Groups urge govt: Lead way in protecting human rights defenders amid ASEAN integration

December 10, 2014 12:43pm

On the 67th year of the historic adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, human rights groups called on the Philippine government to lead the way in protecting rights defenders amid an integrated ASEAN economy.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, December 10, the Medical Action Group (MAG) and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) said, “the Philippines should ensure that the leadership it shows in terms of promoting human rights in the ASEAN is reflected in our national laws.”

MAG and TFDP were referring to the looming integration of ASEAN economies in 2015, which might have a deep impact on the economic, social, and cultural rights of Filipinos, especially of human rights defenders.

They said human rights can be protected and advanced through the enactment of a law, even as efforts should be made in conducting a comprehensive legislative audit in order to review and repeal policies that sometimes criminalize defenders in doing their work.

MAG and TFDP claimed their records show an “alarming increase in the use of laws to impede activities of human rights defenders.”

“We have faced significant challenges in the field that in many cases, complaints by human rights defenders about alleged violations of their rights are not investigated or are dismissed without justification, they said.

MAG executive director Edeliza P. Hernandez cited the case of Antonio L. Tolentino, human rights defender and chairperson of Barangay Hacienda Dolores in Porac, Pampanga.

Hernandez said “Tolentino has been detained since April this year due to lack of competent investigation into the charges filed by a private security agency.”

For his part, Emmanuel C. Amistad, TFDP executive director, said “it is disconcerting to know the arrest and detention of Jose Aaron Pedrosa, Jr, lawyer and human rights defender, on  November 25, 2014 in Mandaue City.”

“He was charged with obstruction of justice while pleading to authorities to stop harassing the residents of Sitio Mahayag, Barangay Subang Daku, Mandaue City,” he added.

“These acts of intimidation and harassment only shows the inadequacy of laws to support the work of human rights defenders and serving to further erode any confidence in our judicial system,” he said.

Moreover, the joint statement said, “Human rights defenders play a crucial role in exposing and seeking accountability for human rights violations both by government and corporations. Their work is crucial to transparency, good governance and justice for victims.”

“We call on the government to provide the basis for a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders like Brgy. Captain Tolentino, Atty. Pedrosa among others and take all steps to end restrictions against them,” the statement said.

Tool for human rights

Riding on the tide of the growing human rights consciousness among Filipinos, members of an online-based human rights group encouraged netizens to use social media and other Internet-based applications to advance the cause of human rights.

In a statement on Human Rights Day, the people behind Human Rights Online Philippines said nitezens can move to transform Internet power in advancing various issues of human rights – from freedom of expression, gender equality to climate justice among others.

“While we recognize that the internet in and of itself does not save lives, intelligent and effective use of the Internet does,” HROnline Php said.

Citing an account in the World Disasters Report 2013 by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, HROnline Php quoted the report as saying disaster responders “focused on the rapid spread of technologies, especially information and communication technologies, that is changing humanitarian actions.”

With the Internet in the hands of the people, we can witness effective and life-saving results and expose massive corruption-laden rehabilitation projects, it added.

This shows the power of the Internet can also be used for advancement of human rights and for public good, it said. — Jerbert Briola/LBG, GMA News