Public presentation of the 2009 KARAPATAN report

on the human rights situation in the Philippines

 

Quezon City

 

Posted: December 15, 2009

 

■  2009 Karapatan report          ■  2009 Karapatan Southern Mindanao report    

 

■  Haldane Society (London) lecture of Atty. Edre Olalia on human rights defenders

 

■  Bonus Tracks: The 3rd KARAPATAN National Congress

 

■  Video clips      

 

Marie Hilao-Enriquez

KARAPATAN Chair

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PRESS RELEASE – 08 October 2009

Reference:            Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Chairperson (0917-5616800)

                                DJ Acierto, Public Information Officer (0918-9790580)

 

 

Rights group reports on the state of human rights in the Philippines

OBL bloodiest, most brutal campaign vs. Filipino people -- Karapatan

 

 

At a media briefing today, the national human rights alliance, KARAPATAN, presented its annual report on the human rights situation as well as the almost-decade’s old Arroyo administration’s human rights record.

 

The 2009 Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Philippines was presented in observance of the December 10 International Human Rights Day, and in the midst of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's implementation of Martial Law in Maguindanao province, which the rights groups strongly opposes.

 

The Report features the cases of violation of human rights documented by Karapatan, from January to October of 2009. It also features a comprehensive analysis of the regime's counter-insurgency plan, Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), which victimized legal, progressive and unarmed individuals for the span of 5 years.

 

In its 52-page report, Karapatan said that the OBL is "by far the bloodiest and most brutal counter-insurgency campaign unleashed on the Filipino people by any president" for it "lumps together" the armed revolutionary movement, legal and democratic organizations, media and political opposition” as targets to quell the growing dissent against Arroyo's political and economic policies.

 

Karapatan also emphasized that the OBL "fosters a reign of terror and climate of impunity that encourage even her warlord minions to massacre scores of men and women in a gruesome carnage in Ampatuan, Maguindanao."

 

With the run-up to OBL's 2010 deadline, Karapatan reported an increase in the number of victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK). From January to October 2009, 77 victims of extrajudicial killings were documented, more than half of the recorded number of victims of the same period in 2008. In 8 years and 10 months under the Arroyo regime, there were 1,118 documented victims of extrajudicial killings

 

For the same period, Karapatan also recorded a total of 204 victims of enforced disappearance and 1,026 victims of torture. There are also thousands of victims of forcible evacuation and displacement due to the military operations in the rural areas.

 

Karapatan also stated that "with the addition of 57 victims of the Ampatuan Massacre, the 2009 latest EJK total has surpassed those in all years of the GMA's rule except in 2005 and 2006."

 

KARAPATAN holds the US-Arroyo regime accountable for the Ampatuan massacre on 23 November that killed 57 individuals, 31 of whom are journalists and 2 women lawyers.  Calling it “an incident waiting to happen with the continued implementation of the OBL”, the rights group pointed out that under the counter-insurgency program, recruitment of  para-military groups such as the CAFGU, CAA and CVO’s were resorted to by this regime. These paramilitary groups, under the direct control of the military, are also used to protect Arroyo's political allies like the Ampatuan clan." Karapatan chairperson, Marie Hilao-Enriquez said.

 

The report also features an indictment which charged the US-Arroyo regime with crimes committed through the OBL that includes EJK, enforced disappearance, illegal arrests, arbitrary detention and torture; vilification campaign and filing trumped-up charges against leaders and activists; indiscriminate firing, forced evacuation, militarization and other human rights violations; denial of justice through the circumvention of the judicial system; persecution of human rights defenders; and repressive policies and legislation.

 

Karapatan concluded that the OBL is a national policy that unleashes state terrorism on the Filipino people and that President Arroyo as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines "knowingly and willfully leads the implementation of the OBL and has repeatedly exhorted the military and related government agencies to meet the brutish targets set for 2010 despite the loss of lives, liberty and security of the victims."

 

"Still," Karapatan stated, "OBL is doomed to fail. There will always be protest and resistance especially from the most economically deprived and politically marginalized sectors. The defiant people will always be encouraged and bolstered by the strong public outcry here and abroad against the militarists and human rights violators."

 

Leaders of progressive people's organizations, together with the relatives of victims of human rights violations, tore up pages of the crimes of the Arroyo government from a mock-up of the book OBL to demonstrate that through the people's concerted efforts and actions, the regime's attacks against the people will never prevail. 

 

In conclusion, KARAPATAN issues its call to the people, “We salute the Filipino people who persistently work against the US-Arroyo regime’s inimical policies and join hands with them in fighting state terrorism. Now more than ever, in the face of heightened threats to our liberties and fundamental freedoms with the martial law declaration in Maguindanao, there is an urgent need to defend our human rights and oust this murderous regime! ###

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KARAPATAN is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties. It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign. It was established in 1995.

