As nations all over the world commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) today, the Moro people in the Philippines have yet to experience the spirit and real intent of the UDHR in their lives.
On the contrary, the Moro people bear the brunt of continuous, systematic and large-scale human rights violations by the Philippine government’s “total war”, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaign. The previous Arroyo government implemented the brutal Oplan Bantay Laya and a culture of impunity reigned not only in Moro communities but throughout the country.
The 9-year Arroyo regime openly avowed an “all-out peace” policy to resolve the decades-old Moro armed rebellion. However, it launched two major devastating military offensives against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2003 and 2008 that forcedly displaced hundreds of thousands of Moro civilians.
The Arroyo regime also declared a “state of lawlessness” in Basilan in 2001 in response to the acts of terrorism by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). But hundreds of innocent Moro civilians became the victims of warrantless arrests and torture in the indiscriminate military crackdown on suspected ASG leaders and members.
For ten years now, more than 43 innocent Moro victims of Arroyo’s declaration in Basilan still languish in jail. These Moro detainees were arbitrarily arrested and charged with trumped up cases of terrorism. For ten years now, they are forced to endure the almost inhumane prison condition, the sick and elderly lack medical care, and are imprisoned in an already condemned and unsafe prison facility. They have not received any special treatment from the government.
Their human rights have been violated and continuously violated many times over with their prolonged detention.
Yet former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo arrested on charges of electoral sabotage is given special treatment, her feigned illnesses given much concern and allowed to be detained at a luxurious presidential suite of the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, at the expense of people’s taxes, by the Aquino government.
The Aquino government has the moral obligation to rectify the wrongs of the past administration. It should expeditiously prosecute and punish Arroyo for her abuse of power and gross human rights violations against the Filipino people. It should end the practice of arbitrary arrests, torture and illegal detention of innocent Moro civilians. It should immediately and unconditionally release all Moro political prisoners particularly those detained during the 2001 Basilan crackdown.
As long as justice continues to be denied to the Moro political prisoners, they remain victims of human rights violation under the Aquino administration. And for as long as the basic aspiration of the Moro people of their inalienable right to land and self-determination is not genuinely addressed by the Aquino administration, the spirit and intent of the UDHR will never be realized by the Moro people.###