human rights in the Philippines

Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay receives human rights award from France, Germany

Jodesz Gavilan
Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay receives human rights award from France, Germany

RECOGNITION. Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay receives the 2021 Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and Rule of Law.

Photo by Karapatan

'The fact that we are here before you now, continuing our work despite the dangers, and with many defenders continuing to battle with injustices – this strength has more than kept me going,' Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay says

MANILA, Philippines – Germany and France awarded Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay this year’s Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and Rule of Law for her tireless dedication to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.

She is one of the 15 recipients around the world in 2021. The award, which was established in 2016, “recognises the efforts of all those who work tirelessly every day to advance the causes of human rights and the rule of law.”

In naming Palabay as this year’s awardee, the French and German Embassies in Manila highlighted her “dedication to promoting human rights in the Philippines, and globally,” specifically advocacy work for minorities, women’s rights, labor rights, the welfare of human rights defenders, freedom of the press and expression, and international humanitarian law. 

Palabay said the award is in recognition not only of her work, but “for each and every person who believes in defending and advancing people’s rights.”

“Every day, I am witness to the tenacity, commitment and collective strength of my fellow human rights workers from Karapatan in documenting and monitoring human rights violations and advocacy work,” she said during the awarding ceremony on Wednesday, December 15.

“The fact that we are here before you now, continuing our work despite the dangers, and with many defenders continuing to battle with injustices – this strength has more than kept me going,” Palabay added.

Human rights defenders and activists in the Philippines are consistently the subject of widespread harassment and attacks, especially under President Rodrigo Duterte. They have been tagged as communists, arrested, or even killed.

Karapatan monitored documented at least 421 activists and human rights defenders killed while 1,138 have been arrested and detained under the Duterte administration, as of August 2021. Since 2016, 16 members of Karapatan have been killed, or a total of 70 since 2001. (READ: Prelude to 2022? Thousands of grassroots organizers arrested, hundreds killed)

In her message, Palabay paid tribute to the fight of activists and other advocates, including those who opposed Martial Law rule under the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and those continued to face persecution under Duterte. She echoed the famous phrase “they tried to bury us, they didn’t know we are seeds.”

“The kind of seeds that grow in the most brutal environment of political storms… that cry for justice, for accountability, for freedom,” she said, talking about the importance of keeping the fight.

“The kind of seeds that push through the hardest of rocks to be able to breathe the air of survival and of defiance… that blossom into something that is beyond the self, into something that is cognizant of our nation’s history of struggles,” Palabay added.

Palabay is the 3rd Filipino to receive the award since it was established in 2016. Rosemarie Trajano, then secretary-general of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights, was awarded in 2017 while Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances secretary-general Mary Aileen Bacalso was recognized in 2019.

Detained Senator Leila de Lima on Thursday, December 16, congratulated Palabay. 

Sunod-sunod na sampal na sa mukha ni Rodrigo Duterte ang patuloy na pagkilala ng mundo sa paninindigan ng mga taong walang habas na siniraan at inaapi ng kanyang rehimen,” she said, also citing the Nobel Peace Prize win of Rappler chief executive officer Maria Ressa. 

Karangalan ko na makasama kayo sa laban para sa pagbabalik ng hustisya at katotohanan sa ating bayan,” De Lima added. 

(The international recognition of the courage of those persecuted under the Duterte administration is a consecutive slap in the face of the President. It is my honor to be beside you in the fight for truth and justice in our country.) 

In June 2021, Karapatan received the William D. Zabel Human Rights Award for the Advancement of People’s Rights from United States-based Human Rights First.  – Rappler.com

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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.