#CulturePH - get to know more about Celia Diaz Laurel: Woman of and For Peace

Last July 12, 2021, Celia Diaz Laurel peacefully joined her Creator at the age of 93. This unfortunate event, however, did not put to rest her remarkable accomplishments that we wish to highlight here once more. In particular, we refer to her esteemed “Woman for Peace” award whose 30th year of bestowment falls on November 29. 

The year was 1991 – at the tail end of an administration which her husband Vice-President Doy Laurel had earlier cut ties with. But even sans the government’s support and local media mileage (and those being a non –issue), Mrs. Laurel with much pride for the Philippines, flew to Madrid, Spain to receive this highly prestigious international award. 

What is the “Woman for Peace” Award? 

The “Woman for Peace” award is a highly significant recognition given by the Insieme Per La Pace (Together for Peace) Foundation to remarkable women who have helped promote, advance, and partake in global peace building processes through meaningful social, educational, and cultural means. Previous recipients of this award include Queen Sophia of Spain, Raissa Gorbachev, Former US First Ladies Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, Marcella Perez de Cuellar, Diana Vreeland, President Violeta Chamurro of Nicaragua, and Queen Sirikit of Thailand.

The foundation is headed by its president and founder Madame Mariapia Fanfani (nee Tavazzani) who for over sixty years, had traveled every corner of the world to cater to the sick, poor, and victims of war in order to “conquer indifference, arrogance, and injustice and sow the seeds of peace” (www.mariapiafanfani.org). Devoting her entire life to humanitarian work, Madame Fanfani herself received over fifty prestigious recognitions including the Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, Dante Alighieri Prize, and the United Nations’ Medal for Peace. 

The Peaceful Meetings in Italy 

Mrs. Laurel met Madame Fanfani for the first time in 1987 when the latter invited her to speak about peace during the Together for Peace Foundation’s launch in Verona, Italy. The invitation came after the Philippines ranked 4th out of the 88 participating countries in the United Nations’ peace global contest called “Million Minutes for Peace” – an undertaking which Mrs. Laurel volunteered to lead in 1986. 

Two years later or on May 24, 1989, Madame Fanfani then honored Mrs. Laurel with the Insieme Per La Pace award in Rome where she received a Murano glass plaque designed by Madame Fanfani’s husband, Italian Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani. 

To mark this momentous experience, Mrs. Laurel made a portrait of Madame Fanfani and handed it to her on that event. Related Mrs. Laurel in her 2014 coffee table memoir entitled “The Colors of My Life,” Madame Fanfani “liked the portrait so much that she kept it in her bedroom.”

Mrs. Laurel’s Peaceful Advocacies and Achievements  

With Madame Mariapia Fanfani and the past awardees setting the bar so high, one would ask, how were the “Women of Peace” awardees chosen?

As per Madame Fanfani, the selection was limited to “well-known personalities because we [they] are convinced that to promote peace, we need important ambassadors with the capacity to transmit the message we have in our hearts who will work actively so that humanity may enjoy a change for the better during our times.” 

In an interview by the international news agency ABC after the awarding ceremony in 1991, a very humble Mrs. Laurel was even quoted saying that though she was truly grateful for the recognition, she feels that she had not done enough to receive such an award. In fact, in her 2014 memoir mentioned above, she stood by this statement and wrote, “I was being truthful because to achieve the accomplishments of Mariapia – the real Woman for Peace – I would need to live another lifetime!” 

It appears, however, that Madame Fanfani and her team needed no lifetime to shortlist Mrs. Laurel to their esteemed cut. In fact, as we further read along, it would be apparent that they found all the right reasons for doing so. Mrs. Laurel’s admirable humility could have been one reason. However, her magnificent efforts towards promoting and achieving peace done only half her lifetime were entirely a different matter! 

We could say that Mrs. Laurel’s road to scoring the prestigious Woman for Peace award took way more than a million of minutes. Because truth be told, starting from our country’s active participation in the UN’s Million Minutes of Peace contest in 1986, Mrs. Laurel was truly unstoppable in her noiseless remarkable deeds as a genuine peace and humanitarian ambassadress.

