Baguio City

Baguio officially declared an ‘inclusive human rights city’

Sherwin de Vera

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Baguio officially declared an ‘inclusive human rights city’

PEOPLE'S PARK. Activists gather to protest on the International Day Against Impunity at Baguio City's Malcolm Square, a place reaffirmed by a city council resolution as a shared space for festivities, socio-political activities, and service delivery.

Sherwin De Vera/Rappler

Ahead of 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Baguio city government commits to eliminating discrimination based on factors such as sex, gender, age, race, political beliefs, or religion

BAGUIO, Philippines – In the lead-up to the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this Sunday, December 10, Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong gave the green light to a City Council, officially designating the city as an “inclusive human rights city.”

Adopted unanimously and signed on December 6, Resolution No. 763-2023 firmly asserts the city government’s commitment to eliminating discrimination based on factors such as sex, gender, age, race, political beliefs, or religion. The declaration further ensures that residents of Baguio City have unrestricted access to the full spectrum of freedom of expression, safe spaces, and holistic development.

“The City [will] provide bigger avenues for active citizenship and involvement for the full exercise of democracy and civil liberties, including, but not limited to declaring Malcolm Square as a “People’s Park” and a venue for festivities, socio-political activities, and the delivery of services,” part of the resolution read.

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It added, “The City Government of Baguio will forever continue to strive to realize a City that is safe and enjoyed by all, reviewing policies and programs that may, in any way, hamper human rights and being guided by human rights principles in its policies, legislation, and programs.”

Local legislators said Baguio “has been a hallmark of human rights and democracy,” citing the role of its people and institutions in the 1986 People Power, noting the city’s “consistent efforts to uphold, promote, and protect human rights.”

They also cited city hall’s critical stand on social issues like political vilification and attacks against human rights defenders, particularly with cases of red tagging in the city.

‘Right direction’

Activist group Tongtongan ti Umili, the local affiliate of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Baguio, lauded the city government, calling the declaration “a step in the right direction.“

“We hope that with this resolution, concrete steps and measures are put in place to safeguard human rights in the city. This includes the promotion of the rights of human rights defenders,” said Jeoffrey Larua, the group’s secretary-general.

Larua said the approval of the resolution underscored the critical role of advocacy groups in keeping democracy in the country vibrant.

He said, “It is a validation of the fact that activists are not, and will never be, terrorists.”

Concrete actions

The resolution is the latest of the steps taken by Baguio officials to keep their commitment to make the country’s Summer Capital “safe for activists.” 

This came following the city council’s resolution urging the Anti-Terrorism Council to drop the names of four Cordillera activists from its list of designated terrorists.

In March 2018, local lawmakers passed a resolution when the Department of Justice (DOJ) included seven Baguio residents in a petition to officially label the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist organizations.

In his March 2022 dialogue with civil society organizations, Magalong ordered the removal and prohibition of posters red-tagging student leaders, organizations, and local personalities in the city.

His action earned the ire of the red-tagging Lorraine Badoy, a former official of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), who used her program on Sonshine Media Network International to accuse the mayor of betraying the government. 

In January 2023, Badoy and her co-host Jeffrey Celis again accused the mayor of colluding with communist rebels, prompting him to warn of possible legal action.

The council also turned down a request from the military for organizational documents of accredited civil society groups in the city. Several of its members are also pushing for the passage of an ordinance protecting human rights defenders. – Rappler.com

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