Photo by the Medical Action Group (MAG)

by Hon. Jose Midas P. Marquez
Court Administrator
Chief, Public Information Office

(Note from the Blogger:  This article was delivered  by the author at the Media Launch of the Medical Action Group Project at the Citrine Emerald Room Function Hall, Diamond Hotel, Roxas Boulevard, Manila on 06 August 2011.  It is uploaded in this page as a possible mechanism for the protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).)

A pleasant morning to everyone.
 
Last December 2008, I spoke before your organization on the importance of medical documentation in relation to the case of the Manalo brothers, which is the first decision of the Supreme Court on the application of the Writ of Amparo, an extraordinary remedy promulgated by the Court available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated, or threatened with violation. Today, barely three years after, I am proud to say that the Supreme Court has not wavered in its quest in protecting and defending human rights, and has consistently issued resolutions which can be considered as triumphs in such mission.

The plight of missing political activist Jonas Joseph T. Burgos falls under this mission.  It was on 28 April 2007 when Jonas was abducted by several unidentified men while he was eating lunch at a restaurant in Ever Gotesco Mall, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City. Eyewitnesses, including the restaurant’s employees, claim that Jonas was dragged into a van whose license plates were later traced to another vehicle impounded by the military in Bulacan. Up to now, the whereabouts of Jonas are unknown. Just last month, however the Court ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to produce Jonas, and to show cause why he should not be released from detention.[1]

Two months ago, the Court also ordered the AFP to release University of the Philippines (UP) student activists Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, and farmer Manuel Merino, who have been missing for nearly five years and were allegedly abducted by armed men, and said that retired General Jovito Palparan and five others “appear responsible and accountable” for their disappearance.[2] The High Tribunal emphasized its order by putting the words “immediate release” in capital letters in its ruling.

The High Court added that its decision is final and executory, and thus, there is no need to file any motion for the execution of its decision. The Court said that “since the right to life, liberty and security of a person is at stake, the proceedings should not be delayed and execution of any decision thereon must be expedited as soon as possible since any form of delay even for a day may jeopardize the very rights that these writs seek to immediately protect.”

And late last year, the High Court ordered the CHR to conduct further investigation on Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas’s alleged abduction and torture by the military in 1999. Roxas alleged that she and companions Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Jandoc were resting in the house of one Mr. Jesus Paolo in Sitio Bagong Sikat, Barangay Kapanikian, La Paz, Tarlac when 15 heavily armed men barged in, ganged them up, blindfolded, and dragged them to a waiting van. She claimed that she was later taken to the military camp of Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija where she was allegedly interrogated and tortured on suspicion of being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army.

In this case of Roxas v. Arroyo,[3] the Court specifically tasked the CHR to identify the persons described in the cartographic sketches submitted by Roxas as well as their whereabouts, and to pursue any other leads relevant to her abduction and torture.

The Roxas case likewise brings me to another equally consequential point, and that is the importance of effective medical documentation in successfully prosecuting amparo cases, and other cases against violations of human rights. One of the documentary exhibits admitted in this case is the medical certificate of Roxas, which was executed right after she was freed.

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SONA 2011 (photo by TFDP)

By Renato G. Mabunga, PhD 

Background:

