Helen Padua is a volunteer at the Teduray Lambangian Women’s Organisation (TLWOI), a federation of 35 community-based women’s organisations of indigenous peoples in the province of Maguindanao in the Philippines. The organisation aims to support the inclusion of indigenous women in decision-making processes, community development projects, and justice and peace.
I had just finished high school in 1991 when my mother along with my brother and some of our neighbours were ambushed. My brother died. The ambush was succeeded by many violent encounters in our area perpetuated by Moro armed men.
Justice was never on our side. We would report all incidents to the police and our local government but they never paid attention to us because we are just a minority living in the mountains.
I had grown up with Muslim friends and neighbours who I treated as family, so what happened in our community was very painful for me – seeing the animosity building between us. I couldn’t believe how they could have done that to us. Because of that incident, my good relationship with my Muslim friends was replaced by mistrust and hate.
In 2015, I met the Teduray Lambangian Women’s Organization [TLWOI] and I started volunteering for them. Through TLWOI, I was able to voice our concerns and the injustices committed against us. My volunteer work became a transformative and healing process. I realised that there are people who genuinely listen and are willing to help us. Slowly, I was able to overcome my biases against the Moros. I realised that indeed not all of them are my enemies. TLWOI’s engagement with my mother was also transformational for her. I am happy that she became open towards healing from the past.
I don’t want my children to experience what we’ve been through. So I hope our voice and concerns will be given equal importance in this peace process with the MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front]. I really hope that discrimination against our tribe stops.