On the launching of Mambabatas para sa Karapatang Pantao (MAKATAO)


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UP Hotel, Diliman, Quezon City
19 March 2018

Let me first congratulate the convenors of Mambabatas para sa Karapatang Pantao or MAKATAO composed of a core group of fourteen (14) Members of the House of Representatives for initiating the creation of this organization. Its objectives to correct the distorted concept of human rights peddled by this administration and generate informed public opinion among the members’ constituents are not only laudable but necessary and imperative during these challenging times, when human rights are blatantly violated by no less than the primary duty holders themselves, when adherence to the rule of law is discarded in the name of expediency and when independent democratic institutions are either weakened or intimidated.

Nagpapasalamat rin po ako sa inyo sa pagkakataong ito na maibahagi sa inyo ang aking mensahe nang pakikiisa, kahit na ngayon ay tatlong daan at walumpu’t siyam (389) na araw na akong nakapiit dito sa Camp Crame. But I know that many, if not all of you, know from experience that that is the lot of a human rights defender. The harder it becomes, the harder we have to grit our teeth and continue defending them.

It is in this light that I welcome the creation of this organization not only because there is an immediate need to face this administration’s affront to human rights and fundamental freedoms of our people but more so because it is our duty and obligation as legislators to ensure that the laws of the land and internationally accepted principles and standards on human rights are respected, protected and promoted. We are duty holders and it is our primary responsibility to ensure that laws respect, protect and promote the rights of our people. The people expect us to do no less. Good governance requires the State, which we are a part of, to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.

The Duterte administration has miserably failed in this regard and continuous to do so with impunity. Its miserable and continuing failure is taken cognizance of by United Nations bodies, the International Criminal Court and the international human rights community.

The human rights violations committed by this administration in its brutal war on drugs are unprecedented. The number of extrajudicial killings committed under Duterte already surpassed the extrajudicial killings committed during the fourteen years of martial law.

Human rights work has again become a dangerous endeavour, if not more dangerous, under the present dispensation. With the recent directive of Duterte to law enforcers to “shoot the advocates if they obstruct justice,” the lives and safety of human rights defenders, to include women- and indigenous- rights defenders, are placed in more peril and particularly at risk. If the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpus, is included in the list of more than 600 persons tagged as terrorists by the Department of Justice, human rights defenders are endangered species in the country today, to put it mildly.

Based on the 2015 report of Front Line Defenders or the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the Philippines is the second highest, next to Colombia, in killings of human rights defenders worldwide and the highest outside the Americas. For this reason, I filed Senate Bill No. 1699 – a bill to protect human rights defenders, last month. Congressman Carlos Isagani T. Zarate has earlier filed House Bill No. 1617 on the same subject matter. We need your support in seeing to it that the Human Rights Defenders Bill is passed into law as soon as possible.

As legislators or members of our local legislative councils, what else is incumbent upon us?

First, as equally-minded legislators whose framework of governance is based on human rights standards and principles, we need to strengthen our collective action against tyranny, oppression, violations of human rights and disregard for the rule of law. The establishment of this organization is a positive step, an affirmative action.

The time to act is NOW, not yesterday and definitely, not tomorrow. To quote the famous lines during martial law, KUNG HINDI NGAYON, KAILAN? KUNG HINDI TAYO, SINO? The people need us to show to this administration that we are not cowed and afraid, despite vilification campaigns against us and/or in my case, filing of trumped-up charges and one year of unjust detention. We need to speak the truth and convince our constituents of the truth, from the lens and always, from the lens of human rights.

Second, we need to ensure that mechanisms and processes are in place for human rights defenders (HRDs) to fulfil their work in a safe and enabling environment and if their rights and freedoms are violated, that they have recourse not only to courts but to programs and services of our institutions tasked to protect and promote their rights. HRDs are our partners in ensuring that the rights and freedoms of our people are not violated or trampled with and in attaining sustainable growth and development, among others. As such, I do agree and share with you the principle that we, legislators, are their allies and their source of strength and solidarity, if not also their source of inspiration. We need to conscientiously live up to these expectations.

