With Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission still uncertain, advocates urge human rights for all

Some people may be uncomfortable with the protection and promotion of human rights for those who are “not like them” –  say, LGBTs or Muslims – but human rights are for everyone, and this must be respected.

By: Tricia Aquino, InterAksyon.com
February 20, 2015 6:45 PM

The online news portal of TV5

MANILA – Some people may be uncomfortable with the protection and promotion of human rights for those who are “not like them” –  say, LGBTs or Muslims – but human rights are for everyone, and this must be respected.

So affirm advocates of the creation of a Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission (BHRC) under the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which the House of Representatives and the Senate temporarily shelved following the January 25 Mamasapano clash in Maguindanao, where 44 commandos, 18 Moro rebels, and four civilians were killed.

Some members of the House Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL wanted Section 7 of the bill to be deleted, but had not yet come up with a final report that will determine the fate of the provision creating the BHRC, an independent and impartial office aimed at ensuring the promotion and protection of human rights in the Bangsamoro. It would have a “coordinative and complementary relationship with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in carrying out its mandate.” It would also submit an annual report to the Bangsamoro parliament, making it accountable to the latter.

“The density of human rights violations in Bangsamoro is very high,” said Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) chairperson Algamar Latiph at the forum “Institutionalizing Human Rights Promotion and Protection in the Bangsamoro Basic Law” at the Ateneo Professional Schools in Makati City Monday.

The discrimination, decades of conflict, weak system of governance leading to weak government compliance with international standards, and proliferation of private army groups (many of which are even are even headed by politicians themselves), among others, made the area a breeding ground for human rights violations. Among these were enforced disappearances, illegal arrests, extrajudicial killings, and torture, said Commissioner Raissa Jajurie of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.

“And it gets worse, because there is no instrument for redress and the prevention of impunity,” she added.

By 2012, the poverty incidence in ARMM was at 46.7 percent, while nearly 120,000 people were killed between 1970 and 1196. Nearly one million people were displaced during the all-out war in 2000.

In 2005, 47 percent of Filipinos were found to perceive Muslims as terrorists or extremists, while 44 percent had anti-Muslim bias, Latiph disclosed, presenting statistics from various government and international organizations.

The Mamasapano incident was “a mere microcosm” of the situation in the area, Latiph said. Residents were vulnerable not only to violence, but to underdevelopment and unemployment.

Many residents had been deprived of access to food, shelter, and other basic needs for decades.

This was the reason why they were lobbying for the BHRC, said the speakers.

A similar office, the RHRC, was now performing the function of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in ARMM. It was created under Republic Act 9054 or the Organic Act for the ARMM.

The RHRC was staffed in 2013. It has 83 personnel today, a regional office in Cotabato City, offices in five provinces of ARMM, and carrying out monitoring in the grassroots.

Last year it was able to handle 116 human rights cases; conduct 99 jail visits; and provide legal assistance to 177 internally displaced persons.

The RHRC conducted human rights trainings and seminars for 6,258 people, reaching far-flung areas few other government agencies had been able to, such as the Turtle Islands, which are situated very near Malaysia.

As an ARMM-created office, it would be phased out during the Bangsamoro transitional government, and replaced with the BHRC, said Government of the Philippines Peace Panel legal team member Atty. Mohammad Al-Amin Julkipli.

In a place where people distrusted the judicial system, had little knowledge of the law, could not afford the cost of filing cases, and feared retaliation, the BHRC was an important mechanism, said Jajurie.

“There’s nothing wrong with having (the BHRC). You can overlap functions. After all, there are so many human rights violations being committed every day. The more (human rights institutions), the better, the more effective you are in protecting the rights of the people,” said CHR chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales.

Mexico, for example, had a human rights body for each of its states. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, had three. These human rights institutions coexisted and worked independently of each other, and there was no reason why this setup could not also work in the Philippines, she added. The CHR had jurisdiction over national human rights concerns, while the BHRC had jurisdiction over Bangsamoro human rights concerns.

“The BHRC is legal, constitutional, and should be included in the BBL,” said Jajurie.

1986 Constitutional Commission member Atty. Jose Luis Martin Gascon, who is also a member of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, said the proposed BHRC was in accordance with the law.

He stated the Paris Principles, an internationally recognized standard for national human rights institutions, which promoted the creation of sub-national human rights structures to complement the national human rights institution – in this case, the CHR.

Gascon also cited Section 20, Article 10 of the Constitution, which says, “Within its territorial jurisdiction and subject to the provisions of this Constitution and national laws, the organic act of autonomous regions shall provide for legislative powers over … such other matters as may be authorized by law for the promotion of the general welfare of the people of the region.”

The Constitution was a “very pro-human rights Constitution,” he added, one that tried to establish a “pro-human rights regime” in the country.

He added that the BHRC would be able to quickly respond to human rights violations in the communities, which was key in preventing more violations from occurring.

The presence of the RHRC was itself a preventive measure, Latiph said.

Their desire for the creation of the BHRC did not mean that the CHR did not mean that the CHR was inefficient, Jajurie stressed.

With 600 personnel covering the country’s population of 100 million, however, the CHR welcomed what would be a complementary institution.

“The more, the merrier,” Rosales said.

Meanwhile, Julkipli voiced his support for the BBL in general. The proposed legislation was bigger than any of the personalities involved, he said. It was not meant to appease any group in particular, but to address “a very real social and cultural problem.”

The BBL would begin the process of normalization in a conflict zone, including disarmament, added Gascon.

“Human rights are at the heart and core of this,” he said.

SOURCE www.interaksyon.com