Human Rights Agenda
Volume 21 Number 1
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 13:37
Democracy in its simplest and broadest sense is a political system wherein government power is legitimized through the consent of the governed. Consent is expressed in a variety of forms, including annual election of government leaders and citizen participation in governing processes. Ideally consent through the electoral process presupposes that candidates are selected by an informed and educated electorate based on issues and platforms addressing the concerns of the general public. In the language of human rights suffrage is a fundamental right that legitimizes government authority by expressing the people’s sovereign will through the exercise of free and universal elections. In this sense the electoral process is a means to select representatives that will work for the common good by fulfilling the obligation of government to respect, protect and fulfill the rights and welfare of the people.

These obligations of government are clearly outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), different human rights conventions, and our own Philippine Constitution.

In the Philippines however, politics and elections are still dominated by traditional politicians and political families who are more interested in maintaining their hold to power rather than serving their constituents. Filipino voters have long been accustomed to vote based on popularity and on the image or public persona being cultivated by a candidate. Voters also tend to choose candidates whom they view as possible patrons who could take care of them in times of need.

We believe that this prevalent culture of patronage politics and utang na loob must be changed. Change means empowering the voters by educating them about the importance of their right to suffrage and providing them with information that would allow them to make a free and informed choice. And to help disseminate information about the candidates running for office this coming election, this issue of Human Rights Update will present the profiles of nine Senatorial candidates, their electoral platforms, and stand on the issues concerning human rights. We will also discuss about the partylist system, how it works and how it is being manipulated by traditional parties.

The Human Rights Agenda for the 2007 Elections

1. On Civil Rights

All peoples have the inalienable right to life, liberty, security and property. We have the right to a transparent, credible, competent and impartial justice system, free from influence and corruption, where wrongs are redressed and justice is dispensed fairly, speedily and equitably. We are all entitled to equal access to the courts, adequate legal assistance, and to equal treatment before the law regardless of our political, social and economic status.

No person shall be subjected to arrest, search, seizure and detention without due process of law. No suspect, detainee or prisoner shall be subjected to torture, force, violence, intimidation, harassment or threats. No one shall be subjected to trial by publicity; neither shall anyone be made to undergo cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or solitary confinement.

All peoples shall be protected against involuntary disappearance. The State shall protect its citizens from all forms of extrajudicial and summary killings. It shall take responsibility for all the acts of its agents and give information and assistance to the families of the disappeared.

In line with this we are advocating the legislation of the following measures:

· Institutionalize compulsory hours of pro bono work for lawyers which will be deducted from their Mandatory Continuing Law Education (MCLE) so as to address the perennial problem of shortage of public defenders and prosecutors that handles cases for the poor, and marginalized sectors of society. This measure also seeks to decongest the work load of the public prosecutor and public defendant’s office so as to ensure that an ample amount of time is given for every individual case.
· Amend the criminal justice system to include the principle of trial by a jury of peers. This measure seeks to ensure that court trials be more fair and democratic in its procedures and principles.
· Enact measures that would strengthen existing laws pertaining to the penalty for judges or court officials who have acted in grave abuse of discretion, or who are guilty of corruption.
· Enact a law that would incorporate principles of restorative justice to our criminal justice system and would make the inclusion of human rights lawyering in the curriculum of law schools compulsory.
· Repeal Republic act No. 9372 or the Anti-Terror Law
· Enact a law that will implement a general amnesty program for members of rebel groups that would also provide immunity from suits arising from their activities while inside the organization.
· Declare as priority legislation human rights bills that have been filed during the 13th Congress that would criminalize perpetrators of torture and enforced or involuntary disappearances.
· Ratify and accede to all international human rights conventions and instruments
· Enact a law that will prohibit the presentation of suspects to the media to protect their right to being presumed innocent until proven guilty.
· Enact a law that will amend the guidelines in relation to pardon and parole, and institute reforms on prison conditions based on the minimum standards set by the U.N.

2. On Political Rights

We have the right to live in a democracy and enjoy its benefits, among them, the right to meaningful representation, participation and decision-making regarding individual and community concerns. The protection of life, liberty and property, the assurance of economic security and the promotion of the general welfare are essential prerequisites of a truly democratic society.