 

Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo

Atty. Leila M. de Lima

Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights

Carlos Conde

New York Times Correspondent

Jigs Clamor, Karapatan Deputy Secretary General

           

Selected sections from the 2009 Karapatan Report

Double click on an image to view actual size

     
   
     

 

 

Reference:               Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Chairperson 0927-311-9079

DJ Acierto, Public Information Officer 0918-979-0580

 

Statement on the Declaration of Martial Law in Maguindanao

 

The human rights alliance, KARAPATAN, condemns the Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo regime for declaring a state of Martial Law in the province of Maguindanao in the aftermath of the Ampatuan massacre.  Not only is Presidential Proclamation 1959 highly unconstitutional; it is NOT the solution to bring the perpetrators of the killings of 57 individuals, which included lawyers and journalists, to justice. 

 

The declaration is very reprehensible in that the massacre is being used to justify a more draconian measure which will greatly affect more people and again allow an opportunity for the masterminds of the gruesome crime to eventually escape punishment.

 

As history has shown us, martial law is open for abuse. The declaration of Martial Law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Maguindanao can and will lead to more human rights violations and atrocities in the province.  Even without placing the province under military control, the paramilitary groups such as the CAFGU, CVO and CAA controlled by Arroyo’s warlord ally, the Ampatuans, prevailed in the province which sowed fear in the hearts of and disrupted the lives of the civilian population.  Placing the province under direct military control would not differ much and in fact, might aggravate the already volatile situation.  As it is, after the massacre, and before the declaration of martial law in the province, the government has already deployed a large number of troops in the area.

 

Arroyo's actions show her desperation to bury her crimes against the people, and to escape from her accountabilities for gross human rights violations in the country.

 

As martial law can only be declared in an invasion or rebellion, the martial law declaration in Maguindanao only brings a way out for the masterminds to go scot-free from their crimes as rebellion cannot be established in what the Ampatuans did to the massacred victims.  The carnage was pure and simple murderous, savage impunity and one cannot in anyway discern an iota of nobleness in it as in the political offense of rebellion.

 

The martial law declaration also shows GMA's frantic moves to cling to power. With the 2010 elections just a few months away, and with Arroyo still in Malacañang, we can expect more violence and human rights violations in the country as elected criminals attempt to secure their place in the government.

 

We reiterate our call for justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre and all victims of human rights violations of the Arroyo regime.

 

We call on the public to join in the call for the withdrawal of the declaration of martial law, and to continue to be vigilant against further atrocities that this regime and its cohorts will commit against the Filipino people.

 

Never again to Martial Law!

Oust Gloria Arroyo NOW!

 

     
     

Click here to download full report in PDF format

 

           
     
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IBON Features / December 2009

HUMAN RIGHTS WEEK
Violations of economic, social rights severe under Arroyo administration

The basic economic and social rights of millions of Filipinos are increasingly undermined and unmet daily, with greater numbers of Filipinos falling into poverty and deepening deprivation

IBON Features-- The Arroyo government’s human rights record is considered one of the worst in history, not just in violations of civil and political rights but also in the economic, social and cultural realm.

Thirty-five years after the Philippines ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR), the rights of millions of Filipinos are increasingly undermined and unmet daily such as the right to food, decent work, health, education, adequate standard of living, protection and assistance of families, among others.

Right to food: Local food production has fallen drastically and the country is now more dependent on foreign sources of food. Rice imports increased 280% from 639,000 tons in 2001 to a record 2.4 million tons in 2008. There is widespread hunger with over 60% of Filipinos having difficulty buying food and around 9.3 million households failing to meet the 100% dietary energy requirement. Three million children aged 0-5 years are underweight, while three million more children aged 6-10 years old are malnourished.

Right to health: The Arroyo administration has the lowest record of health spending compared to the past three administrations. Since 2001, it allocated an average of only 1.8% for health, compared to 3.1% under the Aquino administration, 2.6% under Ramos, and 2.4% under Estrada. In the 2010 national budget, the allocation for health fell by 7.4% from 2009, or an average of only P1 per Filipino per day. Thousands of Filipinos are afflicted annually of pneumonia and tuberculosis while heart and vascular system diseases are on the rise. Some 180 Filipino children die everyday of what should be easily preventable or manageable diseases.

Right to education: For school year 2008-09, there were 4.7 million out-of-school youth in the country, consisting of 2 million elementary-age children and 2.7 million high school-age youth. Out of every 100 children who enter Grade 1, only 66 will finish elementary school, 43 highschool and 14 college. This year, the government spent only P6 per Filipino per day on education while paying the equivalent of P21 on debt service.

