It’s human rights week once again and it is the time when different groups would come out with their analysis of the human rights situation prevailing in the country. At the same time, the Aquino government is into the tail end of its term, four and a half years this December, and everything that is happening now is its own doing. It is already too much of a stretch if the Aquino government would still insist on blaming the previous Arroyo administration for the problems besetting the country.
The prevalence of impunity and the excruciatingly slow progress in the Ampatuan massacre case already give the people a sense of the human rights situation in the country. But to come out with a definitive description of the human rights situation in the country, it would be worthwhile to ponder over the following.
1. Are there political prisoners languishing in the country’s jails and detention camps?
It doesn’t really matter whether these political prisoners took up arms or merely expressed their views through writing or public speaking or holding a peaceful rally in front of Malacañang or President Aquino’s family residence in Times St., Quezon City. The mere presence of political prisoners is indicative of the country’s maladies, of the prevalence of social injustices. If a country is truly free and democratic, there would be no need for dissent and there would be no political prisoners.
2. Are there extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings of political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, civilians and even those suspected of being members of the revolutionary movement?
It doesn’t really matter if the numbers have gone down, one killing is still one killing too many.
It is worth noting that the Philippines has earned the infamy of being the second most dangerous place for journalists and one of the top five countries where land rights defenders are frequently killed.
3. Are there cases of forcible abductions and enforced disappearances?
This abhorrent practice could not be treated as just a human rights violation; it is a crime against humanity because it is so cruel it has no place in a civilized society.
4. Are people being forcibly displaced from their homes and sources of livelihood? Are they being made the target of attacks of military operations?
International Humanitarian Law prohibits forcibly displacing civilians as a military strategy and making them the target of attacks. Even hors d’ combat or those whose capacity to fight has been deterred should be accorded their rights under International Humanitarian Law.
5. Are elections truly democratic and free? Could anyone vote, run for office and be elected without threats to life and liberty and pecuniary considerations? Has there been an end to political dynasties, trapo politics or political patronage, warlordism and the politics of guns, goons, and gold?
6. Could the people genuinely express themselves, practice their beliefs, join associations and fight for their rights without threats to life and liberty?
7. Do the people have access to their basic needs and essential social services?
8. Do the people enjoy their right to work and do they get the fruits of their labor? Do people have jobs and sources of livelihood that enable them to realize their potentials and provide a decent life for themselves, their family and community? Do farmers own the land they till?
A positive answer to any of the first four questions and a negative response to any of the last four questions would show that the human rights situation is far from good, even if the government repeatedly makes formal declarations of respecting and upholding human rights.
Human rights, in its totality, could never be fully realized for as long as there is oppression and exploitation, social inequities, and elite rule. Human rights violations would continue to be committed for as long as a few live on the labor of the majority.
This is why the people could not rely on the government to accord them their rights. The people should fight for it continuously, because whatever rights the people gain through struggle, it could be taken away arbitrarily by those in power. In the final analysis, people’s rights do not emanate from government; it is the result of the people’s struggle against all forms of oppression and exploitation and for social justice, freedom and genuine democracy.