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The human rights report card

December 15, 2014 · 

The human rights report card
December 13, 2014 10:32 pm
Matuwid na daan-the righteous path-has always been more than a campaign slogan for this government. It is the frame for the image(s) of nation that it seeks to sell to the world. It is the ideological backbone of its belief in itself and all the good that it does.
But of course at some point it will seem almost delusional, because there is real life and real people and real injustice that will prove matuwid na daan wrong. This is especially true if what we are looking at are issues related to human rights, and I don’t just speak of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, not just Hacienda Luisita and the military deployment in Mindanao. Though of course we can but start with these.
Activists, journalists, teachers, peasants
From July 2010 to November 2014, human rights organization Karapatan counts: 226 extrajudicial killings, 26 victims of enforced disappearances, 104 victims of torture.
Three hundred Mindanao activists traveled to Manila in late November, seeking dialogues with government agencies. The state of Mindanao, according to them: 55 military battalions deployed, 500 false charges filed against activists, 166 schools attacked under Oplan Bayanihan.
Early in the year, the international organization Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) declared that the Philippines ranked 3rd in its Global Impunity Index. From 2004 to 2013, they counted: 50 journalist murders.
Public school teachers continue to call for a long-delayed wage increase, where the P18,549-peso salary can only be insufficient given the rising cost of living and teacher expenses for classroom supplies and teaching aids.
In Hacienda Luisita, peasant families have continued to suffer in the hands of their Cojuangco landlords, pushed out of land they’ve tilled and cared for, violently displaced and forcibly evicted from their homes, and scared into subservience by private security and armed hooligans. “Luisita is the face of every known form of human rights violation in the country,” states the Luisita Watch statement dated December 10.
The Mining Act continues to endanger our indigenous peoples, putting their food sources at risk, their sources of livelihood in the hands of mining “developers,” their ancestral land beyond their grasp and control.
Labor, disasters
In March 2014, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) released the results of its 2014 Global Rights Index of 139 countries. It listed the Philippines as one of the worst countries for workers, based on evaluation conducted from April 2013 to March 2014.
The government is quick to celebrate low unemployment numbers. But it doesn’t take a genius to know that numbers can easily be manipulated in the interest of spreading some good news. Certainly lower unemployment rates are doable; but also what that limns over are underemployment numbers. More importantly though, it glosses over the question of what these jobs exactly are, and what kind of employment we’re actually looking at.
Contractualization is a crisis that cuts across every industry and sector. On Thursday’s (December 12) late night news we are told that the better employment numbers are mostly a product of jobs in the BPO, manufacturing, and construction sectors. One wonders how many of these workers are actually on track for regularization, how many have health and social security benefits, all part of their basic rights as workers. One wonders how many will fall between the cracks and become next season’s unemployed.
Speaking of manipulating the numbers: any decrease in the number of unemployed does not include the great number of those who have been jobless since Typhoon Haiyan in Leyte and Samar. That exclusion is of course no coincidence: what would the numbers be like were we to include these areas affected by natural disasters?
The more important question, of course, is what the joblessness means. It means need and want, the lack of the basics from food to shelter to clothing which everyone has a right to. It reminds that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way government handles the post-disaster scenario, when what people depend on and look forward to in tent cities in Eastern Samar is the monthly dole-out that is government’s Pantawid Pampamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).
Which doesn’t amount to anything, other than making sure that children are going to school. Never mind that those schools are ill-equipped and unprepared to handle children who have been traumatized by disaster. Never mind that this amount is puny compared to the magnitude of need.
One need not be a survivor of disaster to know that the longer it takes to meet these needs, the larger an injustice it becomes.
Playing with numbers, words
The government will certainly have answers to any and all of these, and one has heard them all. In April of this year when asked about journalist murders, the President responded that not all those killings actually have to do with the journalism profession and are about “other issues” that they “discover” about these journos. The President and his men are also quick to dismiss any assertion that critics are silenced in this country. Just look at our newspapers they say, and see how government tolerates criticism!
The numbers are also never just his administration’s, we are reminded by the President. Yet they are also redefining terms, saying things like only 10 of those reported extrajudicial killings “meet the criteria for being called an extrajudicial killing.”
It’s no different from the ways in which they manipulate the number of those dead from disasters. We know how they sacked a local official for having estimated at least 10,000 dead in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban. Anyone who interviews people in Samar and Leyte would be told of the thousands of bodies that went uncounted and buried by government.
In the aftermath of Typhoon Hagupit, the news reveals a predisposition to play with those numbers. I am told by friends who live in Leyte though that local news reports have consistently reported at least 50 dead in Samar. The last I looked, government was bragging about no casualties.
In May, Labor Secretary Josefina Baldoz bragged that there are no problems with workers rights in this country.
In June, the Palace had asked with regards the call for teachers’ wage increase: why only teachers? “We are under a government of laws and not of men,” spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
In October, the Palace via spokesperson Sonny Coloma demanded of Hacienda Luisita farmers: show proof of human rights abuses in the Presidents’ Cojuangco family’s land.
In this year’s State of the Nation Address, the President talked about criticism such as you’ve read in today’s column. He said that in truth critics do not stand against him. These critics stand against the people who have gained from matuwid na daan.
One wonders how those gains from matuwid na daan would measure up relative to our basic human rights.


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