Category: Articles


by Renato G. Mabunga

(This article has been presented by the author to the delegates of the 6th Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum (6th AHRDF) held in Quezon City, Philippines on 3-5 December 2014)

 

Though use inter-changeably and oftentimes carries the same meaning, intent and even connotation, there is a THIN LINE DISTINCTION between Security of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and the Protection of Human Rights Workers.

Coming from an Organization Development (OD) perspective: Security of HRD speaks more of the assessment of the Slide2internal realities of individual defenders and their organizations vis-à-vis their actual experience and perceptions in the conduct of doing human rights work. It is an evaluation of perceived risks and threats that directly impacts on one’s personal commitment (to the cause of human rights), involvement (to organizations), and sustainability of seeing through some changes in the external situation. It also defines the degree of threshold for organization indicating critical shift or change in the conduct of operation – from a normal, acceptable level of usual activities to conscious weighing of the impact and dangers of particular action to the lives of the implementers and/or the target communities.

Protection of HRDs, on the other hand, is a response or measures derived from the assessment of risks and threats. This could either be personal or at the individual level, or organizational. And, may take the form of internal policies of the organization or personal disciplinary measures and precautions of individual HRDs. All of which are aimed at lessening risks and threats. Continue reading

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Press Conference: CHR human rights protector or violator?

Press Conference: CHR human rights protector or violator?

By Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)[1]

I.          General Overview

President Benigno Aquino III considered 2012 a year of continued resurgence of the economy bolstered with increased confidence in good governance. He took pride in the dramatic leaps the country has taken in the global competitive index of the World Economic Forum; the unprecedented attainment of investment-grade status from the most respected credit ratings agencies in the world; and the astounding 6.8 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2012.[2]

Amidst this enthusiasm, cases of extra-judicial killings (EJK), enforced disappearances, torture, illegal arrests as well as other political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights violations increase halfway into the Aquino administration. What becomes alarming “is the growing number of threats and killings of rights defenders” as observed by the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, and on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heyns.[3]

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Photo by Human Rights Online PH

For three years, the United Nations has marked the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30 in recognition of the fact that “enforced disappearances” have no place in a world that aspires to freedom and justice.

An “enforced disappearance” is defined as “deprivation of liberty outside of the protection of the law by agents of government or of authority through concealment of the victim’s whereabouts.”

Beyond this definition, however, is the immense suffering of families haunted by the fate of the “desaparecidos,” the term used for the disappeared in the Philippines.

In Asia, where most governments hide behind the pretext of law and order and national security, official rhetoric has failed to cover up enforced disappearances.

In Bangladesh, 24 disappeared were documented in 2012. This year, there have already been 14 documented cases, allegedly perpetrated by members of the Rapid Action Battalion, the Police Detective Branch and the Industrial Police.

In Jammu and Kashmir in India’s restive northwest, conflicting statements by different government agencies have become a feature of this issue. There have been more than 8,000 cases of recorded disappearances since 1989, yet successive governments have officially downplayed the number. In 2005, the People’s Democratic Party-led government claimed there were 3,931 such cases. In 2009, the National Conference-led government claimed 3,429 missing and then last year, the same government claimed only 2,305 people had disappeared since 1989.

Whether there has been just one or thousands of victims is of secondary concern. What is essential is an effective mechanism for probing cases of violations, finding victims, easing the burden and suffering of families and for holding governments accountable within a human rights framework.

In Indonesia, the entrenched and successful use of terror during the New Order regime (1965-1998) terrified the populace into not reporting enforced disappearances. Even with the change of government, 414 mostly unsolved cases of missing persons were documented in the restive province of Aceh alone from 1999 to 2005.

The decade-long civil war in Nepal from 1996 claimed 1,378 disappeared. On November 21, 2006, a Comprehensive Peace Accord ended the conflict and promised to clarify the fate of the disappeared within just 60 days.

Yet in December the following year the government was still at the stage of being required to set up a commission of investigation, a call repeated in various political agreements between various parties and factions including a landmark deal in November 2011. Still a commission into disappearances in Nepal has not been set up.

In the Philippines there have been at least 2,214 recorded cases of enforced disappearances, with at least 20 of these committed during the past three years under the current administration of President Benigno Aquino.

