“Nurturing women leaders: Grassroots Women’s Leadership and Political Participation Hub”

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) has been currently working inside and outside the Bangsamoro region, creating programs that are specifically tailored to the needs of its partner network organizations and communities, and most importantly, to women and ensuring that they possess significant parts of every one of its programs. MPC has been engaging with Bangsamoro women leaders in areas where democracy has been nascent if not more or less established. 

The MPC’s Grassroots Learning Hub project funded by the USAID and Save the Children- Philippines’ through its CSO2 small grant has dedicated a component addressing women’s political participation and leadership. The Grassroots Women’s Leadership and Political Participation Hub which envisioned helping women acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to participate meaningfully in all aspects of the political process in the current Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) transition period.

Formally launched in February of this year, this program has been MPC’s response to the calls of its partner network organizations for trainings that will equip them in complementing current efforts of the interim government to ensure that the institutional reforms agreed upon in the peace agreement will be fully implemented.

Bangsamoro women’s political participation and representation have been extremely important in enabling the BARMM government. And with the extension of the transition period, women more than ever need to be engaged in advocacy works, in movements, and campaigns that will address their issues and concerns. 

Hasna Arap: Paving the way for more young women in the political arena

“Ang pinaka gusto ko sa lahat sa Grassroots Learning Hub ay talagang may actual application na nangyayari. Kung baga di kami nakakulong sa mga theories lang o kung ano man ang natutunan namin sa mga discussions. Talagang nadadala namin  sa actual lobby work at sa wider audience gaya ng ginawa naming radio guesting sa BMN (Bangsamoro Media Network). First time kong mag lobby work at napakahalagang  natutunan ko ang proseso nito para maipaabot ang mga issues sa kumunidad. Nababahagi ko din sa mga activities ko sa communities ang mga pag-aaral namin sa electoral code and IP code, kaya mas alam ko na ngayon kung ano ang mga konteksto ng mga priority codes na ito. 

At dahil isa akong youth leader, mahalaga sa akin na makasama ko ang akin mga ‘kaka’ na mga women leaders din sa mga partner organizations ng MPC. Madami akong natutunan sa kanila at kasama sila sa nag guide sa akin. Maliit ang tingin sa voices ng mga youth, pero through this program, mas napalawak pa ang perspectives ko sa mga issues ng BARMM.”


Hasna is one of the 15 fellows of the Women Leadership Program of the Grassroots Learning Hub. Her organization, the Moro Women Development and Cultural Center, Inc. (MWDECC) has been a partner of MPC for a long time.

According to Hasna, what she has found interesting about the program is that the women were really provided with spaces or opportunities to influence in all aspect of political process both in the community and the parliament. And that the knowledge and skills acquired in the workshops and mentoring sessions have not been limited in the discussions with fellow women leaders and mentors. Because of the added information she has gotten from the study sessions, she has meaningfully taken part in community activities and make valuable contribution in the discussion of matters related to the IP code and electoral code.

It was also her first time to lobby in a key ministry office in the BARMM and she was happy to be able to advocate on matters of policy- which for her is an important facet of civic and political life. The radio guesting was also a first for Hasna. For her it is important to be provided with an avenue that serves as a public forum for the discussion of important issues. Being the host of the radio guesting, she was able to balance her opinion with the actual experiences and insights shared by the guests.


Hasna mentioned that it has been a valuable experience for her to be with the senior women leaders of the MPC’s partner networks because of their shared experiences and insights from doing political works. The Grassroots Learning Hub’s Women Leadership and Political Participation Program introduced several initiatives such as mentoring and practicum to connect political and civic-minded women and help them network across time and place. 