We have the right to determine and participate, intervene and take action in all matters that directly and indirectly affect our welfare. The State shall at all times recognize and protect the freedoms of speech, press, association and peaceful assembly.

The State shall provide equal access to opportunities for public service to all competent and qualified citizens. It must equitably diffuse political power and prohibit the proliferation of political dynasties in accordance with democratic principles.

To this end we are advocating the legislation of the following measures:

· Enact a law that will strengthen the role of civil society organizations, non-government organizations, and political organizations in governance and nation building.
· Enact a law that will remove criminal liability for libel.
· Repeal B.P. 880 or the Public assembly Act of 1982
· Enact a law that will reform the electoral system in the Philippines and end the existence of political dynasties.
· Amend the Partylist Law to strengthen and expand the partylist system in the Philippines.
· Legislate laws that would strengthen the direct participation of the people in the governing process by institutionalizing local people’s assemblies that could act as parallel administrative organs to Barangay units.

3. On Social and Cultural Rights

Everyone has the right to enjoy the highest standards of health and health care. The state is obliged to ensure that its citizens are adequately nourished and free from hunger. It is likewise the responsibility of the State to establish a responsive program for social housing and protect the public from unjust evictions from their homes. Everyone has the right to free, accessible, relevant, nationalistic education that is gender and culturally sensitive, responsive to our needs, and advances the culture of human rights.

· Enact a comprehensive public health act that would provide the poor and marginalized sectors of society with adequate health care, accessibility to medical services and medicines, and protects the rights of patients.
· Enact a Magna Carta for Students Rights and Welfare
· Amend existing legislation regarding social housing, demolition and evictions in favor of the poor and marginalized sectors of society. Enact a law that would criminalize illegal demolitions and would protect the peoples’ right to housing.
· Enact a law that would include human rights education in every school curriculum.

All children and youth have the right to special care, education, health and protection against all forms of abuse, discrimination, exploitation, corruption, and conditions affecting their moral development. The State shall protect and defend both women and men from discrimination, exploitation, trafficking, assault, battery and other forms of abuse and violence, and shall recognize their equal rights as partners in nation building.

· Enact a law that will establish a youth welfare system that would ensure free and compulsory education up to the tertiary level, and provide government stipend and discounts for youth and children below the age of eighteen belonging to the poor and marginalized sectors of society.
· Legislate a law that would establish Youth Art and Culture Centers in major urban areas nationwide for children and youth from poor families.
· Enact a Women’s Reproductive Health Bill
· Enact laws and institute reforms that would ensure access and equal representation of women in all decision-making bodies of government and other fields of endeavor.

The State must guarantee the rights of indigenous and Moro peoples by protecting them from all forms of discrimination, and recognizing, respecting, and protecting their inherent right to their ancestral domain. The State shall also ensure that its development programs does not threaten the survival of the indigenous and Moro peoples communities, nor destroy their own culture, language, tradition, and belief.

· Introduce amendments to the provisions of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) that would de-bureaucratize and simplify the process of applying and certification of ancestral domain/land claims; make it more responsive to the nuances and differences of the culture and traditions of indigenous peoples; and scrap the existing guidelines pertaining to the principle of Free and Informed Consent which is now being used by mining companies to trick indigenous peoples communities into allowing them to operate within their lands.
· Enact a law that will criminalize all forms of terrorist profiling, discrimination, and prosecution of Moro peoples and practitioners of the Muslim faith..

4. On Economic Rights

It is the obligation of the State to protect the right of the peoples to an independent economic policy free from foreign domination and intrusion, and a self-reliant economy that is against oppressive and unreasonable trade liberalization policies, and subservient debt management strategies that only pushes the people further into the debt trap.

· Enact a law that would cancel all trade agreements that would only benefit the interests of foreign capital and undermines our own economic growth and development.
· Repeal the Automatic Appropriations Law.
· Amend the Labor Code to strengthen the right to strike, and the right to form unions.

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