#CourageON coalition marks a year of defending human rights

#CourageON coalition marks a year of defending human rights
A year since its creation, the #CourageON coalition continues to promote collective action for the protection of human rights

MANILA, Philippines – There’s more we can do to defend human rights in the Philippines than mere lip service.

From staging educational discussions on good governance to voicing out critical issues for the marginalized sectors, the #CourageON: No Lockdown on Rights coalition has been leading several initiatives aimed to broaden spaces for Filipinos to learn more about human rights and push for collective action.

More than 80 organizations from different sectors joined hands for #CourageON: No Lockdown on Rights, a coalition led by Rappler’s civic engagement arm MovePH. Launched on May 5, 2021, the coalition aims to keep watch over abuses and violations, as well as identify opportunities for collective action to promote and defend human rights.

As the multi-sectoral coalition marks its first anniversary of taking a stand against human rights violations and promoting good governance on May 5, let’s take a look back at several of its major milestones.

Taking a stand

Throughout the year, the #CourageON coalition used its platform to put pressure on relevant authorities to address critical issues.

In June 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor applied for an authorization with the pre-trial chamber to open an investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity committed by President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent campaign against drugs. It also seeks to probe into the killings in Davao City from 2011 to 2016.

However, then Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that Duterte would “never cooperate” with any ICC probe. 

The #CourageON coalition called on the Duterte administration to cooperate with the ICC if it “indeed stands for justice.”

“Achieving justice for the thousands of lives lost in Duterte’s drug war will not be easy and fast, but the ICC investigation may provide the first step toward this long and arduous process,” the coalition said in its statement.

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During the first anniversary of the Anti-Terror Law (ATL) signing, the coalition pointed out that the legislative measure was “an attempt to further silence dissenters in the guise of combatting terrorism.”

About 70 organizations signed the coalition’s statement giving the Duterte administration a “failed rating” as the president delivered his final State of the Nation Address

Through the statement, it urged Filipinos to continue holding government officials accountable and register to vote in the coming elections to avoid a repeat of Duterte’s “failed” governance.

When the Court of Appeals allowed press freedom icon and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa to personally receive her Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 2021, the coalition lauded the decision and cited that it was “more significant, urgent, and necessary” for Ressa to receive the award on International Human Rights Day amid the “worsening situation of human rights and gross attacks on civil liberties in the Philippines.” 

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On February 22, the coalition condemned the controversial arrest of people’s doctor and human rights defender Dr. Maria Natividad Castro over cases of kidnapping and illegal detention.

Prior to her arrest, Castro had been red-tagged for her human rights advocacy, according to her brother. She was secretary general of rights group Karapatan in Caraga. Her arrest spurred groups to call on the government to follow the rule of law.

“These cases against her are clearly part of the continuing harassment against her and other human rights defenders in the Philippines. For her long track record of public service, Dr. Castro deserves praise, not punishment. Human rights work is not a crime,” the #CourageON coalition said in a statement.

The Bayugan City Regional Trial Court in Agusan del Sur later dismissed the charges against her and ordered her release from the provincial jail, where she was detained for 42 days.

Engaging with communities

Beyond taking a stand, the #CourageON: No lockdown on rights coalition has been in the forefront of engaging communities on social issues, and guiding citizens to fully comprehend their inherent human rights.

In line with the first anniversary of ATL signing, the coalition co-presented two webinars — “#DefendDemocracy: The effects of ATL on dissenters and communities” on July 16, 2021 and “#DefendDemocracy: Fighting against anti-terror law” on July 17, 2021 — aimed to answer questions about the health of Philippine democracy, and share possible actions that communities can do to help defend their rights, despite pandemic restrictions.

These webinars were organized by MovePH and De La Salle University Student Government.

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The #CourageON coalition also provided a platform for the advocacies and movements led by its partner organizations. Dubbed the “#CourageON: Tumindig, makialam, kumilos,” the community show aims to put the spotlight on pressing issues in the Philippines and the ways we can take collective action on them. 

Within the context of the pandemic, the series tackled how we can better support healthcare workers as we face both the COVID-19 pandemic and the looming climate crisis and address the threat of the Delta variant in the then ongoing voter registration.

#CourageON coalition marks a year of defending human rights

The series also tackled timely issues like what individuals can do to support the decision made by the International Criminal Court for the victims of Duterte’s war on drugs, how individuals can serve as watchdogs of the budget process especially following the string of anomalies hounding the multi-billion worth of contracts the Duterte government awarded to the notorious Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation, how advocates can take part in the then ongoing petition against the proposed Pasig River Expressway (PAREX), and fight back against disinformation in the Philippines. 

#CourageON coalition marks a year of defending human rights

Within the context of the upcoming 2022 elections, the series also urged eligible voters to engage in the upcoming elections and how they can hold disinformation peddlers accountable for their damaging actions. The coalition also joined #FactsFirstPH, a collaboration of more than 100 groups against disinformation in the elections. 

#CourageON coalition marks a year of defending human rights

Check out the full list of episodes here:

Calls to action

Beyond taking a stand and raising awareness, the coalition focused on creating clear calls to action for its community. 

The coalition created a step-by-step guide, written in Filipino, on how victims of Duterte’s drug war can submit representations to the International Criminal Court on July 21, 2021. Victims may either fill out forms, send video, audio, or other text files to the ICC, which will allow them to express their views, concerns, and expectations regarding the Prosecutor’s request for an investigation into the drug war killings under Duterte.

Additionally, the coalition endorsed the Anti Red-tagging (ART) Toolkit made by De La Salle University – University Student Government. The toolkit features a policy guide, brief and template, among other necessary files that student councils, youth groups, and other organizations can use as a guide in crafting their own policies to protect their communities from red-tagging and other forms of attacks such as  threats, arrests, among others. It was launched during the fifth episode of the “#CourageON: Tumindig, makialam, kumilos” series produced by MovePH and the #CourageON coalition.

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It also worked with the #PHVote coalition to form the #AtinAngPilipinas agenda, a framework of electoral issues that voters can use to assess candidates in the 2022 Philippine elections. It was introduced on February 12. 

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From upholding our moral principles and freedoms to promoting our right to suffrage, the coalition continues to build partnerships and push for avenues and efforts to promote human rights and good governance in the Philippines. – with reports from Jose Orlando Polon/ Rappler.com 

Learn more about the #CourageON coalition here. Organizations may express their interest to join the coalition by emailing move.ph@rappler.com. 

Jose Orlando Polon is a Rappler intern from De La Salle Lipa. He is a senior taking up Bachelor of Arts in Communication, Major in Socio-Cultural and Behavioral Communication.

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