Leonora Mokudef: from hinterlands to ministry offices

“Importante sa akin na napaihayag ko ang mga importanteng concerns sa IP code. Ang Grassroots Learning Hub ay nagsilbing linya upang maiparating namin ang mga tanong galing sa mga tao sa kumunidad doon sa mga ministry. First time ko din na ma interview sa radio, at hindi ito biro. Parang nag-aalangan pa ako noon magsalita pero dahil sa hub, na train ako kung paano pag-usapan ang aming mga issue at nabigyan ako ng lakas ng loob. Napakahalaga sa aking mamulat  sa proseso ng lobby work para mapaabot ang isang issue. Ang mga bagong natutunan galing sa mga mentoring at workshops ay nababahagi din sa aming mga kumunidad.”

Leonora Mokudef, a Teduray and a board member of the Indigenous Women’s Research Center (IWRC), an NGO based in South Upi, Province of Maguindanao. For her, the Grassroots Learning Hub has served as the direct line that connected them to the important BARMM government offices.

Difficulties in the mobility and the limited network support that encourage political participation have been common problems expressed by Leonora and her fellow IPs. She has felt that women IPs are isolated from the political works in BARMM because of the scarcity of avenues where they can get information about current status of the IP code.

Because they were trained in lobbying, Leonora and the rest of the women leaders were able to represent the interests of their fellows IPs who do not have the opportunity or access to personally ask about the status of the IP code. During the lobby work, Leonora and the rest of the women IPs had the opportunity to talk to Minister Melanio Ulama of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs and asked about the IP code. More importantly, Leonora was able to express the necessity for the IP code to reflect the fundamental condition for women’s interests to be taken account for.

The Grassroots Learning Hub has brought together diverse set of mentors who has been dedicated to helping women increase their participation in all aspects of political process by teaching wide range of strategies. From public speaking, writing media briefs, organizing press conferences, to lobbying- the women leaders were taught how to build an understanding of the people they are talking to and how to get the commitment of the government leaders and the general public in what they say.

Leonora has become aware of the power of words in engaging genuine dialogue and in reducing misunderstandings of certain political and community issues. 

Maryann Dela Torre: an effective voice, navigating the web of formal and informal institutions

“Ang women’s political participation ay isa sa mga kailangan upang mapaniguro ang gender equality at genuine democracy dahil it facilitates women sa pampublikong paggawa ng decision at isang paraan in ensuring better accountability to women. Kaya isa sa mga kasanayan na aming ginawa ay ang maka experience ng pag lobby ng mga women leaders, creating a snowball effect in the BARMM. Dahil ang mga kababaihan ay kabahagi sa pag create ng greater impact sa BARMM. I am honored to be with the fello women leaders from different organization who were well-trained by MPC na willing makipag collaborate sa lahat ng horizontal sectors dahil yun ay pagpapatunay na nababahagi namin ang mga skills at knowledge na nakuha namin sa mga training.”

Maryann Dela Torre is the current provincial chairwoman of the UNYPAD (United Youth for Peace and Development, Inc.) in North Cotabato Cluster 4. During informal discussions, Maryann often shared about how Bangsamoro women overwhelmingly still have limited access to positions of leadership.

Because of the training and mentoring component of the program, Maryann and the women leaders have been assisted and trained in how to effectively participate in political processes. The program informed the women leaders of their civic rights while providing training on lobbying, how to do an impactful public speech, and during the study sessions, identify community and policy issues where there is less equitable inclusion of women.


To amplify women’s policy priorities, the women leaders identified government offices and officials for their lobbying work. Maryann has sent letters to government offices and has been rejected three times. But this hasn’t deterred her and the rest of the women leaders from persistently coordinating and communicating with the executives assistants of the BARMM government offices. Maryann and Samira, another woman leader, were able to secure the schedule of Atty. Naguib Sinarimbo last September 12, 2022 for a brief meeting. They have waited more than three hours in his office, almost losing hope that they will be spared some time given that there have been other visitors who wished to meet the minister. Finally, the executive assistant has ushered them into Minister Sinarimbo’s office where he obliged. During this meeting, Maryann thanked Atty. Naguib for the valuable time and information he has given to them and that she is committed to sharing what they have discussed that afternoon to the communities and to her organization. 

