Thursday, December 10, 2009

Remembering our HUMAN RIGHTS

"We can assure the civilians that there will be no curtailment of rights as long as they are not part of uncontrollable private armies," Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Eastern Mindanao Command, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

I am in no way coming to the aid of those who belonged to the Ampatuans' private army and carried out his murderous command. But I am for the express observation of human rights, even for those presumed, but not proven, to be part of the private army.

So this is how the men in uniform think. It comes as no surprise then why presumed members of armed groups such as the New People's Army and activists branded as enemies of the state receive the most vile treatment, encroachment, on their human rights. It cannot be denied that more than private armies, activists have borne the brunt of the state's war on terror, patterned after US' own. The problem it seems is that, the men in uniform cannot restrain themselves strongly enough to realize that though they are dissidents, they are still human and therefore have rights inherent to their being.

As of August this year there are 284 political prisoners in the Philippines, many of which are National Democratic Front Consultants which should have been covered by JASIG (Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees) Roughly 300 media killings have been recorded, including the 31 dead from the recent massacre. According to KARAPATAN, a human rights organization, more than 800 HRVs have been committed since GMA took office in 2001. Most of these cases remain unsolved to this day. This may not be the exact figure of HRVs in the Philippines.

Whatever made HRVs legal everyday fare? Let me count the ways.

The CPR or calibrated preemptive response was put into action in the face of mounting popular dissent which takes the from of mass actions, inclusing rallies and protest marches. It allows for the police to disperse the congregation even with no threat emanating from the latter. One popular dispersal happened in the streets of Manila where no less than the former Vice President Guingona and Senator Madrigal, along with priests, nuns, professionals and students, were among those dispersed with water canons.

The Executive Order 464 meanwhile, in an unprecedented move that undermines the check and balance in a democratic republic, prohibited members of the Cabinet from testifying in inquiries without prior consent from the President herself. This came in the wake of Norberto Gonzalez' banana-eating drama in the Senate halls for almost spilling the beans on his boss.

And of course, the crowning glory of the Arroyo Regime, the Oplan Bantay Laya 1 and 2 (Oplan Freedom Watch) which gave the greenlight on more HRVs as it casts as enemies of the state even people deemed guilty by mere association.

(I have listed only three, please feel free to add what laws, orders or decisions you can recall through which HRVs was institutionalized.)

Today, there is a seeming downtrend of HRVs as tales of abuse rarely make the frontpage of the papers. They are often relegated to the back pages and mentioned only in passing. After UN Special Rappourteur Philip Alston's report on the extrajudicial killings and the culture of impunity the government itself propagates made the global round of news, the GMA Regime can no longer afford to dismiss the UN's "muchacho". Did you not realize that motorcycle-riding men blazing the guns of impunity and bestowing judgement on every subject it deemed sinful has not been seen as often as before? But this abscence does not mean the blatant killings and human rights violations have stopped entirely. This lull could also mean a shift in strategy.

Then the Maguindanao Massacre came along which has been making the headlines for more than a week now. The issue of Human Rights Violations has gained ears and hearts again.

But human rights violations do not come in all-in-one packages such as brutal murders, enforced disappearances, and such. It comes in different forms. It may be wrapped in perfumed tissue paper or in colorful gift baskets. Sometimes, it is even sealed with a kiss. We cannot afford NOT to be vigilant even for a moment. Human rights violations know no race, no age, not even gender or religion. Nothing is sacred for hardened transgressors, not even our human rights, own humanity.

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