Jasmin saves lives by teaching and advocating for peace. Lobbying for arms control and nuclear disarmament, speaking at the UN for diplomatic negotiations, and working with various organizations to uphold women’s rights and end gender-based violence are just some of her contributions to peacebuilding. Stirred by her faith and compassion for the oppressed, Jasmin continues to actualize positive change through peace.
Briefly describe your areas of expertise or advocacies. How long have you been doing these?
I am into peace education and advocacy. I believe that to reach peace, we must teach it. I have been teaching peace for 33 years now. I have trained thousands of students, faculty, school administrators, community women, religious leaders, members of the security sector, and government officials and employees in the country and beyond on key peace themes such as upholding human rights, making women count for peace, challenging prejudice and discrimination, promoting nonviolence, challenging war, resolving and transforming conflicts, mediation, economic equity, arms control and disarmament, environmental sustainability, and cultivating inner peace. I was trained on peace myself and saw its impact on me; hence, I am paying forward by doing the same. Teaching peace can change mindsets, attitudes, and behaviors and inspire people to take action to address the various forms of violence that confront them.
I just do not teach peace; I advocate it. I stand with people in the margins. I am a staunch arms control and disarmament advocate. In the United Nations, I actively lobbied for the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Representing our Center for Peace Education (CPE), I worked with other civil society organizations to ensure that conventional weapons are not transferred to countries that will potentially use them to violate human rights and international humanitarian laws and facilitate sex and gender-based violence. I have delivered speeches in UN diplomatic negotiations and other conferences. I have engaged diplomats to argue our cause. In the Philippines, I worked with other civil society organizations to raise awareness of these treaties and lobbied government agencies to support them. The Philippines is now a State Party to TPNW and a signatory to the ATT. I also worked with other civil society organizations and government agencies to formulate and adopt a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (NAP-WPS) meant to increase women’s leadership and participation in decision-making processes on matters related to peace and security. Miriam College is very much a part of the NAP-WPS history. The idea of formulating a NAP-WPS was hatched in Miriam College. It’s launch also happened in Miriam College.
For more than ten years now, I have been working with women, human rights, and peace organizations to help implement the NAP-WPS. This has brought me to communities from Kalinga to Tawi-Tawi enhancing the capacities of women on leadership, peacekeeping, conflict resolution, human rights, and political participation so that they can break glass ceilings. I also helped craft gender-responsive provisions for the Bangsamoro Law lobby together with members of the Women Engaged in Action on 1325 (WE Act 1325), a national network of women, peace, and human rights advocates that I co-convened.
Among your interests, which one has been your driving force?
I teach and advocate peace because I want to save lives. Roughly a thousand people die from armed violence each day. There was a time I was watching a true story about Rwanda and ended up sobbing so hard. My son heard me and commented, “Grabe kang maka-empathize, Nanay.” To this day, my eyes well up when I witness, hear, or read about atrocities being committed against others. I have always had this compassion for the oppressed, violated, and marginalized. Teaching and advocating peace are the pathways I take to save and help better lives. I also do what I do because of my faith. Christianity teaches us to reject violence, to stop for every “injured Samaritan on the road,” and to treat everyone as sisters and brothers. I was nurtured in Catholic schools, and the values of empathy, compassion, generosity, and service were strongly instilled in me in these academic institutions.
To what would you attribute your achievement/s?
I would attribute it to how I was raised in my family and nurtured by my faith. I owe what I am today, as well, to my Franciscan, Maryknoll, and Holy Cross education.
In what ways did your Maryknoll/Miriam education impact your life and profession?
The development of whole persons is my educational philosophy. A learner should not only gain mastery of her course for her selected profession but should have acquired the skills, values, and dispositions to serve the common good. Holistic education was what I received from Maryknoll. I was not just given excellent academic training. I was also exposed to various opportunities that enhanced my leadership skills, bolstered my confidence, cultivated the skills of adaptability and flexibility, and nurtured the values of empathy, justice, and compassion.
I served Sanggunian, ChiRho, and the Year Councils. As a student leader, I had the opportunity to participate in the school’s decision-making mechanisms. I remember making and winning the case in the College Council for a covered walk, the abolition of the Saturday uniform policy, and the wearing of high-heeled shoes because of the changing nature of the clientele. I remember shifting gears when Ninoy died; expanding my purpose beyond serving the studentry. I saw myself speaking at countless protests and marches for freedom and democracy. I had the blessing of having teachers who were passionate about justice and human rights. That I’m an academician who stands up for peace, gender equality, justice, and the integrity of creation is not a surprise. That was what I witnessed and how I was nurtured in this institution.
Can you share a memorable experience during your years in Maryknoll/Miriam College?
