CHR reminds government: Activism is a right

Jodesz Gavilan
CHR reminds government: Activism is a right
Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia says automatically linking expression of dissent and criticism to efforts against the government is a 'very limited view of how a democracy works'

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday, August 14, warned the government of the grave implications of its crackdown on political organizations, particularly leftist groups. 

In a statement, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said that linking expression of dissent and criticism to efforts against the government is a “very limited view of how a democracy works.” 

“We strongly warn the government of the possible dangers of framing activism or merely having a contrary opinion as an automatic expression of wanting to overthrow the government,” she said. 

“We cannot have a government that operates merely on suspicion and disadvantages its citizen for exercising a right that they are entitled to,” De Guia added.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Tuesday, August 13, expressed support to the revival of the the Anti-Subversion Law that previously made it a crime to be a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The law was repealed during the Ramos administration in 1992. 

The Senate is also currently conducting hearings on alleged recruitment of minors by leftist groups, in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on dissent.

Rights group Karapatan, meanwhile, said that the restoration of the Anti-Subversion Law is a development in the Duterte government’s arsenal of repressive laws against critics and activists.

“All these serve the same goal – to legitimize repression and box critics into dangerous labels that lays down the pretext for state forces to persecute them,” said Karapatan vice chairperson Reylan Vergara said. 

“They can call those who defiantly resist as subversives or what-not, but the reality of rights violations, poverty, and the shameless affront to our sovereignty will remain a resounding truth, and these are the very same issues that the so-called “subversives” are fighting for,” he added.

Address grievances

The Duterte administration has been hit by many organizations for its treatment of dissent since 2016, as well as criticism of his violent war on drugs.

According to data from rights group Karapatan, at least 2,370 human rights defenders have been charged by the government from 2016 to 2019. The numbers under Duterte, many said, are clearly worst of the last 3 administrations. (READ: Duterte’s war on dissent)

CHR’s De Guia reminded the government of how important activism and its many forms that are used to bring forward grievances, adding that “mere association is not a crime.”

“The best response to dissent is to effectively address legitimate grievances, and demonstrate that the government is working to the best interest of every Filipino, thereby also dispelling any call to topple any administration,” De Guia said. 

“Being part of an organization and believing in the principles they espouse is an exercise of the right to freedom of thought, assembly, and association and may affect all other rights when curtailed, such as the right to free speech, expression, and movement among others,” she added. –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.