Right to decent work: The period of 2001-2008 is the longest period of sustained high unemployment in the country’s history, with an average unemployment rate of 11.3 percent. A record 1.24 million Filipinos were deployed abroad in 2008 or almost 3,400 leaving per day. The quality of many jobs available is poor, with millions of Filipinos in insecure, unprotected, and poorly or non-earning work. In 2008 among those considered employed were 4.2 million unpaid family workers, 12.1 million own-account workers, 4.5 million non-regular wage and salary workers or those with casual, contractual, probationary, apprentice or seasonal status, and 11.9 million in part-time work. The NCR minimum wage of P382 in 2008 is less than half of what a family of five needs for a minimum level of decent living, which is estimated at P917.

Right of families to protection and assistance: Worsening poverty in the country has not only forced male and female heads to work abroad. Some three million children aged 5-17 are also working to augment family income, with over three-fourths employed as laborers in psychologically and physically hazardous conditions. There are also around 1.5 million street children across the country. Moreover, around 5.1 million families live in weak houses, 3.5 million families do not have electricity, 3.4 million families do not have access to safe drinking water, while 2.4 million families do not have sanitary toilets. With barely half of the employed in wage and salary work, this implies that millions of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable workers and their families do not have public social insurance or safety nets.

Right to adequate standard of living: Latest government data show that some 80% of Filipino families survived on daily incomes of P560 or less, with the poorest 10% of families having incomes of just some P88. Assuming an average family size of five, some 70 million Filipinos each are surviving on P112 per day. It is estimated that even using a low official poverty threshold of P41 per person per day, the number of poor Filipinos is at 27.6 million with at least 13 million urban poor residents in the country.

Violations of these rights have intensified because of government’s aggressive implementation of neoliberal globalization, which further liberalized the economy’s vital sectors and privatized public utilities and social services. These have destroyed the livelihood of many Filipinos and resulted in the unparalleled decline in the people’s condition.

International human rights law declares the principle of protecting the full range of human rights required for people to have a full, free, safe, secure and healthy life. It maintains that the right to live a dignified life can never be attained unless all basic necessities of life such as work, food, housing, health care, education and culture are adequately and equitably available to everyone. The 1987 Constitution also recognizes that the national economy exists to serve the needs of the people and that the State has the duty to intervene when needed.

It is the government’s duty to promote and protect these rights, and it should be made accountable for the increasing violations and greater numbers of Filipinos falling into poverty and deepening deprivation. The worsening state of human rights, whether civil and political or economic, social and cultural, only proves government’s lack of seriousness in ensuring the welfare of its people. IBON Features

IBON Features is a media service of IBON Foundation, an independent development institution established in 1978 that provides research, education, publications, information work and advocacy support on socioeconomic issues.

     
     
           

Selected frames from the 2009 Report of KARAPATAN Southern Mindanao Region

Double click on an image to view actual size

           
     
     
   
     

 

US-Arroyo regime surpasses Marcos dictatorship as worst violator of human rights

Jorge "Ka Oris" Madlos
Spokesperson
National Democratic Front of the Philippines- Mindanao
December 10, 2009

On the occasion of the anniversary of International Human Rights Day, the revolutionary forces in Mindanao reiterate their continuing respect for human rights in the face of the US-Arroyo regime's utter disregard for human rights. The new democratic revolution being waged by the CPP-NPA-NDF is at the same time a national struggle in defense of the human rights of the vast majority of the Filipino people.

The National Democratic Front-Mindanao strongly condemns the US-Arroyo regime for its gross violation of human rights. In its nine years in power, it has surpassed even the US-Marcos regime's brutality in its more than two decades in power.

The US-Arroyo regime's record of human rights violations, especially in the implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya and its record of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, harassment, mass evacuations and terrorism have become unprecedented and have turned out to be far worse than that of the Marcos dictatorship and all previous puppet reactionary regimes.

Its repeated attempts in the past to impose martial rule in the country and its exploitation of the widespread indignation at the Ampatuan Massacre to declare martial law in Maguindanao as a trial balloon for wider application reveal the US-Arroyo regime's propensity for tyrannical rule and its obsession with outdoing Marcos.

The massive use of the military, police, CAFGU, SCAA and CVO as private armies of Arroyo's warlord allies was purposely promoted under her administration. Mrs. Arroyo's political allies use the military and police to silence local opposition and lend their hand in the fight against the revolutionary forces the same way the regime uses these forces to commit extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations to silence its critics and remain in power. These forces have become mercenaries of Arroyo, her political allies and big foreign and comprador capitalists to coerce people into submission in the face of massive and shameless graft and corruption, abuse of power and greed for profit.

The US-Arroyo regime's OBL 1 and 2 and continuing massive military operations in the cities and countryside have spawned gross human rights violations throughout the country. Since the onset of the US-Arroyo regime in 2001, there have been 1,118 victims of extrajudicial killings and 204 victims of enforced disappearances. Such is her rule of impunity that even media people are not spared. There have already been 97 killings of media people under her regime including the 30 killed in the Ampatuan Massacre on November 23. The total so far of 57 victims of the massacre add to the already large number of those killed by government military, paramilitary, police and security forces and by warlord private armies. That such a vicious crime was clearly committed to ensure "victory" in the coming 2010 elections more grotesquely dramatizes the violence and cheating that Arroyo and her military and warlord minions have been doing in the past elections.