MPC: continuously working for strengthening women’s political leadership and public life

The successes of the women leaders of the Grassroots Women’s Leadership and Political Participation Hub within the first phase of its implementation has been promising in helping women exercise influence and/or occupy decision-making roles. Having more women in the decision-making forums ahs given an assurance of a more gender-responsive laws and policies.


As MPC recently concluded the first phase of the Grassroots Learning Hub, it will continue to harness the power of women’s collective voices as instruments in negotiating transformative changes in public and civic spheres through its programs.  

Women’s Leadership and Political Participation Training

Integrating feminine leadership into one’s identity is particularly difficult among women in BARMM region where credibility is established in a culture that privileges patriarchal or masculinist authority. Dominant perceptions and misconceptions still are prevalent that women are not cut out for leadership. And so hearing personal experiences of women leaders challenging the conventional ways of leadership are always beautiful, invigorating, and inspirational. There is no scarcity in women leaders, but there exists an environment that stifles their potentials. 

Last May 16-19 the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, through its Grassroots Learning Hub project, conducted the 4-day Women’s Leadership and Political Participation Training held in Eden Nature Park and Resort. It was a convention of both seasoned and emerging women leaders from the Moro and IP communities in BARMM region. The participants are partners of MPC, mainly, from Bangsamoro Free Election Movement (BFEM), Moro Women Development and Cultural Center, Inc. (MWDCC), UNYPAD, Social Welfare Committee (SWC), Women’s Organization of Rajah Mamalu Descendants (WORMD), Indigenous Women Research Center (IWRC), and Bantay Ceasefire.

The training consisted of various topics about Gender Concepts and Feminist Leadership, Situational Analysis of Women Political Participation during the Bangsamoro Transition Period, Advocacy and Lobby Skills, Effective Communication and Public Speaking.

They have also watched two videos, one was Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising Campaign, and second was Manal Omar’s Women at the Negotiating Table. Both videos showed how women leaders can embrace their own femininity in leadership. 

The women leaders were able to practice their skills and knowledge on the following topics through a practical exercise in conducting press conference and lobbying session. Many legitimate questions aroused during the two sessions mainly concerning the status of the IP Code, Electoral Code, situation of communities outside the Bangsamoro region, intensification of women’s political participation in all levels of government, peace dividends, and the role of CSOs in the transition period among others. The women leaders showed their knowledge in the BARMM issues and skills in interpolating with the media and BTA members in these practical exercises.

The MPC acknowledges that more than acquiring new skills and having more knowledge in social issues within BARMM is not sufficient. The learning must be coupled with a growing sense of feminine identity as a leader and that they must anchor their leadership purpose in potentials and strengths they already possessed as women. The Women’s Leadership and Political Participation Training is not the beginning of the process of materializing this vision, but this is a continuation of the many years that the MPC, together with its partners have built an environment that overcomes barriers to women’s leadership and participation. 

Women’s Leadership and Political Participation Training

Integrating feminine leadership into one’s identity is particularly difficult among women in BARMM region where credibility is established in a culture that privileges patriarchal or masculinist authority. Dominant perceptions and misconceptions still are prevalent that women are not cut out for leadership. And so hearing personal experiences of women leaders challenging the conventional ways of leadership are always beautiful, invigorating, and inspirational. There is no scarcity in women leaders, but there exists an environment that stifles their potentials.

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2nd Regional Dialogue on Bangsamoro Peace Process

The series of Regional Dialogues continued to create synergy and proved to be the best way in getting the valuable insights of the CSO leaders in BARMM on the peace process as the Philippines enter a new political landscape.

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus in partnership with the United Nations International Organization on Migration through the Supporting Conflict Transformation towards Effective Peacebuilding in the Bangsamoro Region (STEP BARMM) Project conducted another round of regional dialogue.

There were 45 participants from Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Davao City, Cagayan De Oro, and Marawi who attended the 3-day forum at Eden Nature Park and Resort last June 7 to 9.

