Friday, November 7, 2008

Human Rights-- CSOs and AFP and PNP's Concerns

Human Rights is inherent rights of every individual. It is a universal, indivisible right of every person. But how many times do we hear violations of these rights?

The unresolved cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in recent years, our country got the attention of the international community. We have Task Force Usig, the Commission to Address Media and Activist Killings (commonly known as "Melo Commission" since it was headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jose A.R. Melo) and the coming of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial executions Philip Alston to conduct investigations about these cases.

One of the highlights of Prof. Alston's findings is that the State agents-- the military and the police who are expected to protect these rights, are ironically the perpetrators of human rights violations.

It is in this context that a community- based dialogue between the Civil society organizations (CSOs) and the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines were conducted last Tuesday to Wednesday at Waterfront Hotel. It was one of the series of dialogues to be conducted in 10 regions nationwide initiated by ALG (ALternative LAw Groups), Bengigno S. Aquino Sr. Foundation, Han Seidel Foundation, PNP and AFP.

I was lucky to be included.

There are many concerns that were raised and were summarized such as:

a. Harassment -- threats to organizing and/ or support groups, harassment to Moro communities, raid of youth camp in Calinan (the case was dismissed due to technical reasons), mistaken identity, branding and labelling (such as antiming= communist, ergo you are enemy of the state)
b. enforced disappearances
c. vigilantism/ extrajudicial killings
d. militarization in the countryside and recruitment of IPs, and the so called "Investment Defense Forces"

The experiences of different organizations in seeking redress with these government agencies were also discussed and most of the time, "justice delayed, justice denied" tactic applies.

On the first day of the dialogue, there was a separate briefing between the CSOs and the members of the security forces. At night, there was an informal get together with the military and the police. Good thing no one was in uniform.

The next day was a grueling and intensive day of discussion. The PNP and the military were given a chance to present their mechanisms for human rights complaints lodged on their offices. That was the first time I heard of the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office (PNP- HRAO) and of AFP Human Rights Office (AFP HRO).

While the creation of these respective human rights offices within the AFP and PNP are surely positive signs of openness, these should be complemented by coordination with the civil societies and local communities.

One thing that I am very concerned with is the creation of the Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Conference for Peace and Development (MIPCPD) with the auspices of a certain AFP COl. Capuyan. It was headed with Datu Joel Unad and other leaders whom we know of. One objective of the said group is to arm the IPs against the New Peoples' Army. They claimed that NPAs are extorting them and/or their competitor in asking benefits from mining companies. Okay, I am with them on this grounds. But my other concern is the State's definition of its enemies.

Once you are against the "development projects" of the state such as large- scale mining, you are branded as an activist, a communist, thus, an enemy of the state and treated as such. Also it can be a divisive factor in the community. And what's more alarming is the operations on the grounds. Beyond this security concern is the groups' commitment of 500 thousands (more or less) hectares of land to be planted by jathropa.

The great food with its equally great spoon (so big!)

Also, it is known that places where mining operates is highly militarized. It was a heated discussion that I it made my stomachs growl. I tell you, the food was great, but I almost got choked when Task Force Davao Regional Commander, Col. Oscar Lactao muttered these words "there are issues used by the CPP-NPA-NDF. For the LUmads, they use LAND, for the students TUITION FEES, for the laborers WAGES, for the army the CORRUPTION OF THE SENIOR OFFICERS, and for the professionals or middle class, HUMAN RIGHTS. "

As Human Rights Advocate, are we now communists or NPA sympathizers sir?

If only we can equate everything to that. The complex ideological battle of communism, of socialism, equality, security and yes, human rights can only be summarized into that.

I even asked him in our FGD, "Sir, if I say I am an anti-mining advocate will you arrest me? And you have said as Army, you are securing stability- externally and internally- the territory of the State. You need to protect the people and the State. But to whom will your loyalty lies if the framework of the State is contradictory to that of the people?"

TFD COmmander Col. Oscar LActao

He was not able to answer directly. But when he said that he is in favor of large mining corporations so that it can be regulated, I already knows where his loyalty

Major. Rolando Dumawa, Chief AFP Public Affairs Office

As Major Rolly Dumawa of Public Affairs Division of J&, "Are you afraid of us (military)?" That's one concern of the people in the community since it was reported that people in fatigue cause fright.

Without battling an eyelash I said "No. Because my two uncles are men of uniform. But until now, we are still arguing about human rights, activism, the State and their role as defense force. But still I respect his opinion, even how difficult it is. And even yours." and he smiled.



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