The struggle for liberation has been central to the lives of Bangsamoro Women’s Auxiliary Brigade (BIWAB) members Babus Ling, Lani, Rose and Wilma for decades.
They joined the Bangsamoro’s struggle for self-determination in the 1970s following horrific personal experiences encountered during the martial law period.
Babu Ling shared that during the 1973 Sultan Kudarat encounter between revolutionaries and the government, her brother was killed and his body was decapitated. They were only able to retrieve his body, without his head.
The BIWAB is a non-combatant support group of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). The members’ duties have ranged from being medics right through to working as moral boosters for the BIAF combatants.
They were used to living with danger, whether the country was at war or not. During wartime, even though not serving on the frontline, they had to do their daily chores against an eerie backdrop of mortars and howitzer shellings.
After the siege in Camp Abubakar, in 1998 all-out war they found the body of one of their members who had been hit by a splinter from a bomb. She was still holding a ladle.
During peacetime, they would fear for the safety of their families and themselves. There was a real risk that they could be imprisoned, if this were to happen they would be in danger of suffering rape or torture.
In recent years, the peace process has been pursued intensely by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and this has had a significant impact on the brigade.
Previously BIWAB training focused on activities like jungle survival, self-defense and first aid. These all took place in the forests without any documentation to ensure no traces of activities were left behind and discovered.
Now, with a more stable peace and security situation, civil society organisations are able to reach out to the BIWAB women. They can attend training sessions on various topics including international humanitarian law, women’s rights, the UNSCR and most recently Women’s Meaningful Political Participation.
The women all felt that the recent Women’s Political Participation (WPP) training, in particular, has greatly improved their capacities and confidence to lead. Wilma explains:
The WPP has shown us that women have the capacity to lead and to participate in the Bangsamoro government. We were able to organise a women’s revolutionary movement before, now we also have the capacity to participate in the democratic process.
Yet despite these successes, they were unanimous in saying that there is still need for a large-scale campaign to teach women about their rights and to help them learn the best ways to participate in non-traditional empowering roles in society.
Ling discussed the differences between herself and women who haven’t received this training. She said:
They are still traditional; their eyes are still closed. They don’t know yet that women also have rights.
These four remarkable women demonstrate how those formerly involved in supporting an armed resistance can transition into supporting a peaceful settlement. And they are proud of their new roles.
BIWAB is currently campaigning on a UNICEF programme to stop the use of child soldiers, which is being implemented by UNYPHIL-Women.
The Women’s Political Participation training is implemented by the UnyPhil-Women, Nisa Ul Haqq Fi Bangsamoro, Teduray Lambangian Women’s Organisation and WeAct 1325, with the support of Conciliation Resources, British Embassy in Manila and the European Union.