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus invited participants from Consortium Bangsamoro Cso, League of Bangsamoro Organizations – LBO Inc., BAWGBUG Inc., PeaceBuilders Community, Kunsensya Dabaw, Kalimudan Sa Ranao Foundation Incorporated, Moro Consensus Group – MCG, Balay Mindanaw Group, Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa – Sentro, Unypad, CBCS), Civil Society Oragnizations Movement for Moral Governance (CSO-MMG), TASBIKKa Incorporated, CRS, Singanen o Mindanao, Ecoweb, and Bantay Ceasefire. Ms. Melina Nathan, the Senior Peace and Development Advisor United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office, was also present during the dialogue.

Ms. Mags Maglana facilitated the 3-day regional dialogue where the CSO leaders were able to voice out their sentiments, opinions, uncertainties, optimisms, and their plans for the future of peace and development in BARMM.

Focus in the discussion is how can the different CSOs help sustain and protect the gains of the Bangsamoro peace process and what are the necessary actions that CSOs must undertake. The regional dialogue was effective and participatory because, though constrained by time, everyone was given the chance to talk and be heard.

Minister Mohagher Iqbal of the Ministry of Basic, Higher, and Technical Education (MBHTE)–BARMM was also present during the second day of the regional dialogue. He encouraged everyone to “go back to the basic to understand the complexities of the problem.” He also stressed the vital role of dialogue in the peace development work, he said:

“Dialogue is a corner stone of MILF policies, we need to engage people, groups, and be able to identify common grounds… We open our doors to dialogue. While the past is important, the future is more important. You need to understand where they are coming from and their directions.”

As the group move forward, we hope to become more cohesive as group of CSO leaders working towards peace in Mindanao. As what Atty. Mary Ann Arnado, the Secretary General of MPC, said as she closed the 2nd regional dialogue, “We have a heavy task ahead but we will be doing this by holding hands together.”

Increasing Digital Capacity of MPC’s CSO partners

The Digital Literacy Training started off by a backgrounder given by Mr. Ammier Dodo. He emphasized that as part of the BARMM, we all have to carry our advocacies wherever we go, be it digital or in any other form. Especially in the peace process, digital literacy is very important in the transition period. Everyone must be part of making sure that we altogether achieve moral governance.

On social media and countering fake news

For Abdulhadi Daguit, the digital literacy training meant correcting fake histories by sharing the real narratives or actual experiences of Marcos victims and survivors. Even in digital space, storytelling is a powerful tool against fake news.

Mr. Ammier stressed how fake news peddlers are “weaponizing” social media without us knowing. Participants learned how to identify disinformation channel and who are susceptible to fake news. One of the participants shared that some detractors create fake BARMM government websites. She shared, “Lalo na ngayon ay panahon ng eleksyon. We verify news sources. Imagine if a single person shares fake news. We have to be responsible citizens.”

Social media platforms

Mr. TU Alfonso walked us through the different social media platforms and pointed out the advantages and disadvantages of each one. Most of the participants shared that they have not really optimized Facebook in their advocacy work. Being able to use different platforms such as Tik-Tok, YouTube, and Facebook will enable them to reach out to more people and learn about their advocacies. 

Creating Publication Materials

Many of the participants joined Digital Literacy Training for the first time. And as what Ammier Dodo said, one of the resource persons of the training, “Every time may first timer, nakaka excite kung ano ang magiging output ng training for them.” The resource persons introduced two PubMat-making tools- Canva and MsPublisher.

For Bencita joining the digital literacy training meant being able to bridge information on the importance of vaccination to her community through informative publication materials. She was a beginner at creating publication materials. The last digital training she had ever attended was how to use a type writer way back her school days. She said, ““Nadagdagan ang kaalaman ko sa Canva and MS Publisher kasi first time ko din. Lalo na ang Canva, napakalaking bagay na makatulong sa advocacy. Lalo na sa pag gawa ng tarpaulin para sa advocacy for vaccination.” 

The resource speakers critiqued the outputs one by one, also giving the participants the opportunity to correct their outputs. They have learned several tips in terms of visual aesthetic to make the publication materials more interesting, catchy, and easier to comprehend for the audience.