There has been progress here, however. After 17 long years of lobbying for an Anti-Enforced Disappearances Act, the law was finally signed off last year, becoming the first of its kind in Asia. But passing a law and enforcing it are two very different things in the Philippines, as in many countries in this region.

 

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Myanmar’s parliament was to debate on Monday a proposal to abolish a provision in the 1975 State Protection Act that allows the government to restrict the fundamental rights of people suspected of “endangering state sovereignty and security, public peace and tranquility.”

The proposal is the latest among legislative initiatives that are part of Myanmar’s “reform process,” although freedoms of expression, assembly and association continue to be systematically violated.

The purported legislative reforms, with the enactment of several new laws and the review of existing ones, have largely resulted in new forms of controls and restrictions that are applied selectively.

Myanmar’s reform process has resulted in little, if any, improvement on the respect for fundamental freedoms on the ground. It has become largely an empty showcase to appease the international community.

A fact finding mission conducted by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) from October 24 to 30 discovered that the rights to peaceful assembly and of association of particular groups, including former political prisoners, labor rights activists, student unions, and members of ethnic nationalities, are still being denied.

An array of laws that restrict the fundamental freedoms of the rights to expression, assembly and association, including the Emergency Act, the Unlawful Association Act, and the 1988 law relating to the formation of associations, remain.

The right to freedom of assembly, in particular, has been denied to groups that are considered “sensitive” or threatening to the government.

In the last two months alone, scores of individuals have been arrested for organizing and participating in peaceful assemblies.

In September, 13 leaders, organizers, and participants of peaceful assemblies to mark International Peace Day were summoned and subsequently charged under the 2012 Decree on the Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession after their application for a permit was rejected by the government.

Leaders and organizers of peaceful demonstrations, including protest actions against a mining project in the Letpadaung region, are also facing threats and harassment from authorities.

However, some street demonstrations were allowed to proceed, including the anti-Rohingya protest actions of Buddhist monks and university students in Rakhine state.

These double standards in the implementation of the law call into question the universal principles of Buddhism on peace, harmony, wisdom and understanding.

The continued violations of fundamental freedoms and new forms of control expose the empty façade of Myanmar’s reform process. Human rights protection in Myanmar will remain illusory if fundamental freedoms are not properly safeguarded in the current legal reforms.

 

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By UN-OHCHR

The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, has heard numerous accounts of the abuses faced by environmental defenders, including violence, raids on property, and even killings, during her official visits and investigations in different countries. In addition, families of defenders are often threatened or harmed. The perpetrators, she says, include government forces, as well as non-State actors, such as corporations, and members of organised crime or terrorist groups.

In her latest report to the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur calls for swift action by States to “give full recognition to the important work carried out by defenders” and to “combat impunity for attacks and violations against these defenders… by ensuring prompt and impartial investigations into allegations and appropriate redress and reparation to victims.”

Read more:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/EnvironmentalHumanRightsDefenders.aspx

Philippines needs a heart to protect its gems

(A Statement on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders)

February 14, 2012

In this month of love and affection, the Philippine government needs a heart to protect its gems – the Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).  HRDs are gems of precious value.  They abound in the depths of human longings.  That is, the protection and defense of the dignity of person.  They are cultivated by natural desires of loving peace and respect; tested by concrete experiences of grief and sufferings; of joys and happiness in ushering individual and community empowerment and development. HRDs are gems personified.  They check the balance of power with the scale of justice.  They keep sanity of the ‘wannabes’ from the lures of corruption and tyranny.  They call for peace in times of war.

Their noble desire to promote the well-being of all has prompted the United Nations to pass Resolution A/RES/53/144 otherwise known as the “Declaration on the Rights and Responsibilities of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms or the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders” in 1998.  It recognizes the importance and legitimacy of their works and their vital role in engaging governments on human rights issues.  Even as they find their own rights flagrantly violated, they remain “STEADFAST IN PROTEST” amid the worldwide trends of:

1)     Restrictions of the enjoyment of rights through policy enactments and legislations;

2)     Increasing restrictions to the right to expression and opinion;

3)     Women HRDs are increasingly targeted for who they are and for their work;

4)     Continuing threats to the independence and effectiveness of National human rights institutions,

The Philippines is a rich source of human rights defenders.  So rich that those hit by their brilliance aspire to shred them into pieces, threat their existence and plot all legal and extra-judicial ways to silence them.  This is the current case of Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie – a Human Rights Defender slapped with various charges from allegedly masterminding assassination plots to bombing the City of Jolo.  These accusations emanate from his being vocal on the policies and actions of the local government that violate human rights in Sulu.

