RP renews commitment to Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Published by rudy Date posted on December 9, 2008

The Philippines yesterday said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the country had played a significant role in its drafting 60 years ago, continues to be not only relevant, but vital in promoting peace and security and human development throughout the world.

Third Secretary and Vice Consul Hendrik Garcia of the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva said the Philippines made lasting contributions to the Universal Declaration and it should always be remembered as a source of national pride.

“Such contributions illustrate the traditional commitment of the government and people of the Philippines to human rights and democratic governance,” Garcia said.

The Philippines was the first country to vote on the Declaration as a whole in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on Dec. 6, 1948.

The chairman of the committee drew lots to determine the order of voting, and the Philippines came up first.

As one of the founding fathers of the Universal Declaration and member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Philippines will celebrate Human Rights Day and the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights tomorrow.

Garcia said all governments are duty-bound to ensure that the rights set in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are enjoyed by their people.

“And governments that violate the Declaration are increasingly scrutinized and held accountable by the international community,” he added.

After 60 years, Garcia said the Universal Declaration continues to inspire freedom and human rights movements the world over. 

“It served as a model for the constitution of many countries, including that of the Philippines. Furthermore, it is the most translated document in world history,” he added.

Garcia said the Universal declaration is the cornerstone of international human rights protection. It defines the set of human rights which everyone is supposed to enjoy under all circumstances.

These fundamental human rights include, among others, the right to life; the right not to be held in slavery or slave-like conditions; the right not to be tortured; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to work; the right to an adequate standard of living; the right to education; and the right to participate in the cultural life of the community.

The Philippine representative in the Commission on Human Rights, the late General Carlos P. Romulo, was a co-author of Article 1 of the Declaration, which affirms that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Romulo was one of the main proponents of articles on the right to peaceful assembly and association; the right of everyone to take an effective part in government; the right to work and decent working conditions; the right to adequate rest and leisure; the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.

He strongly supported and made amendments to articles on the right to a fair public hearing; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; the prohibition of slavery; the right to freedom of movement; the right to seek asylum from persecution; and the right to marry freely and protection of the family.

The added-value of the Declaration, according to Romulo, was that it included a bill of economic and social rights, whose “practical implications” were required to buttress traditional civil and political rights.

Zero convictions

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), on the other hand, yesterday expressed fear that human rights violations might continue in the face of “zero convictions” and unsuccessful prosecution of perpetrators in the country.

This as CHR chairperson Leila de Lima also noted during a radio interview that incidence of different kinds of harassment appeared to be increasing to become the country’s top human rights abuse, threatening to replace unexplained killings, which have remarkably gone down in the past months.

De Lima, however, said militant personalities, who previously were the targets of unexplained killings and enforced disappearances, remain objects of harassment that include filing of fabricated and trumped up charges.

The CHR chief likewise lamented that the “culture of impunity” remains. The perceived culture of impunity is being blamed for the series of unexplained killings and enforced disappearances that occurred since President Arroyo assumed office.

“It fits perfectly the personalities of usual victims of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances. Not many of them die but they are being charged. Victims of indiscriminate filing of charges say their cases are trumped up or fabricated,” De Lima said.

De Lima particularly cited the cases lodged against several militants including her reported schoolmate in San Beda College of Law, labor lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr.

Last October, police arrested Saladero at his house and tagged him as one of the suspects in the supposed assault on a cell site in Batangas.

According to De Lima, unexplained killings peaked in 2006. But the number has gradually decreased since 2007.

Nevertheless, the CHR chief stressed cases of human rights abuse seemed to have shifted to the “different angles” of human right violations.

De Lima then pointed out the “pattern” they observed that involved wanton arrests and abduction, and filing of cases against militant personalities.

The status of “zero convictions” in all human rights violation cases being investigated by the CHR is to some extent blamed on the constitutional body’s limited powers.

At present, the main attributes of CHR are limited to investigative, monitoring, and recommendatory functions. Generally, it does not have prosecutorial powers. Also, the CHR has no fiscal autonomy, obtaining its yearly budget from the Office of the President.

Homecoming of a father

In commemoration of the Political Prisoners Day, wives and children called on the government to approve their plea to free their loved ones, who they maintained are actually innocent and are mere political prisoners in the country.

With enlarged pictures of their fathers hanging around their necks, children aged four to 15 years old urged President Arroyo to immediately release their fathers from jail as an early Christmas gift.

Glenda Itaas, 43, whose husband Juanito has been behind bars for around 20 years now, said she has filed the application seeking, at the least, commutation of sentence for her husband before the Board of Pardons and Parole for many years now.

In fact, she said, Juanito has been recommended for release three times in the last few years but his papers seemed to always get lost upon reaching the Office of the President.

“It would appear like my husband is even being made to stay longer in jail with many other charges being filed against him recently,” Glenda told The STAR.

According to Glenda, her husband has been repeatedly tagged as a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) as he was an activist involved in organizing peasant organizations in Davao.

She claimed that Juanito had been granted amnesty by the government in 1992, or during the Ramos administration, but was still ordered to remain in prison because the cases filed against him were not dropped despite the amnesty.

Glenda further noted that the co-accused of her husband, whom she identified as Donato Continente, has already been released from prison. She then expressed disbelief as to why Juanito is being left to rot in jail even when his co-accused was freed.

“Compared to convicted murderer (Claudio) Teehankee, my husband should be more eligible for an executive clemency because he already spent so much time in jail, almost 20 years. Besides, Teehankee’s crime was more heinous. My husband was just a fall guy and he was arrested and detained merely because of his political beliefs,” Glenda pointed out.

“Yet the government remains deaf. It would seem that the government does not want to take action on our appeal. Is it because those people are rich and we are not? That we do not have money to give them? Does the government have double-standard?” she also said.

Rosita Mercader, 44, shared the same sentiments. Her husband, Anacleto, a farmer in Samar, was arrested in 1992 purportedly on trumped up charges. Anacleto remains in jail up to this day.

According to Rosita, just like Juanito, her husband was accused of being a member of the NPA. Both Juanito and Anacleto are currently languishing at the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.

Rosita said they have filed an application before the Board of Pardons and Parole and that in 2002, Anacleto was recommended for a commutation of sentence.

“However, such recommendation is still not being enforced to this day. They said they will review it, but until now there is no result of the review,” a teary-eyed Rosita told The STAR.

Rosita recalled that her husband was arrested in Manila weeks before Christmas in 1992. She said that if government still fails to grant their wish for her husband to be set free this Christmas, it would only mean that their home has been father-less for the last 16 Christmases.

“My daughter, who is now 19 years old, practically grew up without a father. I almost gave up since it was so difficult to raise a child alone. And the effect of a home without a father is really undeniable on my daughter,” Rosita narrated.

“That is why more than the material things this Christmas, we really want the freedom of our respective husbands, especially for our children, in time for Christmas,” she added. –-Pia Lee-Brago with Katherine Adraneda, Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero, Philippine Star

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