Social Development Isn’t Just a Job
Search for Common Ground interviewed and filmed the 2012 N-Peace Winners. The N-Peace Awards celebrate and recognise women who are leaders and peace builders in their communities. The award campaign is managed jointly by UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Center (APRC) and Search for Common Ground. Secretary Teresita Deles was the award winner from the Philippines. Madelaine Dickie and Ian White caught up with her in Manila.
Karen Tañada remembers the days when Teresita Quintos ‘Ging’ Deles wore her hair long and her skirts short. The women, then students, were working as volunteers on community development projects. As they moved into the professional world, Deles’ alternative approach to development proved to be groundbreaking: promoting ecological awareness, introducing childcare into her work place, asking her husband to flip tofu, and setting up ‘Pilipina’, one of the first organizations in her country to promote a strictly feminist agenda. Her rationale is that you can’t just work in social development—it also has to affect your lifestyle.
This was in the ’70s and the ’80s when the autocratic President Marcus ruled the Philippines. Deles remembers staying up late at night, rocking her child to sleep, and waiting for Marcus’s men to kick down the door. They never came for her but her husband and many of her colleagues were seized and jailed.
Deles is now in her sixties and one of the most influential women in the Philippines, serving as the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. She was just honored as one of the 2012 N-Peace Awardees and we got the chance to meet in her office, where she’s attended by a bevy of smart, strong, and assertive young ladies, the archipelago’s future leaders. Even her bodyguard is an articulate young woman.
Deles presents a sharp corporate image—gone are the days of long hair—and she has no time to waste.
“The status quo is not acceptable, war is not acceptable,” she says. “Having so many communities, so many of our lives, so many of our families having lived under the threat or the actuality of war for so long . . . this fact draws everyone down.”
Conflict in the Philippines is a tangle of rogue factional groups and of shifting, fickle alliances. Presently, the biggest issue lies on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, where various groups are seeking independence or further autonomy from the central Philippine government.
Karen Tañada, Executive Director of the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute, says Deles is up to the challenge of negotiating peace amidst so much difference, thanks to her patience as well as her exceptional ability to unite and mobilize groups from different sectors. “Because of the long years working in civil society . . . there is the passion, the heart for peace, and for knowing the effects of conflict on the ground,” Tañada says.
When Deles is dealing with groups representing different interests, she looks for common ground at the negotiating table. “Women can always talk to women on the other side,” she says, “and I’ve done that sometimes. I know they have mothers, know they have children, and when you ask about their children, when you ask about their mothers, somehow it takes on a different flavour.”
Deles pauses for a moment and seven stories below us is the expanding growl of midday Manila traffic. Then she continues, “Well, not all the time! But it’s good enough to say, you know, we have connections. It’s not just having stood on the opposite sides of the table, we do have connections, we do have caring for other stuff that we may bind on and at the end of the day, we can sing a good song and maybe dance together.”
Karen Domingo, Executive Assistant to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), has known Deles for several years now and says she is no ordinary government official. Her vision for peace is not just empty words; she’s in government to work. Domingo says, “ . . . people who work in government just for the sake of working in government, there’s a big difference [between them] and people in government who really want to get things done, really want to make a difference, really want to change the system. That’s what separates mere government employees or officials from the real public service.”
Deles is committed to real public service for the people of the Philippines and, despite the challenges, her vision is ultimately one of hope.
“We can do so much. We were gifted with so much. My dream for the future is that these gifts can flourish. My dream for the future is that every Filipino can have the education, the food, the health care that’s needed, so they can reach their best capacity. My dream for the future is that we can have differences, we can disagree, but without taking a gun out on each other.”
Madelaine Dickie is an intern in SFCG’s Indonesia office.
To find out more about the N-Peace Awards click here.
You can check out Ian’s video portrait of Secretary Deles here.