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MONDAYS WITH PATMEI | My Mothers for Peace journey

I spent the last four days surrounded by the women leaders of the Mothers for Peace movement and I feel so nourished, refreshed, and energized.

Two of those days were spent on a road trip with five others from Davao City to Iligan City and vice-versa and the other two listening to stories of 30 women building peace in their local communities and then talking about where we need to be in the years to come.

Spending four days with these amazing women — laughing, singing, dancing, telling stories, eating, planning, dreaming, hugging, taking pictures, video recording, celebrating, and, yes, crying (both tears of grief and of joy) — was so physically healing and spiritually lifting for me. Sisterhood is so powerful and therapeutic.

Mothers for Peace is a national movement that started as an advocacy campaign in 2003 in response to the bombing of Buliok, a major Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) camp in Maguindanao, by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The MILF broke off peace talks with the Philippine government and declared that the ceasefire agreement had been breached.

The campaign ran an advertisement on Mother’s Day that year with a powerful message that captured the sentiment of all mothers in Mindanao affected by the war: “They have taken our fathers, our brothers, our husbands, and our sons. Who will be left to celebrate Mother’s Day?” I am paraphrasing from memory because I could not find the video and the copy of the newspaper advertisement while I am writing this. But that was the essence of the campaign and why the mothers were leading it.

The campaign was successful in its demand for a ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table. It created a new and broader peace constituency that led to the transformation of a single issue-based campaign into a national movement.

The Mothers for Peace also gave birth to Youth for Peace. And those young women leaders who were nurtured and mentored in Youth for Peace have now become the second generation leaders of Mothers for Peace. This inspired these new generation of leaders to start the Kids for Peace with their own young children.

I became part of Mothers for Peace in 2011 when I got recruited by my feminist fairy godmother, Irene Morada Santiago. I call her “Tita Inday” because she is my mother’s cousin on the Bello side, making her my aunt. And I consider her my feminist godmother (I am blessed to have several) because she rescued me from the patriarchal snake pit that was Malacañang back in 2000 and she made me speak on behalf of young women political leaders all over the world at the United Nations in New York when I was 29 (it was a Cinderella moment, but so much better). That changed everything for me as a young woman. I believe that my feminist life began at 30 and Tita Inday was (and still is) the godmother who accompanied me in my gender and peacebuilding journey.

Tita Inday is the founder and lead convener of Mothers for Peace. So when she asked me to join her in 2011, it was another rescue operation from a six-year stint as chief-of-staff of the mayor of Davao City. It happened while I was malling (walking around in a shopping mall), of all things. She bumped into me and asked: “What are you doing in a mall? Aren’t you supposed to be running city hall?” When I told her I already went on early retirement from full-time government work when I turned 40 in 2010, she declared it was a sign that I was meant to begin another journey. And what a journey it has been!

When I first joined the movement we could not decide if I should be with the Mothers or with the Youth for Peace. So I recruited my own mom so she would be in Mothers for Peace and I would be in Youth for Peace. But in reality, I am part of both because I consider myself a mother who takes care of others and gives birth to and nurtures ideas, programs, and projects and I feel forever young.

This year, Mothers for Peace turned 21 years old and we decided it is time to celebrate this milestone birthday during Women’s Month. So we all gathered in Ylay Resort in Iligan City, home of our Mothers for Peace leader and Iligan legend, Dr. Melchie Ambalong.

Most of us have not seen one another in almost a decade so there was a lot of catching up. The theme of our gathering was: “Meaning Making, Direction Setting.”

On our first day, each of us reflected on the following questions: (1) What are the two things you are most proud of achieving as part of Mothers for Peace?; (2) What do you think is the meaning of your being part of Mothers for Peace?; (3) What piece of advice, tip, or hack will you share to the next generation of women who want to pursue a path similar to yours?

The two things I am most proud of achieving as part of Mothers for Peace were: (1) Creating and implementing the Mothers for Peace Davao Food Revolution campaign; and (2) Developing the Mothers for Peace Pipol’s Power campaign against the privatization of Agus-Pulangi Hydropower Complex. And there is a bonus achievement that I share with my mom — organizing our Rotary Club of Downtown Davao (RCDD) as a Mothers for Peace Circle.

Being part of Mothers for Peace brings to life for me what Tita Inday taught me about being a feminist: “An empowered woman lifts up other women.” The women in this community are all nurturing one another, celebrating each other’s triumphs, and helping each other overcome challenges. Because the only way to fight the patriarchy is in solidarity with other women — as part of a broader feminist movement.

By the way, feminism for me is simply believing that women are human beings, too, and therefore, have the same human rights as men. And the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy. It is gender equality. So being a feminist means promoting gender equality. It is not being against men; it is being against oppressing and discriminating women. There are feminist men, too. Actually, anybody who truly promotes universal human rights is a feminist.

The piece of advice I would give to the next generation of women would be to get yourself your own feminist fairy godmother (the more, the better). Because the world is designed to discriminate against women. Those feelings of being “not good enough” and “there must be something wrong with me” are not your fault. It is not you, it is the patriarchy. And you need someone to always remind you that. You need to hear new and empowering stories about women and what women can do. Always surround yourself with women who lift you up.

It is my 13th year as a part of Mothers for Peace so it is also a milestone anniversary for me. Like Taylor Swift, I consider 13 a lucky number. A good year to begin another journey of building a peaceful world that values men and women equally.


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