LOOK | When concept of human rights itself is demonized, danger levels peak – lawmaker’s warning on IHR Day

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Young people wear white masks to remember the nameless people killed in acts of violence, some allegedly by State agents, on the observance of International Human Rights Day. EDD GUMBAN/PHOTO

MANILA – (UPDATE 8:41 P.M) Thousands of Filipinos marked Sunday (Dec. 10) International Human Rights Day with particular focus on extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs, but a lawmaker said the most telling indication of risks under the Duterte administration is the fact that “the government itself is demonizing and discriminating the concept of human rights.”

With this, “the responsibility to stand up for them depends on us, as individuals and as a collective,” Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano said in a statement in observance of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly 69 years ago of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The Philippines was one of the Member States which voted in favor. December 10 was later proclaimed by the UNGA as International Human Rights Day.

“As the world observes this celebration of human rights, we see our nation at the opposite end with the spate of extrajudicial killings under the war on drugs of the Duterte administration. We are witnessing a direct affront to human rights with our own President encouraging the killings of suspected drug offenders, targetting mostly the poor. Even worse is that state authorities and government officials continue to deny and defend these killings. With these, some members of the police have become emboldened to commit atrocities without respect for human rights. Further, we have seen how state actors and officials lobbied for the defunding of the vanguard institution that protects our human rights from abuses of the State,” said Alejano, who had earlier unsuccessfully endorsed an impeachment complaint against Duterte.

He added: “The culture of violence and impunity that is being perpetuated today through lies and propaganda continue to attack and paint negatively the concept of human rights, thereby affecting the understanding and appreciation of Filipinos on it. . . . When the State neglects the human rights of a group of people in society or even just a lone individual, there will always be the threat that it could also happen to anyone, anywhere and anytime.

“Thus, I enjoin everyone to take this day as an opportunity to strongly assert our freedoms and human rights. There is an urgent need for us to act against threats to such rights. It is important that we work on raising awareness and promoting a correct understanding of human rights. Institutions and organizations serving as bastions of human rights must also be strengthened even more.”

RALLIES EVERYWHERE

Despite the rains, various groups mounted their own protests against alleged violation of human rights in the country.

In some areas – notably Baclaran’s Redemptorist Church where the “INRI” on the Cross was replaced with the sign “Stop the killings” – the mass actions began a day earlier.

On Sunday, militant groups staged protests at Bonifacio Shrine, and on Morayta and España Streets in Manila.

By nightfall, most of the groups had converged on historic Mendiola, just meters away from Malacañang Palace, and held a candle-lit program. Contributed photo below of Mendiola crowd is by Obet de Castro:

The highlight of the evening rally at Mendiola was the burning of the effigy of President Duterte, who was portrayed as a devil. Photo of that, below, also by Obet de Castro:

In Negros Occidental, some 5,000 people joined the march organized by BAYAN-Negros. See their photo below:

Human rights alliance Karapatan, through its secretary-general Cristina Palabay, trotted out its own data: As of November 2017, Karapatan said it has documented 113 victims of political killings, 81 victims of torture; 54,573 incidents of threat, harassment, and intimidation; 364,617 of indiscriminate firing and aerial bombing; and 426, 170 victims of forced evacuation. The Duterte regime has also imprisoned 121 new political prisoners now languishing in jails across the country, said the alliance.

“But these figures do not come close to the real extent of individuals, groups and communities victimized by the AFP, PNP and the whole US-Duterte regime since the data are just the ones reported to and documented by Karapatan. The Duterte government should be held accountable for many more attacks against the people including the thousands who are victims of extra-judicial killings perpetrated in the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs. As we commemorate the International Day of Human Rights, we honor the victims of human rights and international humanitarian law violations and we vow to continue the fight for justice with more conviction,” Palabay said in a statement.

HONTIVEROS, DE LIMA: FIGHT STATE WRONGS

Meanwhile, minority senator Risa Hontiveros echoed Alejano’s warning about basic principles being in peril under the government of President Duterte.

“Human rights are not items of convenience. They are matters of principle. And the institutions we build are supposed to stand for these principles. And what are these principles? That every person has the right to life, and a chance to shape one’s future. That no human being should be the target of discrimination in any form, and that those who society has pushed aside be given a voice.”

For her part, detained senator Leila de Lima, who has accused the Duterte administration of jailing her on trumped-up charges to feed an alleged grudge over her investigation of his human rights records when he was Davao mayor and she was chair of the Commission on Human Rights, said in a statement from the PNP detention facility: “We cannot remain silent and depend passively on governments. We the people ourselves have to act – act with urgency and in solidarity with each other. With political leaders themselves demonizing their own people, and even instigating the widespread attacks against them, the need for all of us to stand up for the basic values of human dignity and equality of everyone everywhere has now become extremely urgent.”

And, Hontiveros said: “Over the past year, our government has failed its commitment to promote and secure the people’s human rights. Through a bloody war on drugs that has victimized the poor and the helpless, through a sustained language of violence and sexism, and the deliberate stifling of dissent and critical thinking, this government has traded human rights away for a false promise of order and security. And it has treated those who would choose to defend human rights with contempt, even threatening them with violence.

“We need to be better than this. State power exists to further and protect individual rights. And when this power is used to bludgeon people into silence and submission, then lines in the sand must be drawn to restore the State back to its people. Because when the institutions we build to protect us are used against us, we prove the tyrants and despots wrong and take them back.”