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Philippines

The sorry state of human rights in the Philippines

In sadness we turn to God and ask: Why do you allow your people to die?

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila

Updated: December 11, 2018 04:22 AM GMT
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The sorry state of human rights in the Philippines

Nuns join a Human Rights Day demonstration in Manila calling for an end to widespread abuses in the Philippines in this Dec. 10, 2017, file photo. (Photo by Angie de Silva/ucanews.com)

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On Dec. 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an important document that focuses on the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights.

In the Biblical sense, the promotion and protection of human rights are synonymous with the journey towards the attainment of a "new heaven and a new Earth."  

In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, however, 70 years after the community of nations adopted the declaration, 27,000 people have been killed in a span of just over two years as a result of measures including President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

These are not "cold" statistics. The victims were people with names and families. Hundreds of undocumented enforced disappearances have occurred, not to mention the more than 2,000 unresolved cases that dates back almost 50 years.

Multiplied by the number of family members of each victim, the devastation of Duterte's war is affecting thousands of poor Filipinos. The victims have been stripped of the most sacred right to life and liberty, leaving orphans in their wake with little or no access to justice.  

This grim reality is a stark contrast to what we read in Genesis 1:27, which states that "God created mankind in his image; in the image of God, He created them; male and female, He created them."

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the equality of human beings and so does the Bible. It is sad that in exchange for a few thousand pesos, in the name of the war on drugs, our own policemen, who are supposedly protectors of the people, are killing the very people they profess to protect.

Such a war unfortunately targets those who have less in life and have fewer rights under the law. It is a war against the poor, who suffer the destructive impact of violence.

Anathema to the sanctity of life is death, such as the restoration of the death penalty and the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility from 15 years of age to nine. These are supported by legislators and complemented by the deafening silence and callous indifference of Filipinos who proudly call themselves Christians.

In his State of the Nation Address last June, President Duterte said: "Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives."

It was a statement bereft of logic and truth. It insinuated that support for human rights is tantamount to supporting criminal suspects.

The Philippines has become notorious as the country with the sixth-highest murder rate in the world.

More than 90 states delivered oral interventions concerning the state of lawlessness, killings and disappearances during the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines in May 2017.

One of the founding states of the U.N., the Philippines ironically threatened to resign from the world body to escape international scrutiny.

Lest we forget, in barely a year, three Catholic priests, namely Fathers Mark Anthony Ventura, Marcelino Paez and Richmond Nilo, were killed in the same context of this war on drugs.

Australian missionary nun Patricia Fox was deported for her fearless apostolate for the downtrodden. Bishop Pablo Virgilio David has also been attacked by the president for speaking up for the poor.

In sadness, we turn to God and ask: Why do you allow your people to be killed? Why are enforced disappearances continuing; worse still, without redress?

Why do you allow the families of victims to suffer from the devastating effects of the killings and disappearances of their loved ones?

God must have His reasons that He alone knows. After all, He allowed His only Son to die on the Cross, to save humankind from the evils of sin.

But why is there a deafening silence from this Christian and Catholic country? Conspicuously missing is the collective outrage we used to have during the Marcos dictatorship.

"Genuine peace based on justice" stands as both rhetoric and a dream. Still unresolved is the Philippines' long-running insurgency, which is rooted in poverty. Violations of human rights are rampant, as is impunity, and both are exacerbated by an unprecedented economic crisis.  

The commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights coincides with the Season of Advent.

As the Christian world looks forward to the much-awaited commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, it is about time for the Philippines to put into action the very provisions of the human rights charter.

This important document puts a premium on the sanctity of life, which is equally espoused by our Christian faith.

Mary Aileen Bacalso is secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her commitment to the cause of the disappeared, the government of Argentina awarded her the Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize in 2013.

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