The European Union (EU) vowed yesterday to help the Philippine government fight corruption.
In a speech during the First Integrity and Human Rights Commission forum held in Makati City, Ambassador Alistair MacDonald of the European Commission said that the EU sees corruption as a symptom of poor governance and lack of transparent, accountable management and control systems.
“Freedom from the disastrous effects of corruption is as much a human right as the freedom from fear or the freedom from hunger, and indeed corruption helps to promote hunger and fear and is a direct assault on human rights more generally,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald said corruption is a universal problem, just as human rights are universal.
“Here in the Philippines as elsewhere around the world, the EU is happy and willing to provide support in this crucial area – not as a lecturer or a judge, but as a partner, sharing our own experience in addressing these issues in our own countries, and supporting the efforts of those in Philippine society who are working to address corruption issues in your country,” MacDonald said.
“In any society, rich or poor, Asian or European, it is essential to acknowledge that corruption can occur anytime, anywhere, and that what is important is that in any society, in every society, the necessary steps are taken to address this cancer. In practice, this means that corruption must be recognized as a risk, a threat, and a crime, that the State must have the will to address this risk, face the threat, and punish the crime and that we must acknowledge that even if the legislation is adequate, and the penalties clear, then the legislation must be implemented – and implemented without excessive and dispiriting delays,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald said it is also important that the civil society and the media must strengthen its campaign against corruption in government, observing and supporting transparent electoral processes and supporting parliamentary and judicial oversight.
He also said the EU was pleased to have been asked by President Arroyo to provide technical assistance to support the government’s efforts to bring an end to unexplained killings.
“I very much look forward to seeing that technical assistance begin within the next couple of months. My very best wishes to the efforts of all concerned, in government, in the courts, in civil society, to ensure that the citizens of the Philippines can prosper, in a country where human rights are assured and where offences against human rights, including corruption, are punished in accordance with the law,” MacDonald said.
Human rights concern
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is joining the battle against corruption.
During the 1st Integrity and Human Rights Conference yesterday, local and international institutions and advocates introduced corruption as another facet of human rights that especially affects vulnerable sectors of the society such as the poor.
CHR chair Leila De Lima said corruption is a “very serious” human rights violation, as it adversely impacts on the delivery of basic social services. She noted that corruption breeds “grave” human rights violations because it directly affects the people’s basic rights.
“We want to impart to the public the proposition that there is very close relation between corruption and human rights. Corruption breeds grave human rights violations because it directly affects the people’s right to food, housing, and health care, among others,” De Lima told reporters in an interview at the sidelines of the two-day forum.
“Corruption would mean that resources are reduced, leaving meager allocation for the efficient delivery of basic social services,” she also said.
De Lima pointed out that there are two fronts that people and nations like the Philippines face today – the struggle “to squelch rabid corruption” and the struggle “to vigilantly uphold and protect human rights.”
“This is our way, in the CHR, of volunteering our status… to helping out in the fight against corruption in the interest of the vulnerable sector of the society,” she added.
According to De Lima, the problem of corruption had always been viewed as a “bane, impediment, and black mark” to economic freedom, free market capitalism, and the investment environment of a country. She also said that corruption has been viewed “almost solely” as a hindrance to economic growth and progress, and as an “inconvenient yet unavoidable factor” in bureaucratic transactions.
However, De Lima said that it is about time corruption is given a new definition.
The CHR chief pointed out that the lack of and failure to fulfill the economic, social, and cultural rights of the people is “intertwined” with corruption.
“The (past) revolts (in our country) were not purely crises of economy, as corruption is often portrayed as instigating, but a humanitarian crisis at its core. It is a crisis, not only on the realm of economic progress and business climate, but a crisis in the broad and all-encompassing field of human development and human rights,” De Lima stressed. “Corruption is a very serious violation of human rights.”
“Majority, if not all, of the human rights violations, as far as the economic, social, and cultural rights are concerned, are rooted in corruption,” she also said.
De Lima called for a human rights-based approach to the fight against corruption. She urged the government to promote participation, transparency/consultation, accountability, and non-discrimination to tackle the longstanding problem.
In his speech at the conference organized by the CHR, UNDP, Bisyon 2020, and Transparency International-Philippines, Renaud Meyer, country director of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), said that dealing with corruption using “a human rights lens” provides “a realistic, more humane perspective of the impacts of corruption on human lives.”
Social services affected
He further noted that erosion of public trust due to corruption impacts greatly on human rights since it affects the effective delivery of basic social services and the fulfillment of basic rights of the people.
“It puts a human face on the impacts of corruption,” he said. “Corruption big or small impacts greatly on the poor.”
Meyer believes that corruption has “a negative impact on human rights in a multitude of ways,” diverting meager resources meant to deliver public services away from the citizens, especially the poor and marginalized sectors.
He also said that corruption hinders economic development, reduces social services, and diverts investments in infrastructure, institutions and social services, as corruption fosters an anti-democratic environment characterized by uncertainty, unpredictability and declining moral values and disrespect for constitutional institutions and authority.
“To a poor family, corruption means denying them theirs rights to potable water, rights to quality education for their children, and rights to a healthy environment for their family,” Meyer emphasized.
Meyer lamented that despite the passage of the law on plunder and other anti-graft and corruption laws and agencies in the country, including the recent ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), there is still a perception that cases filed against erring government officials have not prospered or have been disposed or dismissed in favor of the accused.
He warned that when laws are not fully enforced, and regulations are rendered ineffective, it triggers the escalation of criminality, social unrest and insecurity, which makes the poor, particularly women and children, “more vulnerable.”
De Lima, meantime, believes that newly inaugurated US President Barrack Obama has just set the stage for a brighter future in human rights advocacy worldwide when he decided to shut down Guantanamo Bay and all secret detention facilities being operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
And by the example set by Obama, De Lima expressed hope that in the wake of this “new development” the Philippine government would echo the call by acknowledging the supremacy of human rights over government power. – Jose Rodel Clapano
with Katherine Adraneda, Philippine Star