We could also say that while Vice President Doy Laurel (who was also Foreign Affairs Minister) was in fervent contradiction with the politics and policies of the existing administration then, Mrs. Laurel not only became a shining inspiration and pillar of strength for the VP, but she also was an unofficial yet valuable member of his team who (1) promoted and provided aid to underprivileged, handicapped, and needy Filipinos, and (2) enforced international friendships. 

United Nations’ Million Minutes of Peace Appeal.

 Mrs. Laurel’s peace advocacy began with this contest. According to the Brahma Kumaris website, this was a worldwide campaign asking people (even with differing religions) to pledge and devote “minutes of meditation, positive thinking or prayer for peace.” The project was said to be originally designed to make each participating country commit to one million minutes of peace which will be donated to what they call World Peace Bank; however, the response came out extremely overwhelming.” It was said that within just a month, “1,231,975,713 minutes were collected from the participants which was equal to 2,344 years of peace!” 

Sitting as national chairperson for our bid in this worldwide crusade, Mrs. Laurel launched a series of peaceful undertakings that triumphantly landed the Philippines at the fourth slot with an overwhelming 94,000,000 minutes collected and dedicated to peace! 

Following this success, UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar flew to the Philippines in 1987 to honor Mrs. Laurel with the “United Nations for Peace Award” and personally invite her to speak before the Million Minutes for Peace international conference that same year. 

International Peace Conferences. 

Our country’s victory in the Million Minutes of Peace led to many speaking engagements for Mrs. Laurel overseas. Representing our country, she spoke before the Universal Peace Conference in Mt. Abu in India and even presented a paper on the Philippine situation before the World Media Association in Seoul, South Korea. At the instance of President Zail Singh, she also attended and served as speaker in the Golden Anniversary of Brahma Kumaris. In no time, she stood in front of the International Security Council as well and discussed the impact of insurgency in the Philippines on the general security of the nations in the Southeast Asian region. 

Causa Philippines, Inc. 

This organization, in which Mrs. Laurel sat as president, was the political arm of the Unification Church – a humanitarian movement against international communism. Based on the book “Exporting the American Gospel: Global Christian Fundamentalism by Steve Brouwer, Paul Gifford and Susan D. Rose (2013), Mrs. Laurel’s group, the name of which was later changed to Spiritual Action Movement Foundation “was instrumental in holding anti-communist rallies and seminars as part of the military training.” As a cluster, it believed in “preserving [the country] against the evils of communism through education, organization, and mobilization of people empowerment.” 

Daytop Philippines. 

Mrs. Celia Diaz Laurel was actively engaged in the campaign against drug dependency too. Aside from donating 100 beds to the NARCOM Drug Rehabilitation Centre, she formed the Philippine arm of DAYTOP or Drug Addicts Yield to Persuasion as well. DAYTOP Philippines is the local organization of DAYTOP International, a drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation center originally based in New York City.  DAYTOP follows the TC or therapeutic community principle which is a participative, group-based approach to treating drug addiction. 

Handog Lingap sa May Kapansanan (HALIKA). 

Even before she became a person with a disability due to a knee operation, Mrs. Laurel was already heavily involved in PWD–related causes, especially those concerning paralytics and the visually and hearing-impaired. HALIKA, which she also established, is an institution comprising of various PWDs whose main objective was to “provide livelihood programs and create jobs for its members.”  

HALIKA paved the way for Mrs. Laurel to venture into other PWD-related projects. Besides financially aiding the PWDs’ medical needs, she facilitated many opportunities and programs for them too. She conducted a special acting workshop for talented deaf mutes with the help of her theatre group, Repertory Philippines and the Philippine Association of the Deaf which she also aided in putting up. Moreover, in partnership with an Italian computer manufacturing company called Olivetti Philippines, she underwrote the expenses for a special computer course for 20 deserving deaf-mute students. During the same time, she also donated musical instruments to aspiring blind musicians and gifted the Philippine School for the Blind with Braille encyclopedias. 

Other Socio–Civic Undertakings, Organizations, and Awards. 

