the wider scope she reported that terrorist recruitment tactics were long used by revolutionary organizations even before the Abu-Sayyaf came into existence. In today’s context of extremism/terrorism, there are 15-18 year old youths who upload the videos of their achievements in the battlefields – enticing some more youths to join in.  Then, they were given (deposited) some cash in every accomplishment they upload in Youtube. Ms Gutoc believes that these groups are part of a worldwide phenomenon. They may not necessarily be of the ISIS track; but still a part of the growing worldwide generational millennial frustration and disenchantment with the freedom championed by the US, Europe, and the Philippines. Allegedly, this type of freedom is not full, as it is not also enough. Ms Gutoc encourages every Maranao [woman] to document and write their own stories and narratives – hoping that 1 voice can lend to 100 voices in the forums, to narrate vividly the real Bangsamoro story of today.

Current Political and Security Environment

Dr. Zainal Kulidtud of MSU-Marawi provided input on the Current Political and Security Environment in the Mindanao Peace Process. He focused on the history of the peace negotiations and agreement between the government and the revolutionary fronts (MILF, MNLF).

The current political environment is absolutely connected to the century-old narrative of struggle for independence and genuine autonomy of the Bangsamoro people. Thus the current regional political and security issues have negative impact on the Mindanao peace process, Dr Kulidtud further stressed.

According to Dr Kulidtud there are 6 possible causes for the emergence of violent extremism linked to the Marawi incident. These are: Islamic Injunction, Pentagon-Sponsored, opposition-initiative, government-initiative, politically-motivated/local election-related, and the result of the frustration with the peace process. 

Likewise, the implications of the Marawi Siege and Martial Law on the Mindanao peace and development efforts are as follows:

  1. It undermines the legitimacy and effectivity of the current peace process. There are still other stronger voices in Mindanao w/c are not yet involved (refuse to participate) in the peace process.
  2. It challenges the legitimacy of the MILF as the biggest Moro revolutionary organization.
  3. It manifests how ready is our Armed Forces in addressing terrorism in the country – both in terms of its war equipment/materials and intelligence gathering.
  4. It shows the fluidity of our peace and order condition in the region.
  5. Unnecessary waste of resources. The government suffered multiple jeopardies. It has to address the terrorists, the evacuees, and the post-war rehabilitation.
  6. It challenges the mandate of the MSU – as an educational institution aimed at assisting the government for cultural integration of the Moros.
  7. It has serious implications on the building of a region-wide (if not a nation-wide) peace constituency. We are very much far from “peacebuilding.”

Mindanao Shadow Economies and Violent Extremism

Ms Judy Gulane of the International Alert Philippines presented the data on Mindanao shadow economies and local security issues (2017). Accordingly, the present trends gravitate around 3 major aspect; a) resilience of shadow economies (classified as coping economy and deadly economy); b) newly emerging violence (movement from rural to urban areas); and c) the rise in violent extremism.

Furthermore, data on violent conflict incidents show a steady climb within the 2012-2016 period. 

Based on the report, politics is the major cause of conflict in Mindanao, brought on by rebellion and or election related violence. This is followed by clan feuds (rido) and personal grudge. There is a marked shift in terms of areas of conflict. Observably, conflict and violent incidents have mostly occurred nowadays among the urban population than in the rural areas. In Maguindanao for instance, the 2011 data show concentration of violent conflict occurrences in town centers, such those that happened in the municipalities of Datu Odin Sinsuat and Shariff Aguak.

In addition, data further show that in the ARMM, conflict incidence is highest in the urban centers of Cotabato City, Marawi City, municipalities of Parang and Malabang in mainland Mindanao, as well as in Isabela City (Basilan) and in the municipalities Jolo and Bongao in the Sulu Archipelago.

Subsequently, Control over urban areas is strategic in strengthening state legitimacy and credibility, which eventually determine if a particular state is considered fragile state, crisis state, or failed state. Urban areas have increasingly become theatres of violence because of the following characteristics: highly dense population, different groups, conflicting ideologies, and varied socio-cultural and religious affiliations. As such, urban areas ideal for small and compact terror units which need to move easily, coordinate efficiently, and blend into the local population as effective disguise.

Marawi 2017 is the first major attack made by violent extremists in a large urban center in Southeast Asia, and the result has been catastrophic with most of its residents forced to abandon the city. It is also the second major assault in an urban center by a non-state armed group, after the Zamboanga siege in 2013.

As synthesis, Chairperson Sittie Jehanne Mutin (RCBW-ARMM) summarized the emergent key points, out of the 2-day forum:

  1. The current political and security environment poses a major challenge to our established system or structures – inviting creative thinking for a new and peaceful political order
  2. There are indeed numerous impacts on the Mindanao peace process and the Bangsamoro peace efforts
  3. Need to arrest the growing extremism’s hold in the region
  4. Shadow economies hugely impact our peace and security environment
  5. Failed governance is a major cause of disenchantment among the citizenry, and should therefore be addressed in earnest
  6. The Ulama, traditional leaders, women political leaders, and the youths are strategically important in sustaining the gains of the peace process. They must be supported and engaged substantively
  7. Collective, strategic, coordinated action
  8. Social media is a platform for advocacy and action
  9. Need for cultural sensitivity especially during the rehabilitation and rebuilding processes
  10. Regular conflict monitoring system must be installed to facilitate an early response program
  11. Recognize that Local Chief Executives are the gatekeepers of power. They should be capacitated more, with the end goal of better protection for the Moro communities.

The Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG) spearheaded the forum through its Pro PolitiCS for Peace project, in collaboration with the Regional Commission on Bangsamoro Women (RCBW-ARMM), and in partnership with the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), Local Government Development Foundation (LOGODEF), and Zamboanga Basilan Integrated Development Alliance (ZABIDA). The forum was undertaken through the support of the Australian Aid.

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