The US-Arroyo regime has poured the largest number of her military forces in Mindanao, with more than 11 infantry battalions and several tens of thousands of foot soldiers operating in the island. Not satisfied, it recruits, trains and arms several tens of thousands more of paramilitary forces such as CAFGUs, SCAAs and CVOs, adding to already large numbers of private security forces of warlords and big commercial logging and mining companies. These paramilitary forces are at the beck and call of political allies and big mining and logging companies, and are practically converted into their private armies to protect their interests, even as they are paid for by the ordinary taxpayers. Arroyo's Armed Forces of the Philippines creates, supports and arms Lumad paramilitary groups like the Bungkatol Liberation Front (BULIF), Wild Dogs and Task Force Gantangan-Bagani Force (TFG-BF) and tugs them along in military operations especially in Lumad communities to sow terror and induce conflict among the Lumad people.

These operations have resulted in more than 60 reported cases of extrajudicial killings in Mindanao in 2009 alone, victimizing mostly peasant and Lumad leaders of protests against big commercial mining and logging operations and against land conversions of large lardlord holdings to avoid coverage by agrarian reform.

In the Caraga Region there have been 11 recent cases of extrajudicial killings, including one where a two-month old infant was also killed, two cases of frustrated killings, a case of abduction with torture, and two more cases of torture. In Northern Mindanao, from 2004 to date, there have been 37 cases of extrajudicial killings, the most recent done by the paramilitary Bungkatol Liberation Front (BULIF) and 23rd IB against three Lumad datus in September 28, 2009 in Agusan del Sur. In Southern Mindanao Region, from January to November 26, 2009, there had been 10 cases of extrajudicial killings, bringing up the total to 115 victims since 2001. Who cannot forget the rape and murder of Ka Parago's daughter Rebelyn Pitao last March in Carmen, Davao Norte, and the killing of the child Grecil Galacio on March 31, 2009 in New Bataan, Compostela Valley? In the SOCKSARGENDS area, there have been 25 victims of extrajudicial killings and 25 victims of enforced disappearance since 2002. In Muslim areas, there have been 16 cases of extrajudicial killings, 43 cases of frustrated killings and two cases of enforced disappearances in this year alone, not counting the 57 Maguindanao massacre victims.

Thousands have been forced to evacuate from their communities because of aerial bombings and military operations in an effort to cleanse the area of protests against the entry of big commercial mining and logging operations, as part of the government's counter-insurgency program. In the Caraga region, more than 900 families were dislocated from their communities in 2009 alone. As schools and residences of families continue to be used as military barracks, the children are prevented from attending schools and their human rights violated. In the Southern Mindanao Region, there have been 22 recent cases of forced evacuations, displacing 930 families (5,129 individuals) . In the Northern Mindanao Region, forced evacuations have affected 5,193 families (29,657 individuals) in 2008, mostly in Lanao. In February to May 2009, there have been four instances of aerial bombardment resulting in the forced evacuation of 4,553 individuals. In the SOCSARGENDS area, there have been 307 cases of human rights violations involving 34,624 individuals and 3,704 families since 2006. There have been many more cases of human rights violations in Muslim areas, including the forced evacuation of hundreds of thousands.

The active role of the US armed forces in committing these human rights violations cannot be discounted. Various reports have cited the presence and direct participation of US troops in combat operations across the island, especially in Zamboanga City; Tawi-tawi; Jolo, Sulu; Lamitan, Basilan; and Maguindanao. Human rights violations committed against the Filipino people by the mercenary AFP, PNP and paramilitary forces mirror that of the human rights violations committed by US soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and other parts of the world where they operate.

But the increasingly fascist methods of the US-Arroyo regime have not cowed the people into silence. Instead of becoming afraid, people are even bolder in raising their outrage against the record gross human rights violations of the ruling regime, decrying the culture of impunity it has been sowing and resisting its intensifying fascist rule. More and more are taking to the streets to decry the rotten, plunderous and brutal US-Arroyo regime and call for the ouster of an utterly corrupt, liar and tyrannical president. More and more people are joining the ranks of the revolutionary forces and the New People's Army, taking up arms and waging people's war against an unjust and cruel state and system currently presided over by the US-Arroyo regime.

Uphold human rights!

Make the US-Arroyo Regime pay for its crimes against humanity!

Oust Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo!

     
     

Click here to download the 2009  report

of KARAPATAN Southern Mindanao Region

 

Power Point Presentation

Haldane Society Lecture:

"DEFENDING HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN COLOMBIA AND THE PHILIPPINES".