Digital Conferencing

Findings from the Training Needs Assessment identified digital conferencing skill as the participants’ priority topic in the digital literacy training. Zoom and Messenger are the two main conferencing platforms taught by the resource persons. One of the participants shared, “Gusto ko talagang matutunan yung zoom, kasi dati binibigyan ako ng link at di ako makapasok. Hanggang sa matapos na lang ang meeting ay di pa din ako maka pasok.”

The resource persons demonstrated how to use the platforms, first from the standpoint of the one creating the meeting and second as participant in a meeting. They walked us through the different features of both Zoom and Messenger.

Since most of the participants were using smartphones, the resource persons also introduced Zoom and Messenger features using multiple devices. After the demonstration, the participants have gotten to experience the digital conference platforms on their own. It was an exciting learning experience for them. They have also found out how to address sound feedbacking whenever two laptops were using Zoom or Messenger simultaneously in one place.


In the past two years during the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, the internet, online applications, mobile devices and all associated hardware and software have become firmly embedded in everyday life, to the extent that we lose control of the phenomena. For that matter, we need to develop digital literacy skills. Being able to communicate and to access and share reliable information online is central to CSOs and social movements. Undoubtedly, for MPC and our CSO partners working for the BARMM transition, being able to gain digital skills hold a lot of implications in advocacy work and complementing with the BARMM government.

Regional dialogue: creating spaces and building partnerships for all stakeholders

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus in partnership with the United Nations International Organization on Migration through the Supporting Conflict Transformation towards Effective Peacebuilding in the Bangsamoro Region (STEP BARMM) Project, recently conducted a Participatory Action Research (PAR) entitled: “Promoting Conflict Prevention, Social Cohesion and Community Resilience in BARMM in time of COVID-19.”

Various stakeholders and partners from the BARMM government and the CSOs joined together in examining the results of the Participatory Action Research results and findings during the recently concluded Regional Dialogue last March 24, 25, and 26, 2022 at the Waterfront Hotel, Davao City. The PAR findings and recommendations were presented by Ms. Melot Balisalisa-Atillo, the PAR team leader.

Ms. Melot Balisalisa-Atillo presenting the findings and the recommendations of the Participatory Action Research.

After the presentation, the participants were able to offer insights and fresh perspectives in examining the historical patterns of violence and its underlying drivers in BARMM’s most active conflict hotspots. The participants have clarified some points in the presentation, for example, the exact locations of the incidences and the people involved in the conflict, and how these were resolved. All in all, the participants were satisfied by the accuracy of the findings and affirmed the recommendations of the PAR.

Engineer Mojahirin Ali, the Director General of the Bangsamoro Planning and Development Authority presented the BARMM Development Plan and Roadmap 2025. He emphasized the BARMM government’s drive for inclusivity, reform, and innovation in implementing government projects and programs. He assured everyone that BARMM government were making strategies and decisions based on the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

Director Farrah Naparan of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (OPAPRU) emphasized the need for joint effort between formal and informal sectors.  She said that huge part of sustainability is on the part of the government, but there is also a need for work on the ground through parallel efforts of Civil Society Organizations. For OPPAP, they are mostly focused on the soft side rather than the infrastructures. They have conducted consultations and studied again bills, so we can move forward and lobby the NJRCP.

Ms. Melina Nathan lauded the PAR team in the success of the research. She also recognized the hard work of the BARMM government in reducing poverty incidence rate in the region. She also repeatedly emphasized how women must enter the decision making spaces in all structures of the government, from grassroots to parliamentary.

There was a breakout session wherein the participants offered more extensive and detailed narratives of the case studies presented by Ms. Melot Balisalisa during the PAR results presentation. The discussion in these breakout groups included supplementary narratives, analysis of gaps and opportunities in the research outputs, and recommendations for moving forward the different development and sectoral agenda in the BARMM government transition.