  • Ever since the decision of Mr. Benigno Simeon Aquino III to run as the 15th president of the Republic of the Philippines, he fails to provide the Filipino people with a concrete human rights agenda.
    • The fact remains that on major occasions, where the president should have drawn a roadmap on how his government would fair on human rights, the whole country is left hanging.
    • All we have heard are promises on specific issues under a paradigm of anti-corruption: “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (without corruption, there’s no poverty). Its framework of good governance is packaged on this slogan (corruption); alleviating it to be the “end-all” and “be-all” of what has and will become of the Philippines.
    • During the campaign period 2010 the Philippine human rights community had asked all presidential candidates of their human rights agenda. The Aquino camp had only promised in a traditional political fashion to incorporate human rights agenda in its governance.
  • From the moment Noynoy Aquino started his bid for the presidency until his oath taking into office, The Philippine Online Chronicles has compiled 24 promises from the various sorties Aquino had attended to. These are the following:
    1. Expand irrigation development program
    2. Probe 2004 vote rigging
    3. Scrap GMA’s flagship programs
    4. Upgrade army and increase defense spending
    5. Closure to extrajudicial killings
    6. No favors to allies and supporters
    7. Strictly enforce environmental laws
    8. Make Freedom of Information (FOI )bill his administration’s priority
    9. Streamline government approval processes
    10. Adjust government pay scale
    11. No to Dictatorship
    12. Safer sources of renewable energy
    13. Population management via responsible parenthood
    14. Charter change only via constitutional convention
    15. Create jobs at home, reject overseas employment as development strategy
    16. No new or increase in taxes
    17. Distribute Hacienda Luisita to Farmers
    18. Justice for Massacre Victims
    19. Renew peace talks and decades-long insurgencies
    20. Investigate Gloria Arroyo
    21. Avoid foreign trips
    22. A Lean, Graft-free Government
    23. A holistic and comprehensive public health care system
    24. To Quit Smoking if he wins
  • True enough, in his inaugural speech he warned on the abuse of power by government officials. This signaled his slogan “ang matuwid na daan” (the straight path) with war against corruption as the centerpiece of his administration.
  • Viewing some of them from the perspective of human rights, one could say at least, there are some possibilities that his administration would champion human rights as a guidepost of his anti-corruption slogan. Especially, if we take to heart his pronouncements during his inaugural address:
    • 1. Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.’ Ito ang mga prinsipyong tinatayuan at nagsisilbing batayan ng ating administrasyon. (If there are no corrupt, there are no empoverished prople. This is the principle and basis of my administration.)
    • 2. de-kalidad na edukasyon, kabilang ang edukasyong bokasyonal para makapaghanap ng marangal na trabaho ang hindi makapag-kolehiyo; (Quality education, including vocational courses in aid of searching for dignified work for those unable to pursue higher/college education.)
    • 3. serbisyong pangkalusugan tulad ng PhilHealth para sa lahat sa loob ng tatlong taon; (Health services like PhilHealth for all in three year time.)
    • 4. Tirahan sa loob ng mga ligtas na komunidad. (Housing in safer communities.)
    • 5. Kung dati ay may fertilizer scam, ngayon ay may kalinga nang tunay para sa mga magsasaka. Tutulungan natin sila sa irigasyon, extension services, at sa pagbenta ng kanilang produkto sa pinakamataas na presyong maaari. (While there was fertilizer scam before, now genuine services for all peasants.  Let’s help by providing them irrigation, extension services, and capabilities to sell their products to much higher possible prices.)
    • 6. There can be no reconciliation without justice. Sa paglimot ng pagkakasala,sinisigurado mong mauulit muli ang mga pagkakasalang ito. (By simply forgetting the past wrongs doings, they are surely be repeated again.) 
    • 7. We are committed to a peaceful and just settlement of conflicts, inclusive of the interests of all – may they be Lumads, Bangsamoro or Christian.
    • 8. We shall defeat the enemy by wielding the tools of justice, social reform and equitable governance leading to a better life.
  • However, to compare these to his 10-point governance agenda (campaign platform), one can deduce them as mere band-aids to temporarily stop the bleeding of resources both human and natural.  Below are some broad strokes in his agenda which are Human Rights related:
    • Job creation – more on skill development thru TESDA and infrastructure building.
    • Mindanao – resumption of peace talks; Internal Refugees.
    • Reforms in the Judiciary – more on administrative/personnel build-up rather than incorporation of human rights frame into the current criminal justice system.
    • Education – for competitive advantage; infrastructure.
    • Health – philhealth for everyone; infrastructure.
    • Housing – in-city/on-site relocation. o Agrarian reform – irrigation; infrastructure.
  • All of these are packaged under anti-corruption campaign for social services which pre-supposes that internal systems within government departments are alright and policy-guidelines are adequate. It is no wonder that in his SONA ng “matuwid na daan”, there is: 
    • NO POLICY STATEMENT ON HUMAN RIGHTS
    • No statement on the Human Security Act
    • No statement of legislations pending during the 14th congress on Extra-Judicial Killings, Enforced Disappearance, the Right to Information Bill, etc…
    • NO “MARCHING ORDERS” ON CURRENT HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS AND ISSUES
    • One liner on Extra-Judicial Killings during the post Arroyo administration and none on the EJKs during the previous administrations.
    • Nothing on enforced disappearances
    • NO CLEAR POLICY STATEMENT ON INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS, PROTOCOLS OR MECHANISMS THAT REMAIN PENDING
    • NOT A SINGLE WORD ON AGRARIAN REFORM OR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Where are we now in 2011(HR perspective):