10 December 2009, College of Law, 14 Store Street, London

by Edre Olalia, Deputy Secretary General for International Solidarity Work
 National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers ( NUPL ) –PHILIPPINES:

 

Click here to download power point

 

           

Video Clips

           
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

BONUS TRACKS

The 3rd KARAPATAN National Congress

           

 

KARAPATAN Public Information <publicinfo@karapatan.org>
Aug 27, 2009 at 8:54 AM

Dear Friends,
 

Warm greetings of solidarity!

Karapatan recently concluded its Third National Congress where human rights advocates from all parts of the nation and reaffirmed its commitment expose and oppose state repression, advance human rights advocacy and pursue justice for the victims of human rights violations. Themed “Magpunyagi sa aktibismo, labanan ang pasismo ng estado,” the Karapatan regional chapters and member organizations held its congress last August 15 to 18, 2009 at Ciudad Christia Resort, San Mateo, Rizal and was attended by more than 150 human rights workers.

The assembly was composed of different Karapatan regional formations, human rights organizations and sectoral human rights desks, adopted resolutions such as: to launch campaigns to expose and oppose the Arroyo regime’s Oplan Bantay Laya, and to end the militarization in the Moro and other indigenous people’s communities.

The assembly also elected a new set of officers and national council members with Marie Hilao-Enriquez and Lovella de Castro as Chairperson and Secretary-general, respectively. Other elected officers include Vice-chairperson Tita Lubi, Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor and Treasurer Girlie Padilla.

With the new set of officers and renewed strength brought about by this consolidating activity, Karapatan vows to continue to be in the forefront of the struggle for human rights in the country.

We hope that you will continue to work with us in our endeavors to further uphold human rights and our pursuit of justice for all victims of human rights violations.

-----
KARAPATAN is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties. It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign. It was established in 1995.

     
           
     
    Edith Burgos (mother of abducted Jonas), Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod, and peasant leader Randall Echanis
     

 

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
On the Occasion of the 3rd National Congress of Karapatan – The Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights
Ciudad Christia Resort, San Mateo, Rizal
15 August 2009
by
LEILA M. DE LIMA
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines

KEYNOTE SPEECH

Good morning to all of you.

First of all, let me thank Karapatan Secretary General Marie Hilao-Enriquez, for the invitation to address the membership of Karapatan today. Through the tireless efforts of the organization in furthering human rights of all people in our country, the Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights truly is a significant institution in Philippine society and an invaluable partner in the cause of human rights. You are human rights defenders in the truest sense, so much so that dozens of your colleagues have dedicated their lives, even at the cost of it, in pursuit of this aspiration. They sought to protect the rights of members of their communities and this country, and for doing so they paid the ultimate price and made the ultimate sacrifice.

I am here today, representing the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), in order to honor their lives and their work, and the work that you continue to carry out in order to further the cause that they believed in, that they struggled for, and that they died for.

The work of Karapatan is especially important in light of the dismal human rights situation prevailing in the country today. It has been stated by some that the Philippines does not in fact have a human rights problem. It has been claimed that we have laws and rules, programs and policies, assurances and statements, all resulting in an environment where human rights are adequately respected and protected.

To that we respond in the same way that other individuals and institutions have responded, both at the local and international level, across a diverse range of sectors and backgrounds. The promotion and protection of human rights may look spectacular on paper, but that is nowhere near enough.

We call on the government to respect human rights, not just on paper but in reality. We call on the government not just to give the appearance of human rights protection, but to provide it in truth and in fact. We call on the government to not merely talk about human rights, but to actually do what they say and thereby carry out their international legal obligations under a number of multilateral treaties.

It has been claimed that there is no human rights problem in our society, and perhaps people think that if they repeat this statement often enough, over and over in the press and public gatherings, then the people will be convinced of its truth.

They are wrong however. We can see through the subterfuge, and the Filipino people are more intelligent and more aware of what is going on, than they think. The people know that torture is being carried out. The people know that individuals are being abducted and spirited away to places unknown with frightening regularity. The people know that sometimes shootouts are actually rubouts, and sometimes gang-related deaths are actually summary executions. The people know those individuals who speak their mind, who decry abuses, who stand up for the oppressed and who defend the human rights of others, are subjected to silencing, through threats and harassment, through frivolous lawsuits and baseless legal action, and through abduction, torture and extrajudicial killing.

Only recently we witnessed how the people can be moved to act, out of sadness and out of gratitude, out of a sense of loss and of appreciation. People were moved by the death of President Cory Aquino for different reasons. I believe that one of those reasons was her role in the movement which toppled an autocracy, under which the violation of human rights was commonplace and abuses by the government security forces prevailed. Those were dark days under the Marcos regime, and those of us who lived through that period and were exposed to its arrogance and its vulgarity, its stranglehold on power and its repression of fundamental freedoms, will not easily forget it.

