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The Old Struggle for Human Rights,

New Problems Posed by Security


Tomorrow begins in the East, trumpets the motto of this venerable
institution of learning. In his last moments in Bagumbayan, our national hero
Jose Rizal stared at tomorrow in the eye, veered his bullet-riddled body to the
right and fell lifeless on the ground face turned towards the rising un in the
east.[1] From the cradle to the grave, Rizal consecrated his life to fight for the
human rights of our people.

Today, you will be certified as a walking intellectual. Tomorrow, you will be


looking at our people with a fresh eye. I urge you to use your new eye to
perceive the meaning and nuances of our continuing struggle to protect and
push to new thresholds the human rights of our people.

The wisdom of hindsight informs us that human rights stem from three
bedrock rights: the right to life, the right to human dignity, and the right to
develop.[2] From the right to life springs our right to own property, to health, to
work, to establish a family. From the right to human dignity flows our right to
equal treatment before the law, to freedom of thought, of conscience, of
religion, of opinion, expression, and to be recognized as a person everywhere.
From the right to develop comes the right to education, and to live in an
environment that allows all of our rights to flourish in full.[3]

There is no human without any right. The caveman and the civilized man
have the same natural rights. Human rights inhere in all of us as human
beings, as beings higher and different from other creatures. Since they are
innate to man, since they are inherent to his being, these rights are inalienable
and cannot be taken away; they are inviolable and cannot be waylaid by any
might of man; their preservation is an obligation shared by the rulers and the
ruled alike.

Our history tells us that in this small patch of the earth, our forefathers
pioneered in planting the seeds of human rights when it was far from being
the fad and fashion of the day. On May 31, 1897, they established a
republican government in BiaknaBato. It had a Constitution advance on
political and civil rights. With serendipity, its authors Felix Ferrer and Isabelo
Artacho embedded in it four articles which guaranteed freedom of the press,
the right of association, freedom of religion, and freedom from deprivation of
property or domicile except by virtue of judgment passed by a competent
court of authority. They entrenched these radical ideals in 1898 when
Aguinaldo established a revolutionary government and adopted the Malolos
Constitution.

Then came our war against the United States. American President
McKinley sent the First Philippine Commission headed by Jacob Gould
Schurman to assess the Philippine situation. On February 2, 1900, the
commission reported to the President that the Filipino wanted above all a
guarantee of those fundamental human rights which Americans hold to be
the natural and inalienable birthright of the individual but which under Spanish
domination in the Philippines had been shamefully invaded and ruthlessly
trampled upon. In response to this, President McKinley, in his Instruction of
April 7, 1990 to the Second Philippine Commission, provided an
authorization and guide for the establishment of a civil government in the
Philippines stated that (u)pon every division and branch of the government of
the Philippines must be imposed these inviolable rules The inviolable
rules included, among others, that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty,
or property without due process of law.

The inviolable rules of the Instruction were reenacted almost exactly in


the Philippine Bill of 1902, in the Philippine Autonomy Act of 1916 or the
Jones Law, and in the 1935 Constitution. The 1935 Bill of Rights was carried
into the 1973 Constitution with a few changes, and finally in the 1987
Constitution. As an aftermath of the martial law regime of the Marcos
government, the 1987 Constitution, enshrined a Bill of Rights which more
jealously safeguards the peoples fundamental liberties. In clear and
unmistakable language, the Constitution proclaimed as a state policy that
(t)he state values the dignity of very human person and guarantees full
respect for human rights. In addition, it has a separate Article on Social
Justice and Human Rights, under which, the Commission on Human Rights
was created.

The horrors of the World Wars warn us that the protection of human rights
is a duty we owe to generations to come. In 1945, the peoples of the United
Nations (UN), declared in the Preamble of the UN Charter that their primary
end was the reaffirmation of faith in the fundamental human rights, in the
dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women
and of nations large and small, in order to save succeeding generations from
the scourge of war.
The promotion of human rights is also the indispensable predicate of
peace and progress. For this reason, on December 10, 1948, the United
Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its two
implementing covenants are the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights. These instruments not only denounced nazism and fascism, but also
recognized that the security of individual rights, like the security of national
rights, was a necessary requisite to a peaceful and stable world order.

