Human Rights Day 2013 — Focus on the Philippines
The 10th of December 2013 marks the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration has encouraged governments, and others, to promote and protect the human rights of people; historic advances have been made in many countries.
At this time, we are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest figures in recent history, who gave his life to affirming human dignity and to confronting and fighting against all that belittles and undermines it. We honour and salute Nelson Mandela and we will continue to be inspired by his life, his courage and his commitment to justice.
The office for the UN Commissioner for Human Rights lists twenty great advances that have been made over the years. “Human rights have become central to the global conversation regarding peace, security and development”. Special mention is given to the rights of women, children, LGBT people and victims of torture and it is emphasised that there is a “global consensus that serious violations of human rights must not go unpunished. … There is heightened awareness and growing demand … for greater transparency and accountability from government”. Much has been achieved throughout the world but there is still a very long way to go.
The Philippines was one of the first countries to sign the UDHR but, sadly, has an appalling record in relation to observing both the letter and the spirit of this momentous Declaration.
In a damning report in April 2008, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, highlighted evidence that the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and other government agencies, had been implicated directly or indirectly in assassinations including of trade union activists, ministers of religion, people from indigenous communities, lawyers, journalists, human rights campaigners and farmers’ rights activists. Alston investigated 96 cases himself. He reported that witnesses had been intimidated, harassed and even murdered.
The picture painted by Alston was familiar to many who were concerned about human rights violations in the Philippines. One might have hoped that this world-wide publicity might have embarrassed the Arroyo Administration and its international allies to take some positive action to rectify this appalling state of affairs. Sadly, this was not to be so – but this failure only reconfirms the need for people throughout the world to speak out loudly about the continuing human rights abuses in the Philippines and the corruption at all levels of governance. This is the very least we can do for our Filipino brothers and sisters who regularly face the hostility of the state as they stand up for their basic human rights.
The picture in 2013 is as bleak as it has been for many a year. Of profound concern is the continuing culture of impunity that is perpetuated by the lethargy, lack of interest and connivance of successive Presidencies.
November 2013 saw the 9th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre of workers, the 4th anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre of journalists and others – in neither case have those responsible been convicted of these heinous murders. On top of this there are hundreds of other cases of murder, abduction and torture that remain unpunished. The Aquino Administration may deny there is a culture of impunity but the facts are clear for all to see. Notorious abusers of human rights, such as Jovito Palparan, the Butcher of Mindoro, remain at liberty despite an arrest warrant, and other military officers with tarnished reputations are promoted rather than reprimanded.
The promotion of Gen. John Bonafos as commander of the Central Command of the AFP to operate in the Visayas coupled with the recent appointment of former police general Panfilo Lacson as rehabilitation czar in Samar-Leyte are seen by many to be Aquino’s move to give priority to his counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan (a simple re-naming of the insidious and malicious Oplan Bantay Laya of his predecessor Macapagal-Arroyo), with its associated human rights abuses, rather than to rebuilding the lives and homes of the victims of Yolanda.
This year Human Rights Activists throughout the world have emphasised, among other issues, the rights of women, yet in the Philippines child protection systems are almost non-existent and women and children continue to suffer abuse as a result. Since President Benigno Aquino III came to power, 18 women have been victims of extra-judicial killings (KARAPATAN), there have been attacks against women human rights defenders and 23 women have been arrested and detained.
In the past few days there has been several news reports on the clearance and destruction of homes in Lugait, Misamis Oriental, with the connivance of police officers without ID markings. They were serving the Achondoa Agro-industrial Corporation’s lust for profit and lack of concern about the lives of ordinary families, and in this demolition one young man was killed and many others made homeless.
Sadly, such events are not isolated and indicate yet again, how those in power, the wealthy, have such little regard for the basic human rights of the masses, hiding behind the “letter of the law” to carry out their anti-people activities. The abuse of children’s rights continues to be documented through the work of people and organisations such as the Children’s Rehabilitation Center with regional partner Association for the Rights of Children in South East Asia (ARCSEA), Father Shay Cullen and the Preda Foundation, among others.
A recent KARAPATAN report noted that under the administration of Benigno Aquino III extra-judicial killings had reached 152 by August of this year, there had been 18 cases of enforced disappearances, 80 torture complaints by political activists filed between July 2010 and August 2013, 608 political activists had been illegally arrested and 214 were victims of illegal search and seizure. The national chairperson of KARAPATAN said that in spite of all his words to the contrary “his administration is no different from that of previous Presidents as far as human rights abuses are concerned”.
This International Human Rights Day is yet another important opportunity to highlight the state of affairs in the Philippines with regard to continuing human rights violations, the failure to bring those responsible to justice, and the collusion and indifference of the Administration of President Benigno Aquino III and those governments which continue to turn a blind eye to this rampant abuse.
Canon Barry Naylor
Chairperson, Global Council
International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP)
Office: +44 (0) 116 261 5371
Mobile: +44 (0) 775 785 3621
General Secretary, Global Council
International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP)
Mobile: +61 418312301