Once that regime was toppled and work was carried out to breathe life back into the institutions of a democratic society, it was vowed that such grasping corruption, such lack of respect for the inherent dignity of individuals and such arrogation of power, would never again be allowed to dominate Philippine society. In this new millennium, it has become clear that much of what was sought to be prevented in the aftermath of the EDSA Revolution, has returned.

We have seen the rise of death squads in our cities, from Luzon to Visayas and Mindanao. Morally bankrupt LGUs are looking to summary execution as a way to maintain what they call peace and order. Individuals with no training are being provided with weapons, are being taught to kill, and are being set loose on our people. Local officials are either complicit in this or are condoning it. And the phenomenon is spreading from city to neighboring city, as the myopic leadership in other places looks for a quick fix and easy solutions, willing to trample the human rights of people for the sake of political expediency and in order to score points for the next election.

Proper law enforcement is hard. Proper policing is complicated and difficult. But we did not elect our leaders in order for them to do what is easy, but to do what is right. We elected them in order to bring honor and integrity to our government, not corrupt and denigrate and abase our democratic institutions. This smacks of sloth and laziness, an unwillingness to face complex problems with equally complex solutions, and more importantly a frightening disregard for the value of human life.

This phenomenon makes all of us unsafe, and we must continue to bring this message and information to the population at large. When we reach the point where petty criminals are regularly subjected to summary execution, people had better pray that they or their loved ones are never suspected or falsely accused of a crime. When we reach the point where it is considered more convenient to merely liquidate drug pushers and drug users, people had better hope that none of the friends of their children are into drugs. When we reach the point where street children and homeless persons are regularly murdered for the mere fact that they are impoverished and considered an eyesore, then the value of life will have become a mere joke in our society, and any person can be salvaged for any reason.

And this is only one of the many types of violations that unravel before are eyes. There is also the phenomenon of human rights advocates being disappeared, sometimes for good, sometimes only to be later found as a corpse, other times able to later resurface but with harrowing stories of mental and physical torture, threats and isolation, and the sense that death is only one capricious decision away.

Individuals and institutions, both at the national and international level, have spoken of the dangers of the current counterinsurgency program, where civilians are identified as targets, and where civil society organizations with diverse constituencies and a wide range of advocacies are labeled as fronts for armed groups. The use of Orders of Battle to target these individuals and groups has been condemned. This attempt to lump together civilians with combatants is a violation of a fundamental principle of international humanitarian law, as found in the Geneva Conventions.

The military cannot target civilians. It cannot carry out military operations aimed at non-combatants. This is a standard which has been in place for hundreds of years. It is as old as modern warfare and has been codified in treaties and in the domestic laws of countries from all around the world. For the Philippine military to do this is an outrage. It is shameful. It cannot be allowed and it must be condemned, as it has been.

We have seen how political leaders, members of opposition groups, media practitioners, lawyers and other individuals and institutions, from all walks of life, have all been swept up in this net. It is clear that there is an attempt to instill fear in those who would criticize the government, and those who would speak out for the oppressed and the abused, the marginalized and the ignored.

Only recently we had an American, one affiliated with one of the civil society organizations, caught in the crosshairs of government security forces. She and her companions were abducted, isolated, and subjected to mental and physical torture over several days. She was led to believe that she would not come out of that experience alive. She was subsequently released. Her American citizenship may very well have had something to do with this outcome. She has accused the government and its security apparatus of carrying out the abduction and torture. We have seen the response.

The government has claimed that the abduction was a fabrication or stage managed. The government also claims however that if at all an abduction did take place, it was not carried out by them, but by the New People's Army (NPA). So which is it? Was the abduction fabricated or was it real but carried out by a rebel group? These inconsistent answers can only lead to more questions.

Military officials have also come out stating that she is a rebel, a member of the NPA. They offer video and images as proof of their allegation.

Now, I respect their human right to freedom of opinion and expression. We are the Commission on Human Rights, an independent office, and our mandated independence means that we stand ready to listen to all sides, that of the government as well as civil society. And we stand ready to advocate for the human rights of all sides and of all people as well.

However, let me be crystal clear. Torture is absolutely prohibited and is absolutely unacceptable. The prohibition of torture is a jus cogens norm, or a norm of the highest character under international law, which all states and all governments must obey. Furthermore, international treaties to which the Philippines is a party, as well as the domestic laws of countries from all around the world, make torture illegal.

It is prohibited everywhere and every time and with respect to every person. This is so because torture is one of the most foul abasements of the human person and human dignity that there is. Subjecting a fellow human being to the mental and physical agony of torture has no place in any civilized society. It is immoral in itself, without regard to whom it is inflicted to, and it is wrong.