  • Until at present, the current administration has not drawn up his Government’s human rights agenda.
    • The draft 2nd National Human Rights Action Plan of the Philippines for 2010-2014 (NHRAPP-2) has never been finalized and given attention. The 1st NHRAPP ended 11 years ago.
    • There is continuing extra-judicial killings amid repeated government announcement that it is not a policy of the administration.
      • Agta Tribal Leader case
      • Killings and harassments of environmental activists and journalists
      • In the One year of the Benigno Aquino Administration, 8 cases of Extra-judicial killings have been documented
    • UNSOLVED/UNADDRESSED ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES
      • For 16 years the bill criminalizing acts of enforced disappearance has not been passed.
      • Pending cases of enforced disappearance face a blank wall in search for the missing ones.
      • Two cases of enforced disappearance have been documented in the first year of Aquino administration.
    • “GUILT BY ASSOCIATION” CASES 
      • Ming Saladero Case 
      • Morong 43 case
      • Community “census” case in Central Luzon
      • Rita Melecio harassment case
    • On Torture 
      • Torture remains the standard operating procedure within the security forces. E.g. police torture case in NCR, Lenin Salas case, torture of petty criminals in Davao.
      • Torture and hazing are thought of as SOPs in the Philippine National Police training camps.
    • On Political Prisoners and humanitarian reasons
      • Tatay Umbrero case and the post humous executive clemency.
      • Hunger strike of political detainees calling for a Human Rights Agenda in the Aquino administration; prison reforms and release of all political prisoners.
  • With the current human rights environment, IMPUNITY and DE FACTO IMMUNITY exist.
  • SONA 2010 and 2011 failed to provide a clear road map for human rights protection and social justice dispensation under the Aquino Administration. A window of hope remains present however:
    • the Constitution remains clear in its mandate to guarantee full respect to human rights and ensure human dignity.
    • CSOs must remain vigilant and together with the oppressed sectors consistently engage and assert peoples’ and human rights demands.

While there is a window for hope, many things still need to be done:

  • THE PROMISE OF CLOSURE?
  • A CLEAR HUMAN RIGHTS AGENDA/POLICY
  • SIGNIFICANT LEGISLATION ON HUMAN RIGHTS PROTECTION 
  • Laws on Extra-Judicial Killings and Criminalization of cases Enforced Disappearance
  • Incorporating International laws and IHL PRINCIPLES through ratification or adoption of HR conventions, protocols and mechanisms
  • Freedom of Information
  • STRENGTHENING TRUST AND CONFIDENCE IN EXISTING STATE INSTITUTIONS TO GUARANTEE PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY
  • STRENGTHENING COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AS NATIONAL MECHANISM FOR PROTECTION
  • ADOPTION OF THE ROME STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT to provide solid foundation to the question of Command Responsibility (Art. 28, Rome Statute of the ICC)
  • STRENGTHENING JUDICIAL REMEDIES 
    • Writ of Amparo
    • Writ of Habeas Data
    • Writ of Habeas Corpus
    • PROVIDING FOR BETTER PROTECTION MEASURES
      • Witness protection program
      • Sanctuary provisions
      • Protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs)
    • CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE OF JUDICIARY, EXECUTIVE AND LEGISLATIVE BRANCHES
      • Mainstreaming of human rights in all branches of government
      • Continuing human rights education for the security forces
      • Incorporation of human rights as a subject in school curricula
    • COMBATTING IMPUNITY

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

At around 3:45 PM, a man riding a blue motorcycle was blocked by armed men, shoved into a white Ford Cortina bearing government license plates and taken away.  The person would later on fit the description of Fr. Rudy Romano, CsSR.

It was July 11, 1985. He was 44 years old.

Twenty six years later, we still ask the question asked by many on that fateful day, “Where is Fr. Rudy?”.

