Give voice to the powerless, advocate and monitor implementation of human rights standards, documentation of human rights violations, organize, assist and support victims of human rights violations, provide human rights education and training- are just by way of examples, the contribution of non-government organizations (NGOs) and civil society to the advancement and protection of human rights.

The 1987 Constitution provides the NGOs the power to represent the people’s interests in consultations on local and national issues, as well as in governance and policy-making (Section 23 of Article II: “The State shall encourage non-governmental, community-based, or sectoral organizations that promote the welfare of the nation.”).

In 1991, the Republic Act No. 7169 otherwise known as the Local Government Code (Sections 34, 35 and 37, refers to ‘people’s and non-government organizations’) devolved the provision of certain services to Local Government Units (LGUs) and made NGO involvement in these bodies mandatory. The Code specified that LGUs should promote the establishment and operation of NGOs. It also permitted them to cooperate with them in areas like socio-economic development and environmental protection. Other local government bodies– like the health board, school board and pre-qualification bids and awards committees– were also to have NGO representation.

In the international human rights arena, NGOs and civil society actors’ contribution has also enriched the work of the independent experts that belong to long-established United Nations (UN) human rights mechanisms. Crucially, their knowledge and experiences have also been brought to bear in the establishment and operations of human rights treaty bodies and special procedures.

This position paper makes specific reference to the proposed resolution of the Commission on Human Rights (referred hereafter as the Commission) on Accreditation of NGOs and members of civil society [ RESOLUTION CHR (IV) No. A2011]. The Commission’s proposed resolution at hand should be considered alongside with other existing international human rights instruments and guidelines such as the “Principles relating to the status of national institutions” (otherwise known as The Paris Principles) adopted by United Nations General Assembly resolution 48/134 of 20 December 1993, as requisite ingredients for effective and independent functioning of national human rights institutions.

Based on various kinds and actual experiences, clearly, the Commission should cultivate and deepen their working relationship with NGOs and civil society especially those working in the protection and defense of human rights or with vulnerable groups, in obtaining redress for the victims of human rights violations and breaking impunity.

Taking into closer look at the public legitimacy of the Commission, rather than just formal legitimacy as a constitutional body mandated by the Constitution, it is assumed that the credibility and effectiveness of the Commission derives more from what they did such as investigations on alleged human rights violations, jail visitations, provision of assistance to the victims of human rights violations and human rights education and training, than from what they said in public and media they would do.

A clear line should be appropriately drawn on the roles between the Commission and, NGOs and civil society. The reality is that if the Commission had characteristic and behavior similar to NGOs and civil society, they would likely to prove less useful and effective in the discharge of their functions and responsibilities they are supposed to do.

To be effective and credible, the Commission must gain a degree of trust from those working within the government, as well as in NGOs and civil society. However, it does not mean understanding the constraints within which the government and its agencies operates and offering solutions to protect and promote human rights on the grounds in a narrow sense.

The Commission at its best should act as a viable conduit through which NGOs and civil society help peoples, in particular the marginalized sector, articulate their grievances and bring documented and reported cases of human rights violations to the attention of the government for its appropriate and timely action. The Commission has its own specific identity and character which stands between the government and, NGOs and civil society. As service providers, they should largely complement rather than duplicate the work and displace each other.

The proposed accreditation interfere the independence of the Commission as well as that of NGOs and civil society. Accreditation may be viewed as a form of interference and a move to restrict the political space upon which CSOs operate. It is a dangerous measure which when accepted by civil society groups may find themselves eventually into a trap. It seems to be unfavorable for the NGOs and civil society since accreditation has a discriminatory and divisive effect among civil society groups. It will result to the polarization of civil society into those accredited which may result to receiving preferential treatment from the Commission and those not which may result to their being discredited and marginalization. We certainly do not want to see such a scenario in our midst.

Many of the points we have articulated are directed towards strengthening the capacity of the Commission which is crucial to the protection, promotion and fulfillment of human rights. Suffice it to say, we should provide support to the Commission and do so in ways that to the maximum degree recognize and strive to protect our independence and respective organizational mandate.

The Commission’s cooperation with NGOs and civil society remains a strategic priority because it bolsters our shared objectives, helps to address our mutual concerns, and supports the Commission’s mandate. We believe that a dynamic and autonomous civil society, able to operate freely, knowledgeable and skilled with regard to human rights, is a key element in ensuring sustainable human rights protection in the country based on the principles of respect, independence, equity and justice.

On the “Guidelines for Applications to Conduct any Activities Inside Jail Facilities” of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) dated March 22, 2011, we find the said guidelines restrictive and violate certain provisions of the Republic Act No. 7438 (An Act Defining Certain Rights of Person Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation as well as Duties of the Arresting, Detaining and Investigation Officers) and RA 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 as stated in Section 20 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9745.

The guidelines are a source of obstruction to victim’s right to access to a lawyer and an independent doctor, and violate pertinent laws (as stated above).

Thus, we suggest a dialogue must be conducted among the stakeholders like representatives of the Commission, NGOs and civil society, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) , BJMP, Bureau of Corrections, and AFP, PNP Human Rights Offices to review, modify and determine the nature of such guidelines.

Asian Federation Against Voluntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC)
Defend Central Luzon – Kilusan para sa Pambansyang Demokrasya (KPD)
Libertas-Philippines
Human Rights Defenders-Pilipinas (HRD-Pilipinas)
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
Partido ng Manggagawa (PM)
Sulong CARHRIHL

July 11, 2011

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