Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged the Senate leadership to support the draft resolution submitted to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) expressing serious concerns over the humanitarian crisis affecting Rohingya people in Myanmar.
In her letter to Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III last Dec. 11, De Lima reminded her colleagues that it is their duty as public servants to uphold the country’s commitment in promoting human rights and the international humanitarian law.
“Every day more and more members of the Rohingya people are suffering abuse and dying. It is never right to stand by while people, including women, children, the elderly and the otherwise helpless, are being oppressed and decimated,” she said.
“Human rights protection is one of those public goods that requires the aggregate effort of all stakeholders in order to ensure its continued enjoyment by each and all of us,” she added.
The UN has labelled the Rohingya as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. There are about 1.3 million Rohingya in Myanmar where they are treated as foreigners from neighbouring Bangladesh, imposing upon them oppressive restrictions and denying them citizenship, despite many having roots going back generations.
During its 13th General Assembly last Oct. 17, the IPU received a draft resolution submitted by its Emergency Item Committee condemning what it called as gross human rights violations committed against Rohingya minorities in Myanmar.
The IPU Draft Resolution was entitled “Ending the grave human crisis, persecution and violent attacks on the Rohingya as a threat to international peace and security and ensuring their unconditional and safe return to their homeland in Myanmar.”
The draft resolution was officially transmitted to the Senate through the Director-General of the Senate’s Office of International Relations and Protocol last Nov. 27, a copy of which was furnished her and the rest of the senators.
De Lima said she is fully and unequivocally supporting the IPU draft resolution and urged her colleagues in the Senate to support individually and collectively in allowing full and free access to humanitarian aid for thousands of Rohingya refugees.
“I respectfully manifest to the Senate, through the Honorable Senate President, my full and unequivocal support for the draft Resolution, not only because it thoroughly reflects my personal sentiments on the matter, but also because such is but consistent with the commitments of the Philippines, as a state, to the upholding and protection of human rights from abuses, no matter where they may be committed in the world,” she said.
In 2015, when she was justice secretary, De Lima had proposed sending ships to rescue 3,000 Rohingya refugees from the sea and provide them shelters as a humanitarian measure to avert a humanitarian crisis in the region.
The Philippines is among the 10 countries that opposed the UN draft resolution, which calls for full and unhindered humanitarian aid access to Rakhine and for Myanmar to grant full citizenship rights to Rohingya Muslims, who are treated by Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
A total of 135 countries reportedly voted in favor of the resolution while 26 abstained, paving the way for the revival of the text which was dropped last year.
The former chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights pointed out that the Senate as an institution and its members have an obligation to help maintain Philippines as a leader and groundbreaker in the Southeast Asian Region in the field of human rights.
“The Philippines has a proud and long-standing status as a leader and groundbreaker in the Southeast Asian Region, if not the entire world, in the field of human rights,” she said.
“For decades, other countries, particularly those classified as emerging democracies, have looked to us as a positive example in the growing and ever-intensifying fight to preserve the rights and welfare of our people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. This we must do as something that is but consistent with our individual and collective conscience as a people,” she added.
De Lima earlier said she suspects that the real reason for the government’s “no” vote on the UN resolution is not out of diplomacy, but of fear that the Philippines’ worsening human rights problems will further be put into the spotlight.
Like Myanmar, Philippines is also hounded by human rights issues which escalated when Duterte, who promotes violence as crime prevention, launched his all-out war on drugs last year.
To date, more than 13,000 people have reportedly been killed, either by vigilante style executions or “legitimate” police operations against illegal drugs mostly in poor communities.