Perhaps his enforced disappearance was orchestrated by those could not live with his leadership role in the progressive movement or perhaps by those whose interests were threatened by his community organizing and fraternizing with the basic masses – the workers, the farmers, the poor.  Perhaps he inspired resistance against the injustices perpetrated by the forces that be. Perhaps his abduction was meant to silence the growing anti-dictatorship sentiments in the province.

These nagging questions persist to this day. What is certain is that despite Fr. Rudy’s sudden disappearance, his personal struggle for social change has taken a collective form and continues to this day.

For every worker who is deprived of his just share in the distribution of wealth, Fr. Rudy is there. For every farmer denied of his dignity by being denied of his right to till his own land, Fr. Rudy is there. For every injustice, Fr. Rudy is there.

His abductors failed to see this bitter-sweet reality – they only snatched away a man. They could not kill the flames of social change and the movement behind it. For truly, Fr. Rudy represented not himself but the many generations, past and continuing, who yearn for a better society.

Fr. Rudy gives face to the faceless one thousand seven hundred ninety one  desaperacidos documented since the Marcos dictatorship. His disappearance reminds us that the path to achieving social transformation is not only a lonely one but one that treads along the line of fire.

We identify with the cause of Fr. Rudy.

Today, on 26th year of his disappearance we renew our commitment to the aspirations of Fr. Rudy. Today, we confront impunity by remembering Fr. Rudy and by reliving Fr. Rudy.

We give justice to him by carrying on.

We challenge the present Aquino Administration to solve the one thousand one hundred seventeen cases of disappearances, of people still missing.

We challenge this Government to enact an anti-enforced disappearance law to criminalize enforced disappearance, to show that it has not forgotten the stories of the disappeared.

We honor the desaperacidos by remembering them.

As we remember Fr. Rudy, we remember all those who suffered the same fate, here and elsewhere.

End enforced disappearance!
Enact an anti-disappearance law NOW!
Justice for Fr. Rudy!
Justice for all the disappeared!

Task Force Detainees of the Philippines-Visayas (TFDP-Visayas)
SANLAKAS Sugbo
Human Rights Defenders Pilipinas-Cebu (HRDP-Cebu)
Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance-Cebu (FIND-Cebu)
Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Maralita ng Lungsod-Cebu (KPML-Cebu)
Freedom from Debt Colaition-Cebu (FDC-Cebu)
Partido Lakas ng Masa-Cebu (PLM-Cebu)

July 11, 2011

Free Zone or Prison?
a Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Forum

Question of the week

Do human rights defenders (HRDs) need protection?

Express your ideas…

The Situation:

Human rights discourse is very vibrant worldwide, in Asia, and in the Philippines.  It is the central concern of the disadvantaged peoples together with the human rights workers, practitioners or human rights defenders (HRDs) of the world.  It is constantly challenged by many States and their apparatuses, corporations and groups whose intent veers away from aspirations of people they vow to serve.

Human rights are all about dignity.  They are that which make a person human being.  Rights are basic entitlements a person possesses to become truly human.  They are the minimum expression of human dignity.

Tracing back from the Western scholars, human rights concepts are said to have evolved from the notion of Natural Law.  That, the world is governed by an invisible order which has endowed every person the concept of a perfect justice discernable by human reason; making all human kind equal in rights and dignity.  The doctrine of natural law presupposes the existence of a natural moral code based upon the identification of certain fundamental and objectively verifiable human goods.  The enjoyment of these basic goods is to be secured by our possession of equally fundamental and objectively verifiable natural rights.  Thus, the foundation of human rights, to wit:

The recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world (UDHR, 1948; ICCPR, 1966; ICESCR, 1966).

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  Furthermore, no distinction shall be made based on the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty (UDHR, 1948).

Today, human rights are continued to be asserted and yet continuously violated.  Even human rights defenders whose noble desire is to facilitate the birthing of a culture of peace and respect are not spared of threats and attacks.

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July 1, 2011

Dato Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak
Prime Minister of Malaysia
Main Block, Perdama Putra Building
Federal Government Administrative Center
62502 Putrajaya, MALAYSIA
ppm@pmo.gov.my

Dear Prime Minister Razak,

Greetings of peace and solidarity!