The death of Ninoy. I was the Sanggunian Internal Vice- President then. I remember running around the halls of MC breaking the news to everyone. The months that followed were devoted to working for freedom and democracy. I was constantly in meetings, protest actions, and prayer marches. I was elected Sanggunian President in my fourth year and organized MC students, faculty, administrators, and staff to join many of these mobilizations. Many still remember how I asked administrators to call off classes so that they, too, could join the mass mobilizations. This time was also personally memorable for me because my father was a member of Congress and of Marcos’ political party-the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL). I remember packing my rally clothes and hiding the backpack by the kitchen door. After saying goodbye to my parents each day for school, I tiptoed outside the kitchen to get my backpack. I already graduated when EDSA revolution happened. I remember crying in my room wondering how I could go to EDSA without my father knowing. But he knew all along, after all. He went to my room and saw me in tears. He said, “go to EDSA if that is what your heart desires.” My tears of despair turned into tears of joy. I packed my bag and went to EDSA with my best friend.
What career or life accomplishment makes you most proud?
The following tweaked paragraphs found in an article I wrote for a publication I co-edited (Toh, Cawagas, and Galace, eds. (2017). Three Decades of Peace Education in the Philippines. CPE: QC) describe some of these accomplishments:
As an officer of CPE and Sulong CARHRIL, a national network of human rights advocates, I led NGOs in formulating a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security in the Philippines. The NAP on 1325 is meant to increase women’s participation in decision-making processes that relate to conflict prevention, conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Women’s voices are normally not heard in these processes and mechanisms when they make up half of the world’s population and can offer unique perspectives. I co-organized and co-facilitated the consultations from Kalinga to Marawi, co-wrote the plan, and saw through its completion and adoption as a government executive order. That whole process took more than three years!
Internationally, I helped in the adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in the United Nations (UN) — a treaty that requires States Parties to assess criteria prior to arms transfers if these arms will be used to commit human rights violations, genocide, crimes against humanity and gender-based violence, among others. I was privileged to be among the advocates who worked very hard for the passage of an ATT that had a strong language on gender. We, at the IANSA Women’s Network and the Control Arms Coalition where I played leadership roles, used every method available to encourage States to include and support a provision in the treaty that would require States to assess before selling arms, if there was serious risk that such arms will be used to commit or facilitate gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children. Lobbying for the ATT was a very rewarding experience for me.
My lobby work in the UN started with my attendance at the Biennial Meeting of States on the UN Program of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons in 2008. Here, I learned about the gravity of small arms violence in countries other than mine. Here, I learned how civil society in the world is working to stop the illicit flow of small arms and light weapons. I have been very privileged to meet passionate, talented, knowledgeable, and committed disarmament advocates in the world who are moving heaven and earth to save lives lost daily from armed violence. It is in lobbying in the UN that I got to polish my advocacy skills, specifically lobbying. We also actively campaigned in the country and in the UN for the adoption of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. We worked with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) to get States to support the treaty. ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. I was one of the two ICAN members asked to speak at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo.
Peace processes, when successful, have the potential to end armed conflicts. CPE and Pax Christi-Pilipinas are ardent supporters of the peace process. We, through WE Act 1325, worked closely with the former GPH and MILF peace panels to get a peace agreement that will give greater autonomy to the Moros who have been victims of historical injustice. We also lobbied for an engendered Bangsamoro Basic Law—one that would mainstream women’s meaningful participation in various spheres of governance and succeeded in getting meaningful gender provisions in the law.
I count as an accomplishment the knowledge that my former students or trainees have organized or joined peace clubs, organizations and peace campaigns. Our success can be seen in the number of students who join us in our visits to Congress to lobby peace-related bills that will help, for example, control the proliferation of arms, challenge discrimination, or give more autonomy to a group of people who for decades have suffered from historical injustice. My accomplishment is seen in students who ardently join public actions that call on government to uphold life and human dignity, or that protest human rights violations such as extra-judicial killings.
I see the impact of our work on students who walk hand-in-hand with their Muslim friends during a school fair. We see it in students who voluntarily mediate in conflicts among peers, or in the student who buys rice porridge, ice cream, or cupcake knowing that such purchase will support a project that will help conflict-affected people in Mindanao.
I also see the impact of our work in schools building their own Centers for Peace Education or declaring their institutions as Zones of Peace. I see them in schools integrating peace in the curriculum or in their school vision and mission. I see them in educational institutions creating peace-related programs, such as anti-bullying and peer mediation programs, after going through some form of peace education training. I see them in grassroots peace education participants organizing themselves so that they could help resolve or mediate in conflicts that happen in their communities.
I see the impact of our work on community women who throw their hat into the election ring or play leadership roles in various organizations after having been trained on political participation and peacebuilding. I see it on women finally participating in decision-making mechanisms such as Councils of Elders controlled by men, after our initiatives at challenging the status quo.
I see the impact of our work on the youth from various faith and ethnic traditions who would send us private messages on Facebook after a peace education training telling us how they have been inspired by our message and example.
These and many more are some of the reasons why I keep on. I am not sure if “proud” is the feeling that these elicit in me. I think it’s more of joy.
What advice would you give our students who wish to pursue the same path?
Live what you preach. Walk your talk. Model what you advocate. The medium is always the most effective message. Loreta Castro, my mentor, is an example of one who lives what she teaches. Nothing else can be more inspiring!
In one sentence, how would you describe a Maryknoll/Miriam graduate?
She is an empowered person who has the competencies and skills to succeed in her chosen profession, the heart and courage to speak against injustice and violence, and the will to challenge and address them.