Changing the Narrative: Journalists as Allies for Peace in the Philippines
May 18, 2021
By John Rizle Saligumba, Communications Coordinator, Balay Mindanaw and Mallika Iyer, Asia Programs Coordinator and Humanitarian Action Specialist, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders
In 2010, the Philippines was the first Asian country to adopt a National Action Plan (NAP) on United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 – a critical step towards addressing the situation of women in armed conflict and recognizing women’s contributions to conflict transformation. The NAP on UNSCR 1325 reinforced the Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act No. 9710), which was adopted in 2008 to enshrine the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Despite the adoption of these important national frameworks, genuine implementation has not yet been accomplished.
Armed conflict and increased activity amongst violent extremist groups continue to disproportionately impact women, young women, and girls, particularly from religious or Lumad (indigenous) minority groups in the Philippines. Forced displacement, child marriage, sexual violence, trafficking, food and economic insecurity, limited access to health care and education, and recruitment and radicalization by armed groups are all realities experienced by women, young women, and girls in conflict and crisis-affected communities across the Philippines.
The peace agreement signed by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), ratified as Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), addresses the gendered impacts of armed conflict and ensures women’s meaningful participation in post-conflict recovery and decision-making on peace and security. The recently adopted Bangsamoro Regional Action Plan (RAP) on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) furthers these objectives through a focus on leadership of women in local Peace and Order Councils and gender-responsive humanitarian emergency response for displaced women and girls. If implemented effectively, the BOL and RAP on WPS could transform gender inequalities and build inclusive, long-lasting peace in the Bangsamoro Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Challenges to Implementation
Disinformation, misinformation, and fake news have contributed to a lack of broad-based local ownership and support for the implementation of the BOL and a peaceful transition to the BARMM. Delays in the development of an electoral code, amongst other key frameworks in line with the BOL, have furthered distrust amongst the local population and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA). In the meantime, clashes continue between violent extremist groups, including Abu Sayaff, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the Philippine Armed Forces. Violence committed by extremist groups and clan feuds, compounded by fake news, threaten the peaceful transition to the BARMM and could lead to a return to insecurity and armed conflict.
The peace process between the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) and the Philippine government has deteriorated, following violent clashes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The conflict led to deliberate disruption and delays in the delivery of life-saving COVID-19 relief goods, leaving countless frontline women peacebuilders at risk. Misinformation disseminated by biased Filipino media agencies heavily contributed to false accusations and increased violence between the two warring parties. As a result, the ceasefires declared by the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA-NDF were short-lived, despite the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling for a global ceasefire during the COVID-19 crisis. The failure to uphold the ceasefires by the CPP-NPA-NDF and the government of the Philippines ultimately aggravated prospects of peace negotiations and increased the incidence of violent clashes between the two warring parties.
The important role of journalists
Journalism plays a critical role in countering misinformation, disinformation, and fake news. It can build broad-based support for sustainable and inclusive peacebuilding, promoting women’s meaningful participation and leadership in decision-making on peace and security. Mass media has the power to not only break the traditionally conservative stereotypes around gender and women portrayed as victims of conflict but also hold governments to account on issues of women, peace and security. Journalists in the Philippines have the power to share accurate information on the implementation of the BOL and generate support for women’s leadership in peacebuilding in the BARMM. They can also hold the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA-NDF accountable for the protection of women’s rights and human rights, in line with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the only agreement signed by the warring parties.
To generate and sustain interest amongst journalists around gender-sensitive reporting on the ongoing peace processes in the Philippines, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) and Balay Mindanaw, with support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), launched a national media competition on International Women’s Day in March 2020. The “Women, Peace, and Security Reporting Awards” was created to:
- Encourage journalists to produce engaging stories to promote the implementation of the BOL;
- Support the smooth transition to the BARMM;
- Communicate the importance of inclusive and sustainable peace processes which address the root causes of conflict between the Government of the Philippines and the CPP-NPA-NDF; and
- Shift the dominant perception of women as victims to agents of change.
GNWP and Balay Mindanaw received 68 entries from 38 authors. Many of the entries discussed the gendered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities affected by the transition to the BARMM or the ongoing peace process with the CPP-NPA-NDF. They also highlighted the significant contributions of local women and youth peacebuilders in leading COVID-19 relief and recovery.
On March 8, 2021, an online award ceremony was held to recognize the following winning submissions:
Winning Submission for Photojournalism Category
Pandemic Worsens Situation of Young Mothers in Conflict Areas by Mark Saludes
A photo essay of women who are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The essay’s subjects are also caught in the midst of an armed conflict and the underlying socio-economic, political, and cultural exclusion in Maida, Maguindanao province in the BARMM. The essay captures the gendered impacts of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing armed conflict. The story also highlights the efforts of some groups to include reproductive health products in COVID-19 relief packages in the absence of comprehensive healthcare. The author also artistically inserted photos of Lumad peoples in the province of Surigao Del Sur who were displaced in 2018 by the ongoing armed conflict between the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA.
Watch the author’s award acceptance video here: https://youtu.be/qZsqTFyMxGA
Winning Submission for Print Category
Rising from the Ruins, The Weavers of Marawi by Zea Correa-Capistrano
Correa-Capistrano recognizes the leadership and innovation of displaced Meranaw women following the 2018 Marawi Siege. Meranaw women revived their traditional weaving practices to address the economic and food insecurity they were experiencing. Traditional weaving has always been a part of Meranaw culture and tradition. These women transformed norms by leading the practice and selling their products. They were able to market their products and share their stories to consumers as far as the United States. Watch the author’s award acceptance video here: https://youtu.be/9hlosVlmMcU
Winning Submission for Online Category
Dolls for Peace Help Empower Women in Post-War Marawi by Antonio L. Colina IV
The story of a group of women who believe they are “warriors for peace”. They employ their skills to create iconic dolls that become symbolize women-led efforts to rebuild the war-torn city of Marawi. The women saw the selling of dolls as key to their empowerment and recovery. The dolls promote their culture and tradition of peace and remind consumers of Marawi City before it was destroyed by war and terrorism. Watch the author’s award acceptance video here: https://youtu.be/5lMEy8w0cPw
Winning Submission for Best Report on Peace in the Pandemic
Women Survivors from Marawi Siege Produce Facemasks for Livelihood During Covid-19 Outbreak by Divina Suson
This report highlights the leadership of local women in displacement camps in Marawi City in the COVID-19 response. As survivors of the 2018 Marawi Siege, local women harnessed their power to identify livelihood opportunities. Although their dressmaking businesses were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, local women quickly mobilized to produce face masks as an alternative source of income. Watch the author’s award acceptance video here: https://youtu.be/1iltp9w6kCs
Winning Submission for Best Report By A Woman/Youth Journalist
Women Commanders Speak: “How do you suppose the battle raged on for days and weeks if there was no Bangsamoro Islamic Women Auxiliary Brigade to support the men fighting?” by Amalia Bandiola-Cabusao
This article brought to the fore the seldom-heard perspectives of former women combatants of the MILF’s armed wing. It draws attention to their efforts to support the peace negotiations and struggle for the right to self-determination. The article emphasizes the need for gender-responsive disengagement, disarmament, and rehabilitation.
Watch the author’s award acceptance video here:
Part 1: https://youtu.be/wrJAAj6XMj8
Part 2: https://youtu.be/RouG0x_IrFw