It has come to our attention that one of our Filipino human rights defenders (HRDs), Mr. Romy Castillo together with other 30 Malaysian activists, has been arrested for joining a pro-democracy caravan in Kuala Lumpur.  Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides that “everyone is entitled to social and international order” in which rights and fundamental freedoms are guaranteed.  It is in this premise that we, in the Human Rights Defenders-Pilipinas (HRD-Pilipinas), even as citizens of other country, take with great concern of peoples’ situations and conditions of our neighboring nations; and, in the spirit of internationalism offer our solidarity to the Malaysian people for the defense, protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedom.

Mr. Castillo is the Deputy Secretary of Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), a grassroots political party in the Philippine.  He is in Kuala Lumpur as a representative of the organization to show and convey solidarity to the cause of democracy in Malaysia thru legal and peaceful expression and assembly.  His arrest and detention together with his Malaysian counterparts put in question the avowed commitment of the Malaysian Government and authorities to Art. 19, UDHR:  “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinions and expression… regardless of frontier” in which the country is a signatory.

We therefore call on your good office to facilitate his immediate and safe deportation back to the Philippines.  Likewise, we call for the immediate release of other human rights defenders under custody by Malaysian authorities.  And, that the Malaysia government guarantees their safety and no further arrest shall occur in the context of the current crackdown related to peoples’ peaceful electoral reforms.

Sincerely,
Renato Mabunga
Chairperson, HRD-Pilipinas

Cc.
–    Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)
–    Malaysian Ambassador in the Philippines
–    Partido Lakas ng Masa
–    Forum-Asia

Thank you FRIENDS for visiting my page.  This is my simple way of joining the global chorus for the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs).  My ideas may sound plain yet in the simplicity of its tone is the depth of human desire for respect in the dignity of person… a better world… a flourishing culture of human rights.

This page is a mere sounding board for a lively, fruitful and pluralistic discussions, a platform for opinions, and an arena for constructive dialogues where we may all learn and share thoughts… grand or simple as they may be… on human rights and our fundamental freedoms.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BoyetMabunga
Email: rgmabunga@gmail.com

Human rights from its very inception are a large and encompassing concept.  It talks about human dignity.  It is all about dignity… and it is for ALL regardless race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  Accordingly, it has evolved from  the idea that the world is governed by an invisible order which has endowed every person the concept of a perfect justice discernable by reason; making all humans equal in status of rights and dignity.  This concept of perfect justice has fortified both reason and conscience of each person to act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood without distinction, without discrimination.  This makes dignity a relational and a dynamic term and not just an empty concept or an ideal.  It becomes tangible in a relationship.  It finds meaning in relation with others and may be totally restored only with the help of others or of a network.

A network on the other hand, is a complex set of systems, which amplifies a message or a need or a call.  From the viewpoint of Organization Development (OD), network is the interconnection of various systems to take the form of a whole.  From individual HRD’s focal system to his or her organization as sub-systems, to his/her direct networks or the macro and related systems dealing with the protection of human rights defenders and victims down to other external organizations – the mega-system – dealing with human rights and upholding dignity of persons and communities in general.  It is a web of strings from which, one system provides and receives support to and from another system to ensure achievement of a larger goal.  An organization as a system in this regard maybe compartmentalized with various departments or programs doing specific jobs, yet in a larger view, each output serves the “reason for being” or the mandate of the organization.  Such implementation of mandate is the its contribution to a larger network of systems or to the larger whole working for the protection of human rights defenders and the promotion of human rights in general.  This defines the lines of engagement of each organization to a network in the overall platform of protection for HRDs.

This is the ideal role of a network: to facilitate and process information, come up with specific plans and arrive at concrete actions or activities within the bounds of each organizational mandate and philosophy to arrest and eliminate impending threats to organization or so as not to disrupt the dynamism of the “whole”.

