Keynote Speech by CHR Chair Leila de Lima
Volume 22 Number 4
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 15:15


on the Occasion of the 15th Task Force Detainees of the Philippines National Convention:
Defending Human Rights, Working for Justice and Building Peace in the Midst of War and Corruption

Tagaytay City, Philippines, 20 November 2008

delivered by
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines

Good Morning.

In behalf of the Commission on Human Rights, I would like to thank Executive Director, Sr. Crescencia Lucero, and the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines for this opportunity to address the entire organization and to galvanize our solidarity and partnership in our common mission to advance the cause of human rights protection and promotion.

The Philippine human rights landscape, since the creation of TFDP in 1974, has changed dramatically several times over. We have witnessed the brutality of martial law, the bloodbath of the Islamic secessionist movement, the gripping fear brought about by the Sparrow Units, the outrage of the student movement, the birth of the Diliman Republic and the unbridled pilferage of national wealth. We have seen the upheaval of the 1986 Revolution, the rash of coup d' etat attempts, vigilante killings, the restoration of democracy only to be blighted by the return of the same brigands expelled by the people.

We have seen progress and prosperity, and the survival of the country through economic turbulence, the currency crisis, the energy crisis, swelling debt and precarious free trade positioning.

We have seen another president ousted, the entry of renewed hope in a new administration, and the rediscovery of the same face of corruption that had never left us.

We had seen the season of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances, the international attention and pressure, and bold moves from within the country to address these crimes of impunity. Yet, we have seen no justice for the families of those lost in recent past nor for the deluge of those lost nearly three decades ago.
We have seen the revival of the Moro wars and the military campaigns of the 70s and late 90s in the form of a relatively milder, but no less dismaying, outbreak of armed conflict sprung from the failure to finally broker an agreement on ancestral domain.

While the generations that have succeeded us who had stood as silent witnesses to the 1970s, have no memory of the immense struggle that our people had undertaken and survived, and have no memory but that of times of freedom and modest prosperity, of money and cell phones and technology, the Filipino people has reached a crossroad: are we at a point where we have no great war, no massive struggle, or no great depression to live through? Do we need yet another oppressive dictator, another brazen brigand or another economic black hole to move the entire Filipino people to action?

The lessons learned from the longevity of the TFDP and the 22-year old Commission are lessons in history. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It is a test of collective memory as a people. It is a test of recognition of the gains we have achieved against a backdrop of where our Nation had come out from. It is thus, a test of vigilance, to recognize that the great Moro wars of Mindanao, the oppressiveness of Martial Law and the shameless thievery of national coffers in the past, are just as resilient as the Filipino people's resolve. They persist today in forms that are arguably less blatant, but certainly, just as definitive and familiar.

Now, there is no great war or dictator, but vestiges and ghosts of the same. They are less apparent but no less revolting. Especially in the face of the gains and evolution of our people and nation since three decades ago, no measure of old ills is tolerable. Thus, we do not need a new great war, dictator or depression. We need only to follow the compass set by freedom fighters and human rights defenders who had come before us. We need only to carry on with the struggle until not even a shadow of our grim past remains.

To place old lessons in perspective in relation to the current landscape not only calls us to familiar resolve and familiar action, but to address new challenges as well.

The recent outbreak of armed hostilities in the Muslim heartland of Mindanao has beckoned human rights defenders of all kinds to reaffirm one unwavering value which remains universally true: the protection of non-combatants in the midst of war. The efforts of all human rights defenders to secure the safety of civilians, to facilitate their evacuation and to address their needs in times of displacement, have been copious and responsive. Our demands on the military and the local governments concerned have been consistent.

Compliance with the common provisions of the Geneva Conventions governing armed hostilities remains lacking, thus the work of human rights defenders coming to the aid of civilians must not end.

While the thrust of decades past in dealing with the secessionist movement has been the protection of the political and territorial integrity of the Nation, as is the issue now in the withdrawn MOA on Ancestral Domain, the new challenges that confront us now include the formulation of a disaster management plan that is rights-centered, the non-interruption of education for displaced minors, the psychological health of evacuees, and the development of legislation, firstly, on compensation for civilians injured during military operations and secondly, on command responsibility.

Groundbreaking territory are the efforts of the Commission to finally address the age-old problem of child soldiers conscripted into battle by non-State armed groups, and to independently check on the plight of the so-called undocumented Filipino workers in Sabah.

It is the same war, indeed. However, the challenges are manifold and new.
In the realm of promoting human rights through justice, and battle against corruption, the standards remain the same as well. The right to development as enshrined in the UN Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights proscribes anything that impedes development. Where corruption places those without means in a more marginalized position, without access to justice or equal opportunity, human rights defense must be present.

The method of addressing issues of corruption seems unchanged. It is still about its repugnance to morals and principles. It is still the subject of unending congressional investigations, susceptible to politicking. It has always been about criminality of public officers. It has always been about public coffers bled for the benefit of the few in fiduciary roles.

However, it has never been about the deprivation of rights that every Filipino can demand. Corruption has always been couched in terms of unfair advantage to solicitors of corrupt practice, but never about the unfair disadvantage to those who abide by the rule of law and do not contribute to the cycle of corruption.
In the realm of battling corruption, unfortunately, human rights activism has yet to place an indelible mark. The challenge before us now is to combat corruption not merely as an impropriety of public officers and of the wealthy, not merely to view it as plain criminality but to characterize it as a grave injustice, a grave violation of trust and most of all, a deprivation of legally demandable rights. Further, the challenge before us is to protect those who speak out against it, those that are in danger of being silenced. Finally, the challenge for us is to bring to the attention of both duty-bearer and rights-holders the possibility of a paradigm shift away from a padrino-culture that is based on favors, to a culture of integrity and accountability, thereby creating an environment that is most conducive to human rights protection.
Corruption is age-old, indeed. The same beast still lurks and inflicts irreversible wounds. The challenges before us now pose a test to our creativity in taking a new approach to combating corruption and to place human rights in the middle of our struggle.

The action we must take now is not of our own, but a continuation of the work of those before us. The landscape may have changed, but the lessons are still the same. The blights to our freedom, peace and progress are still the same as they were three decades ago, albeit in the form of new and different challenges.
As is the purpose of our assembly, today, we reaffirm not only our own commitment towards the advancement of human rights, but to affirm the cherished values and the valiant struggle of those who had come before us. We are here, more importantly, to affirm our commitment to face old adversaries to human rights and the new faces and forms they take on. We are here to affirm that never again will we allow another great war, dictator, depression or great deprivation of human rights.

On this occasion of the 15th TFDP National Convention, in behalf of the Commission, I reaffirm our commitment and partnership with the TFDP and all human rights defenders, that in solidarity with one another, we are ready to face the today's challenges in defending and promoting human rights.

A good day to you all.

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