Hate human rights? They protect freedoms you enjoy

Jodesz Gavilan

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Hate human rights? They protect freedoms you enjoy
The criticism of the Commission on Human Rights for being an alleged 'shield of criminals' mirrors failure to appreciate that it also protects a broad range of human rights, including the right to education, food, and life


MANILA, Philippines – The concept of human rights is not appreciated enough by many Filipinos in the context of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. 

President Rodrigo Duterte has gone into tirades, blasting organizations – both local and international – that have criticized his administration’s anti-illegal drug campaign. That campaign has, so far, yielded 5,869 deaths as of December 3, according to data from the Philippine National Police (PNP). (IN NUMBERS: The Philippines’ war on drugs)

Among those included in Duterte’s negative list are the United Nations (UN) and its various agencies, the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as countries belonging to the European Union (EU), plus the United States (US). In the Philippines, it is the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

But based on comments on various Rappler stories that feature CHR, there seems to be misconceptions about the mandate of the Commission and the coverage of human rights.

Sentiments hurled against the Commission range from it being used to shield criminals from prosecution to being a huge obstacle to the administration’s promise of change. 

Many hit the CHR for not acting on cases involving victims of murders, rape, and other crimes yet the Commission is mandated by law to primarily act on violations carried out by state agents or private individuals upon the instruction of government authorities. This includes private armies.

In fact, it is the PNP that is responsible for investigating and arresting those who have committed crimes in the country. If they fail to put perpetrators behind bars, then they can be held accountable. 

Human rights for everyone

Established through the 1987 Philippine Constitution, CHR primarily handles the investigations of human rights violations – either on its own or through complaints filed. 

The Commission is also mandated by law to ensure that the Philippine government “respects, protects, and fulfills” the human rights of all Filipinos. CHR is also tasked to make sure the government complies with international treaties the country is a state party to.  

Contrary to noisy commentary on social media, human rights are not just for criminals. In fact, these rights help ordinary people to live freely.

All the things Filipinos are entitled to can be found in Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the Bill of Rights. It has 22 sections which declare all the rights and privileges government must uphold, respect, and protect. 

Other rights, meanwhile, are enshrined in various international laws such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) – all of which the Philippines is a signatory to.  

Examples of these rights include the right to peaceful assembly and association, right of equal access to public service, right to life, liberty and security of person:

  • Right to equality
  • Freedom from discrimination
  • Right to life, liberty, personal security
  • Freedom from slavery
  • Freedom from torture and degrading treatment
  • Right to recognition as a person before the law
  • Right to equality before the law
  • Right to remedy by competent tribunal
  • Freedom from arbitrary arrest and exile
  • Right to fair public hearing
  • Right to be considered innocent until proven guilty
  • Freedom from interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence
  • Right to free movement in and out of the country
  • Right to asylum in other countries from persecution
  • Right to a nationality and the freedom to change it
  • Right to marriage and family
  • Right to own property
  • Freedom of belief and religion
  • Freedom of opinion and information
  • Right of peaceful assembly and association
  • Right to participate in government and in free elections
  • Right to social security
  • Right to desirable work and to join trade unions
  • Right to rest and leisure
  • Right to adequate living standard
  • Right to education
  • Right to participate in the cultural life of community
  • Right to a social order 
  • Freedom from state or personal Interference in the above rights 

Why has it come to this? 

Despite all the negative associations here with human rights, CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel Gana is thankful because through Duterte, human rights became a household word. 

She insisted, however, that CHR is not being a hindrance to the eradication of crime in the Philippines; it just wants to make sure that methods used do not violate human rights. (READ: CHR in 2016: ‘We are not enemies of the fight against drugs’) 

“We are not enemies of the fight against drugs,” she said. “We are partners that would be very protective of the rights of every individual.”  

But how did it come to this – the Philippines’ primary protector of human rights is receiving unprecedented criticism?  

For Gana, the negative perception may stem from “freedoms” being taken for granted.

“I think we live in a democratic society that we take for granted our freedoms,” she said. “Hindi naman naging (It never became) an issue because after Martial Law, we’ve lived in a society that’s relatively free.”

Filipinos have moved freely without fear of curtailment of freedoms in the past 30 years. That’s why they have failed to realize that human rights include a broad range of entitlements, not just political and civil rights.

Iyong economic, social, and cultural, hindi natin ina-associate iyon sa human rights,” she said. “Hindi naman alam na ang human rights pala ay napaka-broad at malaki ang coverage. Iyong right to food, right to education, right to employment, lahat napunta background ng human rights.” 

(The economic, social, and cultural rights, we don’t associate them with human rights. We don’t realize that the concept and coverage of human rights is broad. Our right to food, right to education, right to employment, all of them were put in the background of our human rights.)

“We should be educated about all the other aspects of human rights in our society. As a human being, what are you entitled to? You should know that,” she added. 

In line with the push for a more comprehensive understanding of human rights, the Department of Education in November said that CHR is already reviewing the competencies of human rights education in the K to 12 curriculum

Will we be seeing less misinformed comments on human rights in the future? – 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 impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.