And yet military propagandists are implying that when a person is a member of a rebel group, or a member of the NPA, then torture is acceptable. They point to her alleged membership in an armed group as if to say that this means that she has no right to be free from torture. Such is the value of human life and the dignity of human beings in the eyes of some of our leaders. Human life is cheap. The integrity of the human mind and body are mere items to be discarded when they are inconvenient.

It is no wonder then that human rights violations are prevalent in our society today. When even government leaders appear to condone or defend acts of torture, then security officers and shadow groups may very well feel free to commit these atrocities with impunity.

This is why the work of human rights defenders like Karapatan is so important. In a society where the value of life has become cheapened, where the dignity of human beings is regularly ignored, and where frightening human rights abuses are becoming commonplace, you and your institution act as a bulwark against the spreading darkness.

Your institution is especially important because when the rights of an individual or a group of persons are violated, many of them turn to you, because you have their trust. In your suffering, they see their own. In your experiences of repression and harassment, they see their own experiences. What your institution and your members have gone through, mirrors what they themselves went through. You possess a credibility, a sincerity and accessibility which people seek out and to which they respond. More importantly, you bear such an incredible potential to disseminate the truth, even to the many who have never suffered injustices that you have suffered. Your role in Philippine society is therefore key.

The effort to protect and promote human rights in the Philippines is difficult and complex. There are many vested interests arrayed against such an effort, interests who benefit from the current level of violence and their ability to get away with wrongdoing. There are individuals in power who would like to see this effort fail, so that they may better perpetuate themselves in power. There are also institutional and systemic issues which must be overcome, and most importantly there are many hearts and minds which must be won.

We are only at the very beginning of a long road, whose end we cannot yet begin to see. And as we walk down this road, as we work to ensure respect for human rights in the Philippines, it is best if we do not walk this path alone. The Commission seeks to better coordinate and collaborate with other human rights groups as well as other like minded organizations in the country. We seek to be part of a broad alliance of individuals and institutions, with different backgrounds and different advocacies, but united in the desire to make human rights protections real in our society.

Let us, the Commission and Karapatan, further engage with one another, further coordinate our planning, and further collaborate on our human rights initiatives and programs, projects and missions. We hope that over time, a sense of trust will be developed, and the Commission seeks to do this by carrying out its mandate in an independent manner.

Now we do not expect that the Commission and non-government organizations such as Karapatan will always agree. In fact, that is not what we want. We bring different mandates, different approaches and different points of view to issues of human rights in our country. It is therefore understandable that we will at times differ, but that disagreement is good and helpful because we will learn from one another, from each other's experiences and expertise. We look forward to your comments and even criticisms of the Commission. What we ask is only that said criticisms be constructive and fair.

We at the Commission seek to build trust between our two institutions by carrying out our Constitutionally entrenched mandate with independence and impartiality. We have carried out investigations, visits to detention facilities, and public inquiries in order to shed light and compel further action on violations of human rights. Some of the specific issues we have been working on include an investigation into the phenomenon of death squads in Davao, the abduction and killing of Rebelyn Pitao, as well as allegations of abduction and torture in the case of Ms. Melissa Roxas. Except for the Rebelyn Pitao case where there has been no breakthrough so far, some progress has been made in relation to the two other cases, but as a result of this progress, individuals have begun to push back.

We have seen how black propaganda has been hurled against the Commission as an institution, and against me as an individual and as its Chairperson. In Davao, I have been accused of the unauthorized spiriting away of a detainee from his detention facility. A case has been filed against me for this, as well as another case for indirect contempt, which was filed by the person on whose property human bones were found, by the PNP special team.

In Manila, I have been accused by party list lawmakers of bias. They have pointed to my family ties as evidence of this. A military officer has branded me as “cunning and deceiving.” I have been threatened with impeachment.

This type of response is something that I know you are very familiar with. Your institution and your members have been subjected to this type of black propaganda and baseless legal action, and worse.

In the end, it appears that to take a position on the Left, the Right, at the Center, or even as an independent body which, in theory, rests at no perceptible end of the political spectrum, results in relentless accusations of self-interest.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, would have otherwise been the basis for any generic democracy – the freedom of any political stratum to express its own interests and opinion, to obtain redress, reform and harmony. Yet, what we have has become an abomination, a power play, where instead of balancing differing expressed interests, based on trust and in the good faith of other distinct segments of society, we have distrust. Heretofore, should we all continue down the same path in the same manner, nothing from government will seem constructive to civil society, and nothing from civil society will seem constructive to the government.

And what of everyone else found in the middle of the spectrum?