Extra-judicial executions, torture, intimidation, harassment and vilification of organizations are just some realities of human rights work and human rights defenders in the Philippines.  With these realities, is an urgent call on the government to take to heart its primary responsibility and duty on the situation of HRDs.  To wit: “Each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms, inter alia, by adopting such step as maybe necessary to create all conditions necessary in the social, economic, political and other fields, as well as the legal guarantees required to ensure that all persons under its jurisdiction, individually or in association with others, are able to enjoy all those rights and freedoms in practice” (UN Declaration on HRD, 1998, Art. 2).  With this Human Rights Defenders-Pilipinas calls for:

  • an urgent enactment of legislative policies protecting human rights and development workers;
  • mainstreaming human rights in governance through the use of rights-based approach;
  • ensuring the independence and integrity of the judiciary; and,
  • Putting in place protection programmes to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of defenders from attacks and threats.

 

By Renato G. Mabunga, Ph.D.

  

The 2011 Education Budget

Appropriate budget to fuel the implementation of Education agenda plan is crucial.  For this year’s appropriation, the DepEd is given P207 billion pesos.  This is 19% higher than the 2010’s 175 billion amount.  P12.4 billion of the budget pie is for the construction of school buildings; P1.8B needed to purchase 32.3 million textbooks;  P1.6B for hiring additional 10,000 teachers; P8.6b for scholarship, training grants and student loan programs under TESDA, CHED, DOST, and DepEd; P21million for Every Child a Reader Program (ECARP); P727.5M for science and mathematics equipments.[1]  Major intent of the allocation is to propel implementation of Aquino’s 10 Point Education reform which includes the universal kindergarten to achieve the “Education for All” commitment of the government by 2015.  The stress on kindergarten program for 5-year old toddlers in 2011 marks the groundwork for the K-12 project of DepEd.

Going deeper into the budget allocation vis-à-vis deficit in our education system, the current budget is still found wanting.  It hides under the pronouncements of ‘austerity measure’ and maximization of ‘meager resources’ to cover-up automatic appropriation amount for debt servicing.  More than thirty-seven percent (37.50%) of the total 2011 budget is allotted to pay the current P4.712trillion debt of the country (combined domestic and foreign).[2]  The budget for State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) was cut by P367.2 million in 2011; DepEd school-building program was halved in 2011; it boast  of building 13,147 new classrooms for 2011 — yet the backlog of public school classrooms is some 113,000.[3]

Critiques suggest that Congress revisits the General Appropriation Act (GAA), scrap the automatic allotment for dept payment and channel the money for social services, instead.

Under the banner of ‘austerity measures’ the government embarks, through its Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016, Public-Private Partnership (PPP), in both infrastructure and social services, and Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) as major strategies to achieve inclusive growth.  While PPP in infrastructure and social services aimed at generating “high and sustained economic growth” and “equal access to development opportunities” respectively, CCT through its ‘Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program’ (4Ps) is thought as a “responsive and effective social safety nets”.  Accordingly, the expected growth is translated into reducing poverty and increasing employment.

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By: Dr. Renato G. Mabunga

On Accessibility and Affordability:

(Photo by Unicef.org)

Various studies on the current student dropout rates show that of the 10 pupils entering grade 1, 66% would eventually finish grade six; 43% would graduate high school; and, only 20% would successfully finished college.  Of the statistics, there is a stark 80% of the 55 million considered out of school youth or 57% unable to fully access the right to education in the Philippine today.   One major reason for this is poverty.