The interesting question is what has happened to human rights in this new
millennium? The end of the Cold War ended the bipolar world starring the
West led by the United States and the East led by Russia. The end result of
that clash of civilization is the emergence of a unipolar world dominated by
democracy as the political ideology and the triumph of capitalism as the bible
of economics. With communism out in the cold, the world awaited with bated
breath the dawn of universal peace and order. But when peace appeared to
be within mankinds grasp, 9/11 shattered to smithereens its illusion. 9/11
gave birth to new realities on ground with grave repercussions on the human
rights situation in the world, especially the most vulnerable sector, the poor
who are many, the many yet the most impotent.

On the universal level, 9/11 altered the face of international law. As the
worst victim of terrorism, the United States led the fight to excise and exorcise
terrorism from the face of the earth. It pursued a strategy characterized by a
bruising aggressiveness that raised the eyebrows of legal observers. The
leader country of democracy did not wait for the United Nations to act but
immediately sought to search and destroy terrorists withersoever they may be
found. In less polite parlance, the search and destroy strategy gave little
respect to the sovereignty of states and violated their traditional borders. The
strategy which is keyed on military stealth and might had trampling effects on
the basic liberties of suspected terrorists for laws are silent when the guns of
war do the talking. The war on terrorism has inevitable spilled over effects on
human rights all over the world, especially in countries suspected as being
used as havens of terrorists. One visible result of the scramble to end
terrorism is to take legal shortcuts and legal shortcuts always shrink the scope
of human rights.

These shortcuts have scarred the landscape of rights in the Philippines. In


March 2006, Amnesty International issued a public statement expressing
grave concern over reports of an ongoing pattern of political killings of
members of legal leftist organizations in various provinces in the countr y. It
also stated that in the wider context of continuing nationwide counter
insurgency operations against the New Peoples Army (denounced as
terrorists) periodic human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions,
extrajudicial executions and torture, continue to be reported. Aside from them,
community activists, church workers, lawyers, journalists and others perceived
as sympathetic to the communist movement suffered violation of their human
rights. Not to be outdone, the NPAs are also reported to have lawlessly
retaliated against their opponents.

The escalation of extra judicial killings in the Philippines has attracted the
harsh eye of advocates of human rights. The UN Commission on Rights has
sent Prof. Alston to look at the Philippine human rights situation. Some
members of the International Parliamentary Union are in town for the same
purpose. Their initial findings are not complementing to our Constitutional
commitment to protect human rights.

As young graduates, you may be asking yourself the relevance of these


ongoing violations of human rights to your life, especially as you embark on
your journey to improve the economic aspects of your life. I submit that the
fight against terrorism and the battle to preserve human rights have high
impact on the right of young people to live with dignity. One of its illeffects is
the massive displacement of young people in areas where the fight against
terrorism tramples on human rights. These young people are compelled to
migrate to seek greener pastures in hostile environments and, worse where
they find their human rights subjected to new abuses with near impunity.
Figures show that this problem of displacement will get worse in the coming
years because of the galloping growth of the youth population. The United
Nations predict that some 138 countries will have growing youth bulge; its
calamitous consequence is that youth unemployment will skyrocket to record
levels with the highest rate in the Middle East and North Africa. The UN
findings further reveal that at least 60 million people aged 1520 will not be
able to find work and twice as many, about 130M, cannot lift their families out
of poverty. It will not take a prophet to predict that countries that cannot give
decent life to their young people will serve as incubators of extremism that
may end up in terrorism.

And this leads me to the proposition that we need to give a broader,


innovative view on our efforts to protect the human rights of our people which
should consider our distinct social, economic and political context. Defying the
cult of conformity and comfort, I submit that this view should consider the
following facts and factors:
One. Terrorism is just one means of violating our human rights, especially
our right to life itself, and should not consume our entire attention. Often,
terrorism attracts universal attention because of its cinematic impact the
shocking violence, the bravado of the villains, the heroism of the victims
rescuers, the sickening loss of lives and property and the dominance of the
animal in man. Terrorism is terrible enough but the mindless, knee jerk
reaction to extirpate the evil is more discomforting. The quickie solution is to
unfurl the flag, sing the national anthem and issue the high pitched call to
arms for the military and the police to use their weapons of destruction under
the theme victory at all cost. To put constitutional cosmetics to the military
police muscular efforts, lawmakers usually enact laws using security of the
state to justify the diminution of human rights by allowing arrests without
warrants; surveillance of suspects; interception and recording of
communications; seizure or freezing of bank deposits, assets and records of
suspects. They also redefine terrorism as a crime against humanity and the
redefinition is broadly drawn to constrict and shrink further the zone of
individual rights. If there is any lesson that we can derive from the history of
human rights, it is none other than these rights cannot be obliterated by
bombs but neither can they be preserved by bullets alone. Terrorism is a
militarypolice problem but its ultimate solution lies beyond the guns of our
armed forces.