Yet given the differences of each political beliefs and the degree of condition faced by each HRD, the ideal role of a network has become more of a challenge rather than a natural flow of relations.  At the onset, it is obstructed by external environment or external systems – the government, its security forces and other instrumentalities.   A case in point is the stigmatization of HRDs as “enemies of the state”.  Modern historical development of this terminology can be traced back when the Philippine government wantonly exerts all energies in winning the “war’ against insurgency.  From way back when freedom lovers were called “guerrillas” during the Spanish, Japanese and American occupation, to being tagged as “rebels, communists and insurgents” during the cold war campaigns and “terrorists and separatists” at the time of the post 9/11 era.  This idea has been galvanized into the psyche of ordinary Filipino people.  That, when an issue related to security of HRDs crops up, organizations have to battle up explaining first the legitimacy of human rights work before it can go into discussing the merits of the case itself.  It becomes mindset for most Filipinos when seeing people doing fact-finding missions, documenting cases, rallying and demonstrating in front of government offices and public places, to mark them as anti-government for reason that existing norm calls it to be so — a nuisance, opt to destabilize the government.

Within human rights organizations or within the network system itself, it is confronted with a much more dilemma.  A strong political and ideological divide impacts on and weakens the overall capacity of the human rights network.  It softens foundation for protection and decelerates resolution of cases of human rights violations.  “Turfing” is commonly the name of the game – those who do not toe the line of internal political directives, has no right to middle into the affairs of a case allegedly under the command of other’s.  Most often than not, the principle of non-cooperation is at work.  Worst, basic human rights principle of non-discrimination is breached.

Mistrust is plaguing internal relationship of the Philippine human rights movement – a reality unconsciously forcing the movement back to the era of sectarianism and highly sectoral perspectives.  It is losing the spirit of human rights for all.  And, by being so, losing the war against violators and thereby losing tract of the struggle for justice.

Thus, given the concrete condition of country’s human rights movement today, one practical role of a network is to help reorient human rights work to include “all” particularly the protection and promotion of the rights of human rights defenders.  Here, organizational vision, mission and programs must be revisited and aligned at resolving conflict in understanding and practical orientation on human rights and human rights work.  Between each network of organizations and defenders is a primary challenge to build bridges rather than continually burning ones.  To do this, is to start with small venues of cooperation – an issue-based cooperation that would slowly eradicate suspicions and initially rebuilds foundations of trust.

June 26, 2011, Philippines

Human Rights Defenders-Pilipinas today joins the global community in commemorating the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.   Our solidarity on this important event comes in the context where human rights defenders in the Philippines and elsewhere are under attack.  Peoples organizations are vilified as terrorists and enemies of the state.  Their members, supporters and organizers are tagged as communists.  Movements are watched; projects and actions are suspected.  Human rights defenders are threatened, at risk and under surveillance.

We join the international appeal for the total abortion of the use of torture.  We put forward a dream where human rights defenders are sincerely considered partners in the creation and foundation of a worldwide culture of human rights, peace and development; where torture becomes a thing of the past; and, where human rights defenders are protected in the conduct of their duties.

On this significant day, Human Rights Defenders-Pilipinas takes the occasion to remind us all that torture has no place in a civilized society like ours.  This is our protocol.  This is our challenge.  This is an urgent call in a country where torture is unconsciously accepted as the “standard operating procedure” of the security sector.  Where, pain is induced without remorse to exact confession; to break victims, their families, friends and organizations; to cow human rights defenders from pursuing works for human rights, peace, justice and development.

A torture-free society is also a society of compassion.  It seeks to eliminate cruel, degrading and inhuman conditions.  It looks at the circumstance of prisoners and the state of their incarceration.  We call for a special attention in the case of Mariano Umbrero, a prisoner of conscience with cancer now in fourth stage.  Together with the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) and the rest of the human rights community, we appeal for his immediate pardon or granting of executive clemency on humanitarian grounds.  Due to his medical condition, his case needs urgent action; aside from the fact that no one shall be deprived of liberty based on political reasons.

Given our concrete condition today, we call for the reorientation of our institutions in the work for  human rights, to include “all” particularly the protection and promotion of the rights of human rights defenders.  In a functioning democracy, everybody has a responsibility to anybody; even ordinary citizen.  Thus, protection for HRDs is a responsibility of EVERYBODY lest we forget that we live as a community.

For more information, contact: companion
Renato Mabunga, Chairperson, 437-8054, hrd.pilipinas@gmail.com

Human Rights Defenders – Pilipinas
#45 St. Mary Street, Cubao, Quezon City
Tel. # (632) 437-8054  Fax: (632) 911-3643

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