The latest report released by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) pegged the Philippine poverty incidence at 20.9% in 2009.[i]  In such situation, a Filipino needs Php974 monthly to meet his/her food needs and Php1,403 to stay out of poverty; a family of six has a daily and monthly requirement of Php277 and 8,421, respectively.  For the National Capital Region (NCR) however, a family of 6 needs to earn Php9,901 monthly or Php326 daily to live above the poverty threshold.  This means that the government demands each Filipino to live with Php41.25 a day.  This computation is based on the Refined Official Estimation Methodology series of 2006 as demanded by the Executive Order 352.  This methodology defines poverty threshold, as the cost of minimum basic needs, food and non-food; and, the ‘poor’ is as those whose income fall below the official poverty threshold defined by the government.  In April 2011, the Social Weather Station (SWS) survey revealed, “some 20.5 percent of Filipinos or about 4.1 million families are going hungry while more Filipinos are considering themselves poor”[ii].  A family of six in the NCR with a monthly  minimum wage of Php11,076 (Php404 minimum wage + Php22 ECOLA as approved in May 2011 x 26 working days) will spend almost 64% for food alone and the remaining 36% will be subdivided among healthcare, rentals (including housing), water, electricity, clothing and education among others.  It was estimated that in the first quarter of 2011, 51% of the population considered themselves poor.  Though basic education is provided free, essential needs such as food, shelter, clothing plus transportation and other incremental expenses in schools made it unaffordable for many.

Another issue on the accessibility of right is the number and location of schools.  The Department of Education reported to have almost covered all municipalities and barangays in the whole archipelago with 55,260[iii] elementary and secondary schools both public and private.  The disparity in number between the two is highlighted with the gap of 34,462 schools from 44,846 elementary schools to 10,384 high schools both private and public for the school year 2009-2010.  This is despite the officially reported teacher-pupil/student/room ratio of 1 to 36 and 1 to 38 respectively, which according to the Teachers Dignity Coalition (TDC) is actually 1 to 45 and 1 to 60 ratio for school year 2010-11.  No wonder that in Metro Manila alone, three shifting of classes are done in a day to rationalize the lack of schools/classrooms, teaching personnel, and accommodate large number of pupils and students.

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By Renato G. Mabunga, Ph.D.

Introduction:

The 1987 Philippine Constitution speaks elaborately of the right to education.  It vows to “…protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and… take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all… (1987 Philippine Constitution, Article XIV).  In principle, the Philippines takes cognizance of the normative characteristics or elements by which the right to education is founded namely: quality education, accessibility of the right and non-discrimination.  By being so, bonded itself to the obligatory nature in realizing the right both legally and politically.

The Philippine, as a state signatory to various instruments providing normative contents to the right to education, is bound by all these treaties and declarations to provide legislative as well as administrative frameworks for the realization of this right.  It must concretize its commitment to promote, protect and fulfill human rights in its development plans.

Politically, according to the Right to Education Project (2008), right to education is also an enabling right.  It “creates the “voice” through which rights can be claimed and protected’, and without education people lack the capacity to ‘achieve valuable functionings as part of the living.”[i] The state is therefore, impelled to muster political will for the realization of this right.  This is the framework by which we shall revisit the state of Philippine Education in the year 2011.

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By: Dr. Renato G. Mabunga

(Note:  This article was first published in HUMAN RIGHTS FORUM, Volume 5, Number 1issue.  Updated and modified to incorporate latest developments and preparation on the Philippine 2nd Cycle Universal Periodic Review slated on the 13th HRC/UPR Working Group session in May to June 2012.)

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“Every day we are reminded of the need for a strengthened United Nations, as we face a growing array of new challenges, including humanitarian crises, human rights violations, armed conflicts and important health and environmental concerns. Seldom has the United Nations been called upon to do so much for so many. I am determined to breathe new life and inject renewed confidence in a strengthened United Nations firmly anchored in the twenty-first century, and which is effective, efficient, coherent and accountable.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

IN 1997, and again in 2002, reforms in the United Nations gained ground in Geneva and New York, respectively. These reforms came in the heels of then-Secretary General Kofi Annan’s challenge to the UN’s “continued significance” in the face of 21st century realities. He called for improvements in how the UN conducts its work, implements its mandate and manages the funds entrusted to it by its Member States in order to bring human rights to all peoples of the world.

These reforms took a significant turn during the General Assembly’s 60th session. The world’s leaders adopted UNGA Resolution 60/251 on the 15th of March 2006, which created the Human Rights Council (HRC). The HR Council is now a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, taking over the role of the Commission on Human Rights, which was created under article 68 of the UN Charter on Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The HRC was mandated to conduct a Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a mechanism to evaluate each member state’s human rights commitments. The said review shall be a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialog, with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity-building needs. The UPR is intended to complement and not duplicate the work of treaty bodies.

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