MISAMIS ORIENTAL, Philippines – An all-women contingent of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) civil relations company arrived here Tuesday afternoon, August 29, for deployment to areas affected by the Marawi conflict.
The 102 women in uniform – 62 from the army and 40 from the police – will provide psychosocial support to internally displaced persons across Lanao del Norte and and Lanao del Sur.
The women officers came on the 99th day of the siege of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. Local terrorists group had seized the Muslim-dominated city, displacing close to 400,000 from the city and neighboring towns and cities. They are currently in evacuation centers in the two Lanao provinces; some are in Cagayan de Oro City in Misamis Oriental.
“The women officers will provide greatly needed support to displaced women, who, by culture and tradition, are not allowed to interact with other men,” said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr, Western Mindanao Command chief.
The women officers will also assist in rehabilitation and gender and cultural sensitivities work.
The women officers came from across the country. Some of them are also Maranaos and Maguindanaoans.
“They are big part of the rehabilitation, we can see that we are nearing the end of our clearing [operations]. The most important part of this crisis is recovery and rehabilitation, to bring the normalcy in Marawi city,” Galvez said.
The officers were trained by specialists on how to manage internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Police Inspector Jecill Ibañez, who hails from Bohol province but is now based in Maguindanao, is one of the officers deployed for Marawi rehabilitation.
She said they are anticipating difficulty in dealing with the IDPD “because some will think that we are the reason why there are troubles in Marawi, but we will do everything to make them understand that we are here ready to help whatever may happens.”
Ibanez said that there are perceptions that the government is the enemy, “but we are here to change that thinking, that we are one with the Maranao, we are on their side, and we want to help them rebuild their city.”
She said that, as Christians, they don’t feel uncomfortable wearing the hijab.
All of the deployed women are required to wear the hijab, in accordance to Maranao culture.
Ibanez said that wearing that hijab is one way of showing respect to the culture of the Maranao. “For me, it’s a great honor to wear a veil, even the nuns are wearing veil, our Mama Mary wears the same veil, so it’s ok.”
First Lieutenant Ginalyn Peña of the Philippine Army said this is one opportunity, especially for women, to show their capability to help in the conflict area.
Peña said that before they arrived here, they had more than one week training on how to handle children. “We know that children are the most affected. So we will help more, and promote peace,” Peña said. – Rappler.com