There was another breakout session on the last day of the regional dialogue wherein the participants were divided into four groups to discuss four topics. The topics were the following: 1) Strengthening Community Access to Peace Dividends , 2) Conflict Resolution and Peace Mechanisms, 3) Non-Moro IPs Ancestral Domain, and 4) Countering Violent Extremisms. In the open dialogue, the participants learn from each other and hear everyone’s point of view, created rooms for different perspectives and have collectively addressed the gaps in each of the topics based on each other’s experiences.

The last part of the regional dialogue was a sharing and open discussion on partnership building with stakeholders. As CSOs, they must be able to locate their roles in the transition process and think of ways to effectively partner with the BARMM government. Everyone agreed that the results of the PAR and the discussions during the regional dialogue must be communicated to all the ministers so that they can address the recommendations that surfaced from the forum.


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Brief Background

The Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) is a grassroots network of Indigenous Peoples, Bangsamoro and Christian communities and leaders who have common vision for peace in Mindanao. MPC is known to have stood up for the struggle to finally resolve the age-old armed conflict in Mindanao through a negotiated political settlement that contains the essentials acceptable to both negotiating parties and that addresses the historical oppression and forced marginalization of the native inhabitants and indigenous peoples of this island.

As such, MPC is actively working for the strengthening of the participation and engagement of tripeoples grassroots constituency in the Mindanao peace process so as to allow their recognition as self-determining peoples who can develop and govern themselves in the economic, political, social and spiritual spheres of development.

Since its establishment in 2001, MPC has made various breakthroughs in the peacebuilding arena which facilitated significant gains in the peace process.

One of which is the formation of its independent ceasefire mechanism known as the “Bantay Ceasefire” which gained recognition and respect among the formal ceasefire mechanisms of both the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Bantay Ceasefire is composed of more than 600 volunteers, from Basilan, Lanao provinces, Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Compostela Valley and Sulu, who are actively monitoring the implementation of the ceasefire agreement.

Given the serious humanitarian crisis that befell Mindanao, MPC has enhanced its work from ceasefire monitoring to humanitarian protection, dubbed as “Sagip Sibilyan”, in order to extend direct humanitarian assistance, from advocacy to capacity building interventions, to thousands of innocent civilians who became forced and direct victims of internal displacement, human rights abuses and military repression.

Since the outbreak of the war in August 2008, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus has been leading the campaign for a ceasefire amidst a highly polarized situation where Christian vigilante groups like the Ilaga (Rat) were pitted against Bangsamoro communities.  It has been a total shock among the Bantay Ceasefire volunteers who too were threatened because of their open support to the peace process.  Despite constant threats and intimidation and with the hawks gaining the upper hand within the government, the MPC did now step back in its peace advocacy.  Seeing the collapse of the ceasefire which Bantay Ceasefire members had painstakingly preserved through vigilance and monitoring work – MPC had to address a serious demoralization problem among its members some of them were even afraid of wearing their uniform vests.

August 2008 and the ensuing backlash in the peace talks leading to an open outbreak of armed hostilities and a massive humanitarian crisis had put to serious challenge MPC’s commitment to peacebuilding and peace advocacy.  The August 18 attack by the MILF in Kauswagan and Kolambogan had created such a highly emotional public outrage that even known civil society organizations and peace advocates within these areas at that time could not openly call for a ceasefire as it is misconstrued to be siding with the MILF. The mindset at that time was to avenge the death of innocent victims, have the civilians take up arms and fight to the end.

Goals and Objectives

In 2002, MPC founded the Bantay Ceasefire as an independent grassroots ceasefire monitoring mechanism which since then has grown to over a thousand well-trained and highly committed women and men volunteers. In 2010, upon the invitation of the peace panels, MPC has formally deployed an all-women contingent in the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team.

Over the last 10 years, the MPC has been in the forefront of Peace advocacy work and has championed the peace talks between the Philippine Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front with the end in view of putting a final closure to the armed conflict in Mindanao through a negotiated political settlement. MPC supports the right to self-determination of the indigenous and Bangsamoro peoples and builds the much needed national and international solidarity in support of their struggles.