Two. In fighting terrorism, let us not overlook the nonmilitary aspects of


our national security and their impact on human rights. The scholar Michael
Renver hits the bullseye with the following analysis:
terrorism is only symptomatic of a far broader set of deep concerns that
have produced a new age of anxiety. Acts of terror and the dangerous reactions
to them are like exclamation marks in a toxic brew of profound socioeconomic,
environmental, and political pressures forces that together create a
tumultuous and less stable world. Among them are endemic poverty, convulsive
economic transitions that cause growing inequality and high unemployment,
international crime, the spread of deadly armaments, largescale population
movements, recurring natural disasters, ecosystem breakdown, new and
resurgent communicable diseases, and rising competition over land and other
natural resources, particularly oil. These problems without passports are
likely to worsen in the years ahead. They cannot be resolved by raising
military expenditures or dispatching troops. Nor can they be contained by
sealing borders or maintaining the status quo in a highly unequal world.

Today and yesterdays broadsheets bannered the news about the


stranglehold of poverty in the Philippines. The World Bank says that about
15M or 19% of Filipinos survive on less than $1 a day. Our National Anti
Poverty Commission disputes the figures and claim that only 10.5 M Filipinos
live on $1 a day. To the unsophisticated in the esoterics of economics, this is
a distinction without difference for the cruel fact is that poverty stalks this land
of plenty and hunger is still the best food seasoning of its people. In poor
countries, it is poverty that truly terrorizes people for they are terrorized by the
thought that they will die because of empty stomachs and not that they will
lose their lives due to some invisible suicide bombers. In poor countries, it is
also poverty that renders the poor vulnerable to violation of their rights, for the
poor will not vindicate their rights in a justice system that moves in slow
motion and whose wheels have to be greased with money. And would any
dare to doubt, that our national security and our human rights are more
threatened by the fear that we face an environmental collapse if we do not
take immediate steps to save our seas and our forests from the despoliation
to satisfy the economic greed of the few. Again, the realities may be
uncomfortable but let the statistics talk and they tell us that in year 2000 for
example, 300,000 people all over the world died due to violence in armed
conflicts but as many people die each and every month because of
contaminated water or lack of adequate sanitation.

Three. The threats to our national security and human rights will be
aggravated if we have a state, weakened internally by a government hobbled
by corruption, struggling with credibility, battling the endless insurgence of the
left and the right; and, by a state weakened externally by pressure exerted by
creditor countries, by countries where our trade comes from, by countries that
supply our military and police armaments. A weak state cannot fully protect
the rights of its citizens within its borders just as a state without economic
independence cannot protect the rights of its citizens who are abroad from the
exploitation of more powerful countries.

Fourth and lastly, the business of safeguarding our national security, the
obligation of protecting human rights is a burden shared by all of us. It is not
only the military that should tackle our problem of security for it is our security
that is at stake, not their security. Security interest is a collective interest
where everybody has a significant stake. In the same vein, the rich and the
powerful should not consider the protection of the rights of the poor and the
powerless as peripheral problems just because for the moment their own
rights are unthreatened. Sooner or later, they will find that they who default in
protecting the rights of the many will end up without rights like the many. The
apathy of those who can make a difference is the reason why violations of
human rights continue to prosper. The worst enemy of human rights is not its
non believers but the fence sitters who will not lift a finger despite their
violations. If we have learned anything from September 11 wrote New York
Times, columnist Thomas Friedman, it is that if you dont visit a bad
neighborhood, it will visit you.

Our work of protecting human rights is not yet finished. With the
incursions and threats of incursion to our human rights at this crucial moment
in our history, the clarion call to each one of us is to consecrate our lives to
the great cause of upholding our human rights. When Rizal turned his face
towards the rising sun, he saw hope in a heroic people carrying on the fight.
Let us not allow the shadow of ignorance, indifference or indolence eclipse
this hope so that we may continue to see a tomorrow begin in the East.

Thank you and again, congratulations.