In an article entitled “Her Humanitarian Work Has Not Gone Unnoticed” by Lifestyle Asia in November of 1991, it was revealed that Mrs. Laurel’s indefatigable efforts to provide sustainable potable water in depressed areas led to the installation of 25 deep wells across Quirino, Iloilo, and Cebu. It also reported Mrs. Laurel’s philanthropic deeds centering on education, especially on building public school libraries. 

What it did not however report on was that months before heading to Madrid for the Woman for Peace’s grand awarding ceremony, Mrs. Laurel had been tirelessly going back and forth to the suburbs to provide relief to fellow Filipinos devastated by the natural calamities that hit our country during those times (i.e. earthquakes, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, and the killer cyclone in Ormoc City).

As if these were still not enough, Mrs. Laurel, along the way, also founded and supported several and key socio-civic organizations and projects like the Philippine Tuberculosis Society, Kidney Transplant Association, Gifted Children and Youth Foundation, Memorial to the Peaceful Revolution, Save the Children (Community Development), People’s Welfare Foundation, Philippine International Friendship Organization, Philippine General Hospital Foundation, Philippine National Red Cross Overseas and Diplomatic Divisions, and Peace Development Foundation, Inc.

For all of these, Mrs. Laurel gained the attention of local and international award-giving bodies— earning her the following most coveted peace awards: United Nation’s Peace Award (1987); Global Cooperation for a Better World Award (1987); Impegno Per La Pace (Rome) Commitment to Peace Award (1989); Ina ng Bayan (1989); and of course, the Woman for Peace award which will be on its pearl year of conferment by the end of the month. 

The Awarding Ceremony in Spain

On November 29, 1991 (which fell on Madame Farfani’s 69th birthday), a grand awarding ceremony was held at Pabellon De Cecilio Rodriguez in Madrid, Spain. Besides Mrs. Laurel, other honorees that year were Queen Noor of Jordan, Madame Bernadette Chirac of France, and Madame Silva of Portugal. The occasion had 400 guests in attendance – comprising mostly of prominent international personalities like Senator Gianni Agnelli of Italy and royalties like Prince Saddrudin, Princess Catherine Aga Khan, King Simeon of Bulgary, and Baron and Baroness con Thiessen Bormenisza.

Weeks before the grand event, Mrs. Laurel received two congratulatory messages from two former US First Ladies who were past Woman of Peace awardees themselves. The first was from Barbara Bush. In her signed letter bearing the header of The White House, she said to Mrs. Laurel, “You have set a splendid example of true public service through your work with the poor and your assistance to families that suffered in the Philippine earthquake and Mount Pinatubo disaster. Your efforts are volunteerism at its best. The President (George H.W. Bush) joins me in congratulating you on this award and saluting you for all you do to better the lives in need.”

The other signed letter came from Nancy Raegan and it went: “Your voluntary work with charities and your commitment to those most in need is truly commendable. You have used your talent and drive to foster a climate for social justice and to help women and children. For this effort, the Woman for Peace Award is but a small token of recognition. It is, however, in a larger sense, a milestone of your personal commitment to helping disadvantaged families.”

Despite the overflowing accolades and wide international media mileage showered upon her, Mrs. Laurel remained true to her cause and even truer to her core. In her acceptance speech which she excellently delivered in Italian, she emphasized that it remains her “fervent wish that the day will come– perhaps in the next 100 years – when the efforts of Together For Peace, with all our collective efforts, will bring about a social floor below which the poor in the world will never again sink and suffer. I am a firm believer in the law of sowing and reaping. I have great faith that if we each, returning to our concerns of the world, plant the seed of peace, love, and forgiveness – we shall reap a golden harvest of universal peace in the years to come.” 

Woman at Peace 

Almost thirty years later, that fervent wish, sadly, remains unachieved. 

With Celia Diaz Laurel, our country’s very own Woman for Peace, now at peace with her Creator, it becomes therefore incumbent upon us who were left behind to continue the crusade she tirelessly but silently began decades ago. The nearing pearl anniversary of her conferment, therefore, is meant to evoke and challenge us to continually work towards achieving peace and creating a harmonious social balance in the next thirty years or so… especially here in this part of the world –our beloved Philippines –where we, STILL need them the most.

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