The real and continuing battle for human rights, as I have mentioned earlier, includes winning many hearts and many minds. Just as a government that speaks in disconcert, or engages in double-speak, wins no trust, civil society that appears unreasonable and wholly bent on disparaging absolutely every effort of the government, wins no trust as well, or at least the trust of a wider range in the political spectrum. The effort to bring as many segments of society together must center on a cause that is neither Left nor Right. Human rights have no political leaning, serve no particular master. We must persuade everyone from the Left, Right and all those in between, that the human rights situation in the Philippines becomes unacceptable just on one occasion of condoned torture or abduction or extralegal killing. And we all must do this, careful not to impose, though we may express, our own biases, save for our bias for human rights protection. After all, human rights have no bias.

The CHR, I must warn you, loses every ounce of its effectiveness, loses the strength of its mandate, when it is characterized as leaning either way. If not for the integrity of the Commission, allegations of bias would erode our very purpose.

It is our Constitutional mandate to oversee the far Right's compliance with human rights standards. On one hand, when we criticize the government, we do not side with the Left, but side with the Constitution and the constitionaly enshrined precepts of social justice and human rights. On the other hand, while it is not our mandate to oversee civil society's compliance on anything, should we disagree with the civil society, it does not mean we side with the Right.

It has become increasingly difficult to put up a polite face when more and more government officials allege bias. If I ever seem a firebrand, an instigator, I instigate only for the cause of the Constitution and human rights. If I do not appear stoic, it is because evasiveness, excuses and uncooperative behavior do not speak well for a government that openly declares its promotion of human rights. If I should be stoic, then it should be government officials who should be less than stoic, nay, shocked that violations of human rights are rife in spite of every declared effort to protect the same and they must exert every frenetic effort to get to the bottom of it.

Thankfully, these allegations that the CHR is leftist or biased are as old as the Commission itself and are nothing new, nothing the we had not dealt with before and are nothing but allegations. Moreover, these allegations represent a dying vestige of old guard thinking, a hallmark of a long gone dictatorship that was suspicious of human rights. Unfortunately, there remain many from the old days, who sit in government in the present day 2009, many who have reaped the changes sown after 1986, yet still think and talk in obsolete tongues, as if we are still in 1972, where hysterical attributions that Communists were responsible for everything wrong were rampant.

Our challenge, thus, is to usher in, to foster a society that thinks differently from suspicious old guards, a generation of children born to parents of the matial law years, and the children that came thereafter, who benefitted from the social transformation of our country. We need not only civil society, but an broad base of society that leaps to its feet to clamor for solutions to human rights violations. We need a broad base of society that is outraged by the disregard of human rights, regardless of the political affiliations of the victims. Finally, we need a broad base of society that is aware of the truth, and finds the truth revoting.

Our challenge today is to instill in them the values upon which we had built our society post-1986, and to bring in more from every segment of the political spectrum into the fold of these values. And among these values, one of the most precious, is our human rights.

We at the Commission will continue to pursue the protection and promotion of human rights, even as individuals and interests push back on our efforts, and attempt to derail the work that we do. As more and more resistance is put up, and as more and more offensive action is taken against the Commission and against my person, we will take these as a sign of the growing realization that the Commission is committed to carrying out its work, with independence and impartiality, with fairness and a sense of urgency.

It is our hope that you will see in the work that we do, and the harassment to which the Commission is subjected, that the human rights defenders of Karapatan are not alone, in your efforts and your struggle.

The forces lined up against us appear to be formidable, with their wealth and authority, their power and their weaponry, but it is my firm belief that these forces will fall in the face of a human rights movement, diverse in its make up, composed of people from different backgrounds and with different opinions, but united in the belief that the government must carry out its obligations under national and international human rights law.

Already the foundation on which these vested interests stand is beginning to show cracks. Informants and witnesses are surfacing. Human bones and remains are being found. Testimonies are being offered at national and international hearings. And the face saving statements and empty assurances being made regarding the Philippines can no longer conceal the fact that violations are taking place, and that instances of torture, abduction and extrajudicial killing are real.

Progress is being made and we at the Commission hope to build on this progress, allied with like minded individuals in government, the academe, the international community, and civil society, especially non-governmental organizations like yours.

In the end, we all seek a future where the inherent dignity of all persons is recognized, where the human rights of all individuals are respected, and where human rights defenders will no longer be confronted with threats and harassment, injury and death, as they carry out their mission of standing up for the oppressed and the marginalized. We all seek to pave the way to a society where all our children will live safer, where all our children will live free from fear and want, from abuse and oppression, and with the freedom to live their lives and to thrive.

The Commission deeply honors the work of Karapatan, thank you for this opportunity to address the membership, and looks forward to working further with you in our continuing quest to seek justice, call for accountability and protect our cherished human rights.

Maraming salamat po!

 

Download keynote speech in Word format
 

     
CHR Chairperson Leila M. de Lima
     
     
KMP leader Randall Echanis
     
Senator Jamby Madrigal
     
     
CHR Chair Leila M. de Lima and Edith Burgos, mother of abducted Jonas      
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