Here’s my choice for the top ten most important developments for Human Rights in the Philippines for 2012:
1. Passage of the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law. Unfortunately, the passage of this law was overshadowed by the passage of the Reproductive Health Law. I say unfortunate because unlike the RH Law which in jurisprudence says is a penumbra of the due process clause, the crime of “desperacidos”, which unlike violations of international humanitarian law is not considered a crime under customary public international law.
This means that a domestic law is actually required to make enforced disappearances criminal. Now that we have this law, victims of desperacidos can actually file criminal charges for enforced disappearances without relying on kidnapping, if their loved ones survive; or murder, if their loved ones are found dead.
2. Passage of the Reproductive Health Law. The passage of this law has made jurisprudence on the right to privacy unnecessary. Prior to passage of the law, women’s rights advocates relied on the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in arguing that failure of the state to provide family planning implements to those who cannot afford them is a form of discrimination.
They also relied on the US Supreme Court decision that states that the right to limit one’s family size is covered by the right to privacy and is a “penumbra” of the due process clause. With this domestic law in place, it has now become the business of government to ensure that its citizens can freely choose the size of their families.
3. Passage of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. This is in the list not because it promotes and protects human rights, but precisely because it will violate them. Unless declared unconstitutional, libel in cyberspace, which has already been pronounced as infringing on freedom of expression by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, will be even more severely punished under the new law. All future convicts will be guaranteed time in jail as the new penalties for cyber libel make them no longer eligible for parole.
Furthermore, the law’s so-called “take-down” provision, which enables the Justice secretary to unilaterally shut down Web sites, will enable the state to act as investigator, prosecutor, judge and executioner. It’s not on top of the list because of the temporary restraining order issued by the
Supreme Court enjoining the law’s implementation.
4. The Philippines’ ratification of the Domestic Workers Convention. Our ratification of the convention literally enabled the treaty to come into effect. This is the first convention that seeks to standardize the terms and conditions of employment of an estimated 50 million to 100 million domestic workers worldwide.
Under this convention, domestic workers are entitled to protection available to other workers, including weekly days off, limits to hours of work, and minimum wage and social security coverage. The convention also obliges governments to protect domestic workers from violence and abuse, and to prevent child labor in domestic work.
This will benefit at least 2 million domestic helpers locally, and millions more overseas. A domestic law that seeks to implement this convention was also passed by Congress this 2012.
5. The Philippines’ ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. This will enable private individuals now to submit their individual communications to the Committee Against Torture whenever they feel that the country has failed to protect and promote the absolute prohibition on torture. We are the first Southeast Asian country to have ratified this optional protocol.
6. The periodic review of the Philippines in the Human Rights Council. Done once every four years, it is described by the UN High Commissioner as such: “The [Universal Periodic Review] is a state-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations. As one of the main features of the Council, the UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed.”
In its concluding observations, the Human Rights Council highlighted the need for the Philippines to take action against those who perpetrate violations to the right to life as evidenced by the high number of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.
7. The periodic review of the Philippines in the UN Human Rights Committee. Also conducted every four years, this periodic review aims to “promote state compliance with the treaty principles and it should be an “honest appraisal of their conformity to the treaty obligations.” It is also a venue where state parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights report on “the measures [that the State has] adopted which give effect to the rights recognized” under the Covenant. In its concluding observations, the Committee asked the Philippine government to ensure
the binding and self-executory nature of the ICCPR and to inter-alia, also address the issues of libel as an infringement of freedom of expression, reparations of victims of trafficking, and also to end
impunity for those behind extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.
8. Five media killings in 2012. This highlights that impunity, particularly against media practitioners, continues.
9. Four victims of enforced disappearances. This highlights the need to implement the new anti-enforced disappearance law.
10. Failure of the Aquino administration to adopt human rights agenda. This last item highlights that while it has supported crucial legislation to protect and promote human rights, the absence of a national human rights agenda is proof that human rights is not a priority.