Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Talking about Human Rights in The Philippines

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2014 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

Human Rights Centered Development: Theory and Practice is authored by Filipino historian and human rights advocate Dr Maria Socorro I Diokno. The book is published by the University of the Philippines Press in 2004. It has six (6) chapters and seven (7) annexes with a total of 286 pages.

The author has worked in the field of human rights for the past thirty years. She is the Secretary General concurrently of the Free Legal Assistance Group, the oldest and the largest human rights and lawyers’ organization in the Philippines, and the Regional Council on Human Rights in Asia, a regional human rights organization with consultative status with the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council. She also pioneered capacity-building efforts on the rights-based approach to development for the United Nations Country Team and various government agencies.

In her book, she quoted her late senator-father Jose W Diokno, who also advocated for the alleviation of human rights in the mainstream and called for street protests under the Marcos’ Martial Law. According to his father, “No cause is more worthy than the cause of human rights. Human rights are more than legal concepts: they are the essence of man. They are what make man human. That is why they are called human rights: deny them, and you deny man’s humanity.”  

The book tries to level off key concepts in the discourse of human rights centered development. She deems that human rights centered development is an integrated, multi-disciplinary and trifaceted framework for the formulation, articulation, and implementation of development policy, planning, and programming. She has articulated that at the heart of the framework is the conviction that the human person is the central subject, active participant, owner, director, and beneficiary of development.

She proposes three interwoven components of human rights centered development, which are the following: (1) human rights principles, (2) normative content of human rights; and (3) coherence with the nature and levels of a state’s human rights obligations.

The first component includes accountability, transparency, people’s participation, legislative capacity, independence of the judiciary, good governance, nondiscrimination, attention to the vulnerable groups, empowerment, universality, interdependence, interrelatedness, and indivisibility. The second component looks at the scope of the rights, articulation of freedoms and entitlements that arise from each human right, the corresponding obligations, and violations thereof. Lastly, the third component calls for the coherence of the human rights obligations of the state transcending human needs and aspirations.

Human rights are legitimate claims that are immutable and universal; claims made by individuals on the conduct of individuals, society, and the state, and claims on the design and implementation of social, political, and economic arrangements needed to facilitate or secure freedoms and entitlements.

In my disposition, human rights is innate to every person of whatever nationality, creed, and ideology. It is a universal right that is not generally mandated by any constitution since it is innate to any natural and juridical persons, of which these rights and freedoms are entitled to all humans.

In the human rights discourse, the human rights law has strong foundations gauging from the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which are adopted by the General Assembly in 1945 and 1948, respectively. This has expanded to encompass specific standards for women, children, persons with disabilities, minorities, migrant workers, and other vulnerable groups who possess rights that protect them from discriminatory practices that had long been common in many societies.

What is interesting about the book is how it has related to human and cultural rights of the indigenous peoples (IP). Since human rights are the totality of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social freedoms and entitlements, human rights goals are holistic, comprehensive, interrelated, indivisible, multifaceted, and multidimensional.

Being a proud Ibanag, I have enjoyed rights and privileges in cognizance of my identity and human rights as a member of the indigenous peoples’ community. Hence, the book also covers checklist for human rights principles that determine both the essence and modes of conduct of development which includes empowerment, equality, equity, nondiscrimination, attention to vulnerable groups, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelatedness, universality, accountability, people’s participation, and transparency.

The international community, through the United Nations, enacted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during its 61st session at the UN Headquarters in New York City on 13 September 2007. Although, the said declaration is not a legally binding instrument under international law, it does recognize the rights of the IPs and represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and commitment of all UN member-countries to set the agenda for the standardized treatment of IPs that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations.

Furthermore, the UNDRIP codifies indigenous historical grievances, contemporary challenges, and socio-economic, political, and cultural aspirations of the IPs to secure recognition of their will and to generate support for their political agendas.

The book collates official records in its annexes of the nature and levels of state obligations where it highlights the core obligations to ensure that the minimum and essential requirements of each right are implemented. In other words, the state is mandated to recognize its powers to exercise the obligation to respect, obligation to protect, and obligation to fulfill its mandate to human rights.

Although the book’s strength is to emphasize and persuade readers of the different human rights, using various methods and designs at the latter part of the chapters, the book is a good reminder of the extent and content of individual rights, highlighting state obligations, including those of cultural rights of the indigenous peoples.

The good intention of the book is to institutionalize human rights in the mainstream. It has closely used claim-holder analysis and entitlement mapping, which analyzes special characteristics and circumstances of those affected by the problem including policy-makers and development planners. It has cited constitutional rights of the people ranging from national laws and jurisprudence, international human rights law, international treatise ratified by the state, interpretations and concluding observations of treaty monitoring bodies, official reports, nongovernmental reports, news reports, academic researches and studies, reports by international institutions and bodies, and public opinion polls and surveys.

In the end, in the factors that contribute to the effective exercise of state obligations to human rights, the author deems that affecting the enjoyment, exercise, and realization of all human rights is the extent to which the state effectively exercises its human rights obligations. Factors that affect the effective exercise of state obligations include the regulatory framework, legislative capacity, budget and other resources, independence of the judiciary, institutional capacity, capacity of government officials and public servants, and the external environment.

Hence, in my view since human rights carry with them the force of law, development efforts centered on human rights should also consider all potential, unintended, or unanticipated harm or threats that may result from a development effort.  

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