Third, this strategic linkage between the national and local law-making bodies is needed now more than ever, for it is the next logical step we need to take in our fight for human rights in the Philippines.

This close coordination and partnership with local legislative bodies and legislators are critical in bringing human rights issues and legislation closer to their source and intended beneficiaries. They are critical in bringing in the “grass roots” element into our endeavors.

Why? Unang-una sa lahat, dahil ang mga human rights issues – as the term itself explicitly states – are about human beings. They are about the people. For the people. And, therefore, they ought to be by the people. Their inputs are imperative to be truly reflective and responsive to their needs.

Tayong mga mambabatas, hindi naman tayo gumagawa ng batas from a vacuum. They evolve from the needs and aspirations of our constituents, which became known and evident to us, not just based on history, experience, contemporary consultations, and direct feedback. Human rights legislation – and, indeed, all legislation, since all laws that seek to govern human behavior, relations and welfare are intrinsically linked and founded on human rights – are never as effective when they are written from the so-called “ivory towers” of the Halls of Congress, or even the Provincial, City, Municipal Councils. Ang mga batas ay hindi laman mas makabuluhan at mas makatotohanan, kundi mas kapaki-pakinabang din kung ang paggawa, pagtupad at pag-reassess sa kanila ay may partisipasyon ng taumbayan.

Pangalawa, participation infuses that element of ownership that, hopefully, would help ordinary citizens appreciate how important these laws are. Hindi sapat kung tayo lamang ang nagsasabi sa mga mamamayan na mahalaga ang karapatang pantao nila. Hindi natin maipapanalo ang laban para sa karapatang pantao kung tayo-tayo lamang ang tatayo bilang mga Human Rights Defenders. The people have to see its benefits and importance for themselves, own it for themselves, claim it for themselves and, thus, hopefully, they will defend it for themselves.

We – public servants – ought to show that we don’t possess the monopoly over who can and should be human rights defenders. It is everyone’s inherent right and, yes, duty. Every person is simultaneously a duty-holder and a rights-holder here.

Pangatlo po, this strategic linkage with local lawmakers is important in identifying areas of improvement in existing laws, especially in the context of local conditions.

Marami na po tayong batas na patungkol sa pagkilala at pagdepensa sa karapatang pantao. And yet, in a forum last Saturday, one social/human rights worker related how she was constantly confronted with the question: Ano nga ba ang pwedeng gawin ng mga biktima? At ako, ano ang maitutulong ko sa kanila? Sa panahong ito, kanino ba pwedeng lumapit?

Ang kailangan din po ay “follow through”. Umiiral ba ang mga batas na ito? Ano ang mga balakid sa lubusang pagpapatupad sa kanila?

These questions cannot be answered by going back to history books. As one other resource person, Ms. Karina David, noted last Saturday, while the current conditions echo some of those she experienced during Martial Law years, there are also very real and fundamental differences that make the approaches that were taken before not as effective, or harder to use, these days. The feeling of oppression and fear may seem the same, but the nuances are different.

This means that we have to adjust, too, if we want to be successful in our defense of human rights.

This can only be done by reaching out to the people. Action, and not just words – yan ang hamon sa ating mga taga-depensa ng karapatang pantao sa mga panahong ito.

Kapag nagkakaisa ang karamihan na ang karapatang pantao ang dapat na batayan ng isang adhikain, mas mabilis ang pagiintindi at pagpapatupad ng adhikain na yan. Mas madali rin ang pagsasanib at pang-unawa ng nakararami.

Now, more than ever in our history, we, in government, and those out of it, need to unite against the tyranny and oppression of this administration, against the lack of basic decency and respect in governance and the non-adherence to the rule of law and human rights. Given the present state of things at the national level, we have a long way to go. But we have started with the first few steps, such as this one, and surely, despite the long and arduous process, we will prevail. In the history of mankind and of nations, the rule of law and human rights have always prevailed. In the Philippine scenario, this is also what we will have and are entitled to have. Our common, concerted and collective action is thus much needed and encouraged and on this one, I am with you ALL THE WAY.

Maraming salamat at mabuhay tayong lahat.

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