Inclusion of women in peace talks urged

DAVAO CITY -- A women’s rights advocate has called on the government and Moro rebels to include at least one woman in each of the panels negotiating for Mindanao peace process.

Irene Santiago, chair of the Mindanao Commission on Women, said the role of women in achieving peace and order in Mindanao is one of the most crucial, yet has been overlooked most of the time.

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"For the longest time, we have focused on hard infrastructure – the creation of roads, military might. It is time that we focus on the people, just as women do," Santiago told participants of the Kamindanawan 2010.

Kamindanawan is the annual Mindanao Women's Congress organized by the Mindanao Commission on Women with the support of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid).

It started Thursday and has converged more than a hundred women representing various organizations, civil societies, public office from all sectors and regions in Mindanao.

Santiago said the real peace process actually starts after the peace agreement. “It is when people and communities start to rebuild their lives and their families that have been affected by the conflict."

She stressed that the peace process has bypassed the inclusion of women in the negotiating panels of both sides.

"From the drafting of the peace agreement alone, there should be women involvement," she said. "Without women, peace is not possible."

During the first day of the Mindanao Women’s Congress, Santiago also disclosed several challenges that Mindanao has been facing.

These, she said, include the upcoming May 10 elections, the Ampatuan massacre, and the resumption of the peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

She said in the midst of these critical challenges, Mindanao also continues to face issues around peace and security, poverty and hunger, corruption, and climate change.

"These challenges make our annual gathering a significant occasion not only for women but also for Mindanao and the rest of the country," she added.

The women advocate also said she, along with other members of the congress, will pass on Friday a resolution asking the government to include at least one woman in each of the negotiating panel.

The Mindanao peace process has been ongoing since the MILF resumed talks with the government.

But Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat, who attended a congressional hearing on the peace talks last Monday, said the process is shrouded with secrecy and non-transparency.

His statement came after the entire government panel headed by Undersecretary Rafael Seguis that has been talking peace with the MILF did not show up at the congressional hearing.

Lobregat said Malacañang had apparently not given Seguis the clearance to attend the hearing, which was conducted in relation to a bill filed by first district Congresswoman Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, urging the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to disclose specific details concerning the renewed peace talks with the Moro rebels.

The mayor said the MILF spokesman, North Cotabato Vice Governor Emmanuel Piñol and Presidential Peace Adviser Annabelle Abaya were just among those personalities who attended the event. (CPM/With Bong Garcia/Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)
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