“It was the task of the citizens’ peace movement to pick up the pieces and continue and steer the peace process.”
As I worked with Asian-Pacific leaders to plan a conference on conflict resolution, Filipino members of our planning team insisted that we call on “Ging,” the popular nickname for Teresita Quintos-Deles. We invited her to address a plenary session, and she was wonderful. For all her strength and determination, what I remember is her smile. She is beaming in all the photos I’ve seen of that event. None of the struggles she has weathered has quenched her delight in life. That joy is potent, continuing to win out over the heaviest of oppression.
The peace talks between the Philippine government and the New People’s Army had broken down. So local people took matters into their own hands. In the village of Hungduan the townspeople negotiated with the insurgents and secured their agreement to pull back from their community. Then immediately the townspeople organized to prevent the army from setting up their own base in Hungduan. They created a protected area, a space protected by the expressed will of the grassroots residents to be free from the violence of the conflict that was so destructive around them. This was one of the local projects Teresita Quintos-Deles helped stimulate as part of a campaign to empower grassroots communities to become major participants in the peace processes in the Philippines.
Teresita Quintos-Deles, better known by her nickname “Ging,” has been a leading organizer of the peace constituency in the Philippines that grew out of the People Power movement that brought down the Macros dictatorship. Following the success of the People Power movement, Quintos-Deles co-founded and became chair-convenor of the Coalition for Peace (CfP). CfP was the first non-governmental alliance to seek to end the on-going conflicts in the Philippines, beginning with the almost two-decades long war involving the Communist insurgency by the New People’s Army. When the formal talks stalled, Quintos-Deles launched an effort to re-open the process through involvement of a third-party, CfP as a people-based organization. But they were rebuffed with the questions, “Who are you? How many are you?”
That rebuff from the warring parties caused CfP to shift their approach to building up the national constituency for peace, building up a third-party for peace from among the Philippine people. Both the government and the rebels claimed to speak for the people, but there was no other organized voice to articulate the concerns of those suffering from the on-going violence. Quintos-Deles and CfP moved into grassroots organizing, encouraging and supporting local communities to develop their own peace initiatives. They engaged in marches, education programs and consultations to help people understand the root causes of the conflict and mobilize to address those issues together. Ging said, “Healing and reconciliation has to happen on the ground. To make this possible, people have to own the peace process through their participation in it.” One organizing tool to help people begin to participate in making peace was a People’s Christmas Cease-Fire unilaterally declared by the groups in CfP and related grass-roots communities. They could not be enforcers of a cease-fire, but they could tell the government and guerillas they were violating the people’s ceasefire.
The Christmas Cease-Fire sparked people’s imaginations, and soon the idea grew into creating peace zones, like that created by the people of Hungduan. Many communities took up this idea. As Quintos-Deles worked on organizing the local communities she noticed that to succeed in standing up to the armed groups a community needed strong internal structure. Those with either strong intact indigenous structures or where the churches had done extensive social organizing were the ones able to sustain the work of a peace-zone. Quintos-Deles also organized opportunities for the community leaders to gather together from the various peace zone projects so they could share their experiences and broaden their views. They could transcend the local perspective and get a sense of the national movement.
As the peace movement grew there was need for more organizational co-ordination. In 1990 Quintos-Deles became Executive Director of the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute, which was formed to be the secretariat of the Coalition for Peace. The Institute was formed to institutionalize the work of peacemaking and peace-building, bringing the citizens’ initiatives into the mainstream of the peace and development projects in the country. As the Institute and CfP engaged in various peacemaking initiatives they often formed different coalitions, sometimes incorporating new people and organizations. For Quintos-Deles the key concern is not the organizational name or who got credit for the work but rather what advances the cause of peace. “We have different organizations for different purposes,” she said. “We will invent more and more of such organizations to bring in more and more citizens who may not feel comfortable with a certain aggroupment.”
In 2001, Quintos-Deles left the non-governmental side of the struggle to take on a government position. She was asked to become Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission. Two years later she became the first woman to be directly engaged in the governmental side of peace processes when she was appointed the Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process. She brought her non-military, pro-victims of the violence awareness to the highest level of peace negotiations. She challenged generals who engaged in excessive force in their military campaigns, even prompting apologies. She said, “Security policy could not be left to the military—and to the men—to decide. Civilian perspectives and women’s perspectives, in particular, had to be put on the table in deciding the issues of war and peace.” Quintos-Deles resigned her position in 2005 in protest over alleged corruption in President Gloria Arroyo’s re-election campaign.
Besides continuing as a national figure in peacemaking and women’s rights efforts, Ging Quintos-Deles has become a leading figure in Asia. She has been a leader in various international consultations and organizations. She has served on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. “Peace is a universal aspiration,” Ging says. “Unfortunately, there is an enormous distance between everybody’s dream of peace and the reality of war and violence that threaten people’s lives.” She has engaged over the long-term struggle to bring vision and hope to ordinary people and to help them get organized for collaborative positive action. She said, “We can set the foundation (for peace) in our lifetime and hope that one day our stake in the peace process will take hold. Hope is the lifeblood of peace advocacy.”