[Statement] PAHRA disagrees with Chito Gascon’s assessment of the present human rights situation

PAHRA disagrees with Chito Gascon’s assessment of the present human rights situation

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), with due respect to the new Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Jose Luis Gascon, strongly disagrees with his simplified comprehensive summarized assessment of the present human rights situation as found in the Sunday Inquirer, page A5, October 15, 2015 issue.

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According to Chair Gascon, “cases of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrest continued to increase, even if incidences of human rights violations [HRVs] had gone down compared to the days of martial law.” “While overall, cases have dwindled,” he further explained, ”the fact that there are sharp increases in enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture is a matter of concern.”

Human rights cover civil, political rights (CPR), as well as economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR). Civil-political rights are certainly not only extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture.  CPR include not only elections and the rule of law, but also, among others, the freedom of religion, of expression, of assembly and of movement.  Human rights violations include all violations of the same rights.  Such “incidences” and “cases” of violations from post-martial law times till the present certainly have neither gone down nor are they dwindling.  In fact, all are increasing, more so in the violations against ESC rights, despite of or, even perhaps, because of the democratic space we have gained since toppling the Marcos dictatorship.

One of the characteristics of this increase is the intensifying impunity of violations.  Take this example: while the Compensation Board for the Victims of Human Rights Violations During Martial Law is considering the applications of an increased number from the 25,000 to 75,000 as the supposed “official” quantity of victims of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights violations – a short-fall, almost all of their perpetrators have not yet been brought to justice.  Some have even sought and obtained political power, while others are seeking higher seats of national governance.

Besides the numbers already amassed in the past, impunity may have denied many more people of their rights through the alleged violations done in large-scale electoral and economic corruption and plunder cases.

There is also a danger in using the terms “incidents” and “cases” as it seems to be used to downplay the gravity of the human rights situation in assessing the human rights record of the Benigno S. Aquino administration.  It also either implies or gives the impression that the lower the “incidents”, the less victims, the less perpetrators.  It further tends to gloss over as well as the official positions of perpetrators involved.  It covers up the dark side of command responsibility which is “command conspiracy”. The Ampatuan/Maguindanao Massacre, for example, could be just “one” incident with 58 victims and could involve a long list of human rights violators for Chair Chito.  But, why not 58 incidents of violations against the right to life and other fundamental freedoms?  The Tampacan Massacre should not just be “one incident”of tactical error, but the killing of Juvy Capion, the killing of her unborn child, the killing of Juvy’s son, Jordan Capion, 13 years old; and the killing of her other son, John Capion, 8 years old.

The Chair should take into account the violations against hundreds of thousands of farmer beneficiaries and their families whose lands, from which hold a bundle of human rights, whether covered by CARP or CARPER, have been withheld through sinister manipulations of the technicalities of the rule of law at the different levels of governance.  He should count in the tens of thousands of indigenous peoples whose ancestral lands or domains, which are sources of subsistence, of quality of life with dignity and of wholistic development, have been intruded into, taken over and / or devastated by extractive companies, such as mining and logging, and by development aggression done by both secular and religious entities, and not just one or two incidences or cases of land grabbing.

The Chair should examine and monitor closely and objectively the incidences and/or cases of violations perpetrated against workers, in the name of contractualization, in both local, international and transnational companies on the latter’s right to work, such as in the manufacturing and in the fishing industries. The reduction or even absence of strikes should not be automatically be equated to incidences or cases of violations to have gone down or dwindled. Remember the May 13, 2015 Kentex fire which killed 72 workers? This exemplied the national and local governments sacrificing people to the all-consuming fire of business greed. It may also be helpful for the CHR’s monitoring of the country’s tuna industry present compliance in respecting human rights by reading a 2012 research funded by the US Department of Labor on the Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chains of the Tuna Industry in the Philippines.

No, Chair Gascon, the over-all cases or incidences of human rights violations have neither gone down nor dwindled.  Rather, just like your particular observation “…that there are sharp increases in enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture …”,  the over-all cases or incidences of HRVs are increasing and will multiply exponentially when the State embeds into its structures of governance the causes of human rights violations and impunity.

In desiring for a major step to reduce violations and impunity, PAHRA asks the National Human Rights Institution to take a lead role in rallying all Human Rights Defenders to ensure that human rights become the framework and basis permeating all talks and agreements in the on-going Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) so that inclusivity in growth and in societies would be towards the progressive realization of all human rights for all.  To this move, PAHRA will determinedly converge.

Justice and dignity for us all,

Max M. de Mesa
Chairperson, PAHRA

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