By Atty. Harry Roque Jr.
This will be an annual tradition. For as long as I have a column to write, I will devote my first column of the year to a summary of the highlights for human rights in the Philippines.
For the year 2013, here are what I consider the highlights:
1. The detention and maltreatment of Tausug Filipinos on a mission to reclaim Sabah. First on my list is the maltreatment suffered by the Filipinos as a consequence of the decision of Sultan Jamalul Kiram of the Sultanate of Sulu to reclaim Sabah. Not only is the Sultanate’s title as clear as the light of day. The arbitrary arrest of Filipinos, which really was a witch hunt, coupled with the disproportionate use of force employed by the federation of Malaysia, and the arrest of journalists from ABS-CBN, GMA and Al Jazeera covering the event, highlight the sorry state of human rights in the Southeast Asian region. I highlighted this event because it should be taken as a reason for our own state to comply with the letter and spirit of human rights law: do not do to others what you do not want to be done to your own people;
2. The challenge to the 2012 Cybercrimes Prevention Law. Not since the first quarter storm and the 1986 people power revolution have we seen the youth of this country united in their opposition against an Orwellian attempt to infringe on freedom of expression in the medium intended to institutionalize the free market place of ideas. What is noteworthy is not just the petitions filed against the law, but the use of the Internet as a medium for protest. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the legality of the law, the fact is the youth have rediscovered activism in a new medium—in cyberspace.
3. The Palace position that it would not pay compensation to victims of the Ampatuan Massacre. The year 2013 was the year when the PNoy administration made clear its position that it would not pay compensation to the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. This is clearly a breach of the state obligation under human rights law to provide compensation to victims of violations of the right to life. Independent of the guilt of the accused in the pending criminal cases against the Ampatuans and their cohorts, the state has the obligation to pay compensation to those whose loved ones were killed by state agents despite the state’s obligation to protect and promote the victims right to life.
4. The Philippine position not to support UN Human Rights Council resolutions condemning the attacks against civilians in Syria. Alleging that neutrality to the ongoing systematic attacks perpetrated by the Assad regime against its civilian population was the best means to protect Filipinos in Syria, the Philippine government declined to support any UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning the attacks against civilians in Syria. In adopting this position of neutrality, Filipino policy makers assumed that bullets used by the Assad regime could distinguish between a Syrian and a Filipino worker in Syria. Clearly, the duty to protect our nationals in troubled spots like Syria requires our government to support all initiatives to uphold and promote both human rights and humanitarian law in these troubled lands. This, in fact, is the only means that we can ensure that our diaspora do not fall victim to rampant and systematic human rights violations;
5. Indiscriminate violation of International Humanitarian Law in the Zamboanga siege. Regrettably, IHL, as the law applicable in armed conflicts, found additional application as a result of the Zamboanga siege. Regrettably, both the MNLF and the AFP were noted to have committed grave breaches of the law which is accepted by all countries in this planet as being non-derogable. Both parties to the conflict were observed to have been guilty of indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations.
The AFP order to indiscriminately detain individuals who cannot recite the Lord’s Prayer as possible MNLF members deserves special mention as this violates both the right of the people to be secure in their persons and the right of the people to liberty;
6. The Supreme Court decisions invalidating the PDAF, the Presidential Social Fund and Illegal Disbursement of the Malampaya funds. The decision declaring the pork barrel expenditures as unconstitutional impacts on human rights because hopefully, government funds could now be used to discharge the state obligation to take progressive steps in the realization of economic, social, cultural and economic rights. Hopefully, the hundreds of billions in taxpayers money which used to go to the pockets of our corrupt politicians can now be used to give realization to such basic rights such as the right to food, water, housing, and public health;
7. Finally, the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court on the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law. This was a big blow to the right of the people to heath, the right of privacy, the right to make very personal decisions such as the number of offsprings that spouses would want, and the right of women to non-discrimination.
I hope that 2014 will usher in both a Happy New Year to all and better compliance with human rights and humanitarian law in the Philippines.