Happy New Year, Philippines!
For a second time, here are 10 highlights in the field of human rights in the Philippines for the year that just passed:
1. In February, the Philippine Supreme Court rendered a split decision on the constitutionality of the Cybercrimes Prevention Act. Critics of the law argued that its provisions on libel and cybersex were overboard and could infringe on freedom of expression. The Supreme Court disagreed and ruled that defamation and obscenity were traditional limitations on freedom of speech. Despite this set-back, libertarians rejoiced because the court declared as unconstitutional the provisions that could otherwise have subjected libel to double jeopardy and real time gathering of information which the court said should be pursuant to a judicial warrant.
2. In April, the Supreme Court upheld by and large the Reproductive Heath Law. This law promotes the right to health of both women and their children, as well as implements the right to privacy and responsible parenthood. A big win for Human Rights!
3. From May 12 to November 10, the Human Rights Claims Board, a body created by law to pay reparation to victims of human rights abuses during the Marcos dictatorship, accepted claims from victims of the dictatorship. While not all victims were able to submit the claim, the fact that the Board was created by law and accepted some claims for reparation is significant as a way of implementing the state’s obligation to make reparations to victims of human rights violations.
4. In August, the Supreme Court dismissed with finality the prayer of Filipino women raped by Japanese soldiers during World War II to compel the Philippine government to espouse their claim for reparations in international tribunals. Ruling that the President as chief architect of foreign policy cannot be compelled to espouse the comfort women’s claims, the Court made legal history and made the Philippines the only state in the world that does not recognize the duty of war criminals to make reparations to their victims. The main decision could also be read to mean that the Philippines is the only country on earth that does not consider rape as criminal in times of armed conflicts. This decision is perhaps the biggest blow to human rights for the year.
5. The Supreme Court’s decision to declare as unconstitutional both the PDAF and the DAP were major victories on the fight to promote Economic, Social and Cultural rights. This is because by declaring pork barrel in all forms as unconstitutional, the Court in effect ruled that public coffers should be spent to benefit the people economically and not to enrich our politicians. A truly great victory for human rights!
6. The murder of Jennifer Laude said to have been perpetrated by Joseph Scott Pemberton not only highlighted yet another violation of the right to life. It also highlighted the country’s fight for genuine independence pursuant to the internationally recognized right to self-determination. For the first time, the internet generation learned why the presence of foreign troops offends our national sovereignty. This is because when GIs commit common crimes, they’re given special treatment since they will remain the custody of their fellow Americans in an air-conditioned jail and not in a local jail which has been described by the UN Human Rights Committee in one of its View as being “torturous”.
7. Deputy presidential bad mouth Abi Valte called attention again to her gross ignorance of human rights law when she reiterated, ironically, by way of commemorating the 5th year of the Maguindanao massacre, that the P Noy administration will not pay compensation to the victims of the massacre since the current administration had no hand on the massacre. Will someone please teach this woman the basics of state responsibility or better yet, tell her to shut up on matters she’s clueless about!
8. In any case, the fact that the murder cases for the Maguindanao massacre are proceeding at a snails pace is proof that the Philippines is not just in breach of the duty to pay compensation to victims of human rights violations; it is also proof that it is in breach of its duty to the victims to accord them also an adequate domestic remedy.
9. The murders of journalists Rubylita Garcia, Nilo Baculo, Samuel Oliverio, and Richard Nadjid in 2014 are proof that the Philippines remains amongst the most murderous countries fro journalists. Already the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has recorded at least 217 media killings since 1986. The killing of journalists is not just a violation of the right to life. It also infringes on freedom of the press, as murder is the most pernicious and permanent form of censorship.
10. In a UN conference on the safety of journalists sponsored by the European Council and UNESCO, last November in Strasburg, Germany, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima admitted that the country’s conviction rate for extralegal killings remains at a measly 1%. This is why impunity persists in the country.
Keep safe and do not be a victim this 2015!
(Disclosure: the author acted as counsel for either the petitioners or the victims in almost all of the cases cited in this column)