Human rights and peace advocates scale up efforts to meet “human rights crisis” under GMA government
1 September 2006 6:00 pm
FORUM-ASIA joined some 200 human rights campaigners and activists on 31 August 2006 to address a "human rights crisis", marked by the spate of unresolved extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo government, and launch more efforts "to assert human rights for justice, development and peace". Read Mae Buenaventura's story on the rally where NGOs and people's organisations forged a new level of unity and strength against increasing threats to the continued exercise and enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms.
FORUM-ASIA joined some 200 human rights campaigners and activists on 31 August 2006 to address a "human rights crisis", marked by the spate of unresolved extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo government, and launch more efforts “to assert human rights for justice, development and peace”.
The participating NGOs and people's organisations rallied aptly to the theme "Asserting our Common Humanity, Human Dignity and Human Rights," and forged a new level of unity and strength against increasing threats to the continued exercise and enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms.
This development responds to the alarming rise in summary executions in the hands of both state and non-state actors, which now average three persons a day.
“Let us call for the halt of these extra-judicial killings,” read the concept paper for the gathering.
“Let us demand for thorough and impartial investigations to obtain justice for victims of gross human rights violations.
“Let us hold the Arroyo administration accountable for violating its state’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.”
Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona who graced the event stressed the need to strengthen lawyers' groups, especially in the face of the weaknesses of the Arroyo government's much-vaunted Melo Commission (whose supposed task is to investigate the rash of political killings of activists and critical media people).
Guingona pointed out the weaknesses of the recently formed body, one of which is its lack of authority to issue subpoenas and the absence of any protection clause for potential witnesses.
Strong legal teams would also be needed to prepare testimonies that would truly challenge claims to the free exercise of civil and political liberties in the Philippines, he said.
He added this would show how an unspoken policy of state-sponsored terrorism is fueling the rise in the number of victims of human rights violations.
Among the organisations that testified to politically repressive measures was the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
Ten journalists have already been murdered in 2006, proving the Philippines once more as second only to Iraq in terms of dangers posed to journalist.
NUJP stressed that the media was only doing its job by interviewing people from all sectors, including organisations labelled as left-leaning by the government.
It demanded an end to the practice of branding as “Left sympathizers” journalists who also cover views and events of progressive organisations.
Bel Formanes of the Agrarian Reform Human Rights presented the results of a nationwide study, which fully documents human rights violations among rural communities from 1998 to June 2006.
Almost all of the incidents, or 377 of 387 cases documented occurred from 2001 onwards.
More than half took place among landless peasants in Bondoc Peninsula, Quezon province, where yearly incomes rise no higher than PhP12,000 per year (approximately USD235).
Max de Mesa, chair of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) highlighted certain areas of capacity building.
One of these is in terms of paralegal training, human rights education, and continuous monitoring and documentation.
“These can contribute significantly to breaking through the culture of impunity”, de Mesa stressed.
Organising and networking, which underpin the formation of CCHR to bring in as many groups as possible committed to the promotion and defense of universal human rights, is another important challenge.
De Mesa said that there are many fundamental instruments which many organisations recognise and can be the basis of unity for coming together, regardless of political ideologies, as a broad formation of human rights and peace advocates.
These include the Bill of Rights of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, and the United Nations covenants ratified by the Philippine government such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
He further advocated the formation in various places all over the country of local Human Rights Action Centers that can serve as people's first line of defense against political repression.
This has in fact already been formalised by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines as one of its flagship programmes, in partnership with the Department of Interior and Local Governments.
Mae Buenaventura is currently conducting the country research on the ethnic minorities in the Philippines for FORUM-ASIA’s Ethnic Minorities-Southeast Asia Project. She attended the assembly of the Citizens' Council for Human Rights in Quezon City, Philippines last 31 August and distributed FORUM-ASIA’s solidarity statement condemning the rash of political killings in the Philippines.