AND CULTURE AS PEACEBUILDERS
Quindoza Santiago (Philippines)
transforming individual behaviors, unhindered art and culture form an
essential dimension for building a just and sustainable peace.
Similarly, the participation of women in public life contributes new
ways of doing things in a political world regulated at best by the male
value system, and at worst by military methods, as in the Philippines.
In 1972, when the Philippines was placed under martial law by
Ferdinand Marcos, I was one of the student activists rounded up,
arrested, placed in detention centers and tortured by the military.
Now, nearly thirty years after that personal encounter with violence, I
thought I should not only tell my story but help reflect on how to
exorcise the memory of torture, attain inner peace and move on to
become an advocate of peace for others.
In the twenty years of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines,
there were many forces that claimed to promote peace. Even Marcos
himself claimed it was because of the need for peace that he had to
impose martial law in 1972. When he was deposed in 1986, those who
deposed him declared to the whole world that that was the first time
people ousted a military dictator without bloodshed.
But is the absence of armed confrontation the essence of peace?
There has been no real cessation of hostilities between government and
political forces challenging the power of the state. The peaceful
dismantling of military rule in 1986 therefore did not solve the basic
problems which give rise to social unrest and violence in Philippine
In the most solitary confines of detention when I had only
the wall and the self to talk with, I fought desolation by keeping my
mind at work. I imagined and wrote several stories to and of myself. I
was re-inventing myself and began to discover there were other selves
other than the one that was with me. Those other selves were not as
bitter and resentful, even as they were rebellious and free.
The imagination and desire to be free led me to write poetry. To pass
away time in our detention cell, some political prisoners bonded
together to make greeting cards. This became a popular handicraft
activity of political detainees. My favorite part in the making of the
card was the writing of the dedication. This was when I began to
discover the power of the written word.
It is this inner peace and strength that enabled me to simultaneously
teach in the University, raise a family and make the connection with
people who matter in the movement for freedom and democracy. Of course,
not all prisoners can become poets. Not all persons who encounter
violence turn to art and literature to give vent to their rage. The key
however to the attainment of inner peace is really poetic. Here it must
be underscored that the process is more important than the result. The
use of the imagination is more significant than the output which is the
Sisterhood for a
In 1981, Marcos declared martial law to be over and, to prove
this, he offered to hold elections. The mock election and the bravado
at declaring a "new republic" was exposed in the opinion columns of
some women writers. For taunting the regime and exposing the
unrelenting bravado of the dictator, these women writers were not only
fired from their jobs, they were also investigated by the military for
treason and subversion.
The collective trauma experienced by these women writers led us to the
founding of WOMEN, which meant Women Writers in Media Now. Collectively
we explained how writing newspaper columns in the exercise of freedom
of the press could not be considered treason. On the side however, we
had to answer questions as to why there was a need for a separate
organization of women writers.
The answer to this question was not clearly articulated by us in the
discourse. However, as our activities became more interesting, we
discovered it was not possible to disregard questions of gender and its
role in social formation. As women, we realized we were bonding not
only to collectively claim the freedom of expression for ourselves but
also to expose the patriarchy that was the main structure of power of
the dictatorship. The military that was running the country was
composed mainly of men in uniform. And we were women, an underclass in
an all-male military set-up. Perhaps as women, we were bringing to the
fore the possibility of a totally different political dispensation. We
were in search of a more compassionate political regime and we thought
this was possible only with more gender-sensitive individuals in
positions of power.
Peace pacts in
the name of free expression
We helped form the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP)
in order to squarely address the issue of censorship in film and in the
other arts. With the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), we
discovered that freedom of expression is a primary issue without which
all other efforts at promoting progress and development in the
Philippines were meaningless. Freedom of expression and a free press
were requisites to an open and free society. And only an open and free
society can build peace and progress for its people.
Overall then, my personal narrative suggests three modes of action for
building peace. First, inner peace for all individual advocates of
peace. This inner peace must be worked at and solidly built on
commitment and conviction. I believe only persons who have experienced
this kind of inner peace can promote and appreciate the need for a
genuine, just and lasting peace. Two, freedom and empowerment for the
women. I think, women, more than men, have the power and capacity to
chart new courses of action especially in political dispensations ruled
mainly by men. Three, freedom of expression for all regardless of
class, gender, ethnic affinity and political persuasion.
* This text is (with substantial cuts) a contribution to
the workshop on "Women and Peace" organized by the Yin Yang
(masculine-feminine) workshop of the Alliance for a Responsible and
United world shortly before the Hague international Conference on Peace