Human Rights Dialogue (1994–2005): Series 1, Number 6 (Fall 1996): The Human Rights Discourse in East Asia: Reports from the Region: Articles: THE PHILIPPINES

Sep 5, 1996

Much of the human rights discourse in the Philippines reflects an understanding of human rights as advocacy and solely as individual political rights. Therefore when one scans the writings on human rights, the vast majority cover the abuse of civil and political rights—torture, disappearances, arbitrary arrests and executions—under past authoritarian regimes. The arguments raised in these writings about violations and advocacy are based on international standards, with little attempt to improve upon these standards. It is only recently that new human rights issues—economic rights, migrants rights, indigenous peoples rights, and children's rights, among others—are being introduced into the discourse.

It is a discourse dominated by the "expose and oppose" camp, and viable alternatives to government policies have yet to be proposed. For example, the PHILRIGHTS monograph discussed below argues passionately that the Ramos administration's "Philippines 2000" strategy is an attempt to force upon the people a development paradigm that may prove deleterious to the country's human rights situation. But it fails to provide an alternative strategy. Likewise in the Garcia volume, the "agenda for peace," developed from human rights principles put forth by advocacy groups, is presented as a panacea that rests on a package of profound and comprehensive reforms and measures. Ironically, many of these reforms can already be found in the government's development agenda.

All of the selections are critical of the past and current governments human rights policies. What is needed are concrete suggestions as to how sectors of civil society—which the advocates claim to represent—can constructively contribute to shaping alternative policies and discourse on human rights. The last writing on the rights of the child is refreshing in this sense because it provides a direct response to the problem of child abuse.

A Distant Peace: Human Rights and Peoples Participation in Conflict Resolution by Ed Garcia. Quezon City: National Book Store, 1991.

This book gives a general assessment of the human rights track record under the Aquino administration, noting the "hopeful and inspiring efforts of countless persons, groups, agencies, organizations and institutions in seeking peace." The book draws from the experiences of these groups to "discuss areas of relevance to the peaceful resolution of deep-seated conflicts in Philippine society." Such conflicts, which revolve around ethnic, religious, clan, and class issues, have escalated to armed confrontation. Over an extended period, these conflicts have affected a broad range of Philippine society, violated the civil and social rights of many people, and cost countless lives.

The author argues that social and political unrest occurs when human rights are violated. He also argues that human rights advocacy and peace building "walk hand in hand." He believes there is now occasion to say that a significant "peace constituency" has developed in the Philippines. This constituency is made up of NGO advocates working for human rights and equitable development whose views have attracted the attention not only of the government but of the rest of society.

Philippines: The Killing Goes On by Amnesty International. London: Amnesty International, 1992.

This report depicts the many politically-motivated atrocities committed by security and police authorities under the Marcos and Aquino governments, and declares these activities clear violations of international human rights standards, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Cases of torture, illegal detention, and extrajudicial killings carried out by security and police forces are documented. It is argued that police and paramilitary elements are more likely to adopt extreme measures in the face of a growing and militant armed insurgent movement, such as that which arose between the National Democratic Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines throughout the 1970s and well into the 1990s and from secessionist and separatist movements.

While the conventional wisdom says that the Aquino administration instituted a number of measures to uphold rights in the Philippines, the report argues that these initiatives "have been hampered by an evident lack of commitment to implement them properly," especially on the part of paramilitary and police elements.

Resistance (Pumipiglas) 3: Torment and Struggle After Marcos. Edited by Bobby Tuazon. Quezon City: Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, 1993.

This book is the third in a series of reports published by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a Church-based organization established during Marcos' administration, on the human rights trends in the country from 1986 to 1992. The TFDP, which has one of the largest networks in the Philippines, provides research and advocacy support to victims of human rights violations. The book specifically highlights the human rights situation under Aquino, discussing the administration's "total war" policy, the establishment of the Commission on Human Rights, and the struggles of human rights activists. This "total war" policy, characteristic of the latter part of Aquino's term, continued the counter-insurgency effort begun under Marcos and spared no means to combat subversion from all fronts, be they trade union activities or actual armed confrontations with the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). This "total war" policy put the newly established Commission on Human Rights, supposedly empowered to investigate violations on the part of military and police authorities, to the test, an ironic twist captured in the book.

Although the ook claims to "avoid making a judgement on Aquino's human rights record," the contributors consistently denounce the atrocities committed under her administration. The book's final chapter argues that "Aquino's presidential term was short...but it was long on promises." Human rights abuses may not have been the outright policy at the time, but "the fact remains that human rights violations continued and in some respects escalated during Aquino's six-year term."

Issues and Concerns of Overseas Filipinos: An Assessment of the Philippine Government's Response by Elena Samonte, Catherine Maceda, Minda Cabilao, Betty del Castillo, and Maria Paz Zuleta. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press and the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies, 1995.

This report presents a synthesis of the problems confronting Filipino workers overseas and the responses of the Philippine government. The areas of concern are divided according to pre-departure, on-site, and reintegration problems and responses. The book notes the challenges confronting the government in its efforts to address the needs of Filipinos overseas. The report argues that the government could do more, especially in its adherence to internationally-mandated norms and standards. The authors recommend a few broad and profound institutional and attitudinal changes both in the government and industrial sector. One such recommendation involves changing the attitudes of bureaucrats to be more service oriented toward Filipino nationals as their constituents. Another would be the institutionalization of a "code of ethics" for the private sector creating "values that work toward the common good."

"Philippines 2000" and Human Rights by the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PHILRIGHTS). Manila: PHILRIGHTS, 1994.

This monograph examines the development set in motion by the Philippines Medium-Term Development Plan (1993–98), more popularly known as "Philippines 2000." It evaluates the plan by what is called "pro-people development" standards, understood to be "sustainable, participatory and equitable." This pro-people framework is strongly influenced by the fundamental rights laid out in the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development as well as the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

PHILRIGHTS main critique of "Philippines 2000" is that it emphasizes rapid economic growth, structural adjustment, and the promotion of a free market system, all of which invariably run counter to the basic propositions of international human rights. Long-term environmental concerns are sacrificed for growth, much to the detriment of already marginalized social sectors. Although the trade and price liberalizations that accompany structural adjustment programs may increase national income, such policies may also generate or exacerbate social problems. The monograph thereby associates a government policy that emphasizes deregulation and a free market with inequality and poverty. It concludes with a superficial discussion of the policy implications of the "Philippines 2000" platform, suggesting that "the Ramos government ...rework its economic blueprint to remove the inordinate concern with rapid growth." The work implies the need to recognize the trade-off between growth and human rights, but it goes no further. All in all it is high on criticism and low on constructive recommendations.

Children are People Too: A Guide to the Convention on the Rights of the Child for Students and Teachers by Daniel O Donnell. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing House, 1996.

This pedagogical tool for teaching the International Convention on the Rights of the Child in schools is very effective. The overall teaching strategy is the standard nontraditional method which involves self-awareness building exercises, and discussion techniques ingeniously applied to the subject of the rights of the child. This includes: the sale and abduction of children as a violation of their rights; the rights of children caught in armed conflicts; and the right of the child to recover from physical and psychological injury as a result of such conflicts. The book places the rights embodied in the convention in the context of other basic human rights. In doing so, it also discusses how these rights impact Filipinos today, as well as the extent to which such rights are being observed and could be enhanced. Most importantly, it creates a greater sensitivity to the rights of the child, rights which are rarely discussed in the Philippines, but are serious enough to warrant social concern.

The reviewer, Jorge Tigno, is an assistant professor of political science in the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy at the University of the Philippines.

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