The Philippines: Human Rights versus Culture of Impunity

Mural by American street artist Meek.

Mural by Australian street artist Meek.

What are human rights? Why are they important? Why does the government need to protect its citizens’ human rights? What do they mean for Filipinos? What can a citizen do to help in the preservation and maintenance of his/her or fellow Filipinos’ human rights?

The basic premise of human rights is that any human being anywhere in the world has legal rights.   They are inalienable and personal. They could not be given to nor taken away from an individual.

People around the globe have the rights to life, liberty, property, free speech, equal rights of women, universal suffrage, education, privacy and other moral and ethical behavior sanctioned by national and international laws. They are important because every human has the right to live with dignity and be free from unreasonable constraints to pursue opportunities to improve his/her quality of life.

The government has the duty and responsibility of upholding its citizenry’s human rights. The Philippines has it the Bill of Rights in Article III of it 1987 Philippine Constitution to protect the basic human rights of Filipinos. The 22 sections of the Bill of Rights are sufficient but not comprehensive.

The incumbent administration has done a lot to encourage and uphold Filipinos’ human rights but the nation still has a tremendous job to do to erase the global perception that Philippines is a severe risk for human rights violation.

Every Filipino needs to be aware of his/her human rights. Knowing one’s rights is the first step to a just, orderly and prosperous society. The Filipinos suffered from grave human rights violations during the 300 years of Spanish colonization, 40 years of American imperialism and 3 years of Japanese invasion. In 1946, the Philippines finally got its independence to end the foreign induced nightmares. Instead of taking the helm to steer the good ship Philippines to less turbulent waters, some Filipinos continued to deny, limit or infringe upon the rights of their countrymen.

Almost seven decades later, the Philippines is only marginally better than when it was under foreign administration. There are no longer foreigners to blame. The country has mostly Filipinos violating other Filipinos human rights these days.

The United Nations (UN) has its Universal Declaration of Human Rights with 30 articles. Philippines is a member state of the UN and is in the 2014 Group as one of the four Asian UN Human Rights Council in the UN Council on Human Rights (UNCHR) voted by the UN General Assembly. Other countries in the Asian UNCHR 2014 Group are: Kuwait, India and Indonesia. Below are the 30 universal human rights explained in as brief and concise manner as possible:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 1. The right to freedom and equality. Wherever you are, you are born free. You are entitled to your own thoughts and ideas.

Article 2. The right to non-discrimination. No one has the right to treat you differently because of your race, religion, gender, nationality, values or beliefs.

Article 3. The right to life, liberty and security. We all have the right to the life we choose, and to live free and safe anywhere in the world. No one should fear that they could lose their life, freedom and safety.

Article 4. The right to be free from slavery. Nobody has any right to enslave anybody. Any form of slavery is a violation this article.

Article 5. The right to not be subjected to torture, cruel or inhumane treatment. No one has any right to harm, torture or subject anybody to cruelty and degradation.

Article 6. The right to have the same right and access to the law. Everyone has the right to be recognized as a person by the law.

Article 7. The right to be protected by the law. The law should not discriminate. The same law should be applied for everyone regardless of demographics, social and political factors.

Article 8. The right to fair treatment by fair courts. Everyone has the right to ask for legal representation and to be treated fairly by the law regardless of life’s circumstance.

Article 9. The right to be protected from unfair confinement, arrest or banishment. Nobody should put us in prison without a good reason or to involuntarily send us away from our country.

Article 10. The right to trial. Everybody has the right to a fair public hearing. The trial juries should be able to reach their determination without undue influence from others.

Article 11. The right of presumption of innocence. Nobody should be ascribed as a wrongdoer until due process has proven his/her guilt. Everyone has the legal right to refute accusations and be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Article 12. The right to privacy. Nobody has the right to impugn our good name, come into our home, open our letters or bother us without our permission or a good reason.

Article 13. The right to move. We all have the right to go wherever we want, be it in our own country or anywhere in the globe.

Article 14. The right to flee from persecution and seek asylum. Everyone has the right to seek asylum in another country if they are afraid about their safety or are badly treated in their own country.

Article 15. The right to nationality. Everyone has the right to belong to a country.

Article 16. The right to marry and start a family. Anyone of legal age has the right to marry anyone they wish to marry and have a family. Men and women should have the same rights when they are married, separated or divorced. The State has an obligation to protect the family’s integrity.

Article 17. The right to own property. Everyone has the right to own things or share them. A person violates one’s human rights when he/she takes one’s property without a valid reason.

Article 18. The right to one’s thoughts and beliefs. Everyone has the right to believe in what he/she wants to believe. He/she has the freedom to choose any religion, and change it if he/she wants. He/she should not be prosecuted for expressing his/her beliefs in private or in public.

Article 19. The right to say what you want within reason. Everybody have the right to form an opinion and share ideas with other people without fear of interference.

Article 20. The right to peacefully meet people wherever you like. Everyone has the right to meet like-minded people, join a group if he/she wants to and to work together with others in peace to defend his/her rights.

Article 21. The right to democracy. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country. Voting age people should be allowed to choose their own leaders and have access to all public services.

Article 22. The right to social security. Every disabled and aged person has the right to affordable housing, reasonably priced medicine, subsidized education, economic aid , medical assistance and other public services available in their country.

Article 23. The right to work and protection as a worker. Every worker has the right to hold a job, be paid a fair wage for the work performed and the freedom to join a trade union of his/her choice.

Article 24. The right to play. Everyone has the right to rest from work and relax. This right should be protected through limited work hours and holidays with pay.

Article 25.The right to live with dignity. Everybody has the right to a life where basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter are adequate. Mothers, children, aged people, the unemployed, the disabled, and people with inadequate livelihood have the right to seek social assistance and public services that are available in their country.

Article 26. The right to education. Everybody has a right to be educated. Primary school should be free. During the age of minority, parents can choose what their children learn.

Article 27. The right to culture and copyright. Copyright protects creators and their creation from being copied without permission. Everyone has the right to the way of life they chose and the freedom to pursue and enjoy the good things that art, science and learning bring.

Article 28. The right to live in a free and fair world. Everyone has the right to peace and order so he/she can enjoy all the rights and freedoms of his/her own country and of the world.

Article 29. The right to be an accountable and responsible citizen and human being. Everyone has a duty to other people. One should take action to protect their rights and freedoms.

Article 30. Nobody can take away these rights and freedoms from any human.

Even the United States of America is not perfect when it comes to respecting and protecting human rights. The world is familiar with some of its States voting against same sex marriage, the government violating the privacy of its citizens and of some global leaders, and the inhumane treatments of Guantanamo prisoners just to name a few.

The main difference between the US and other countries is: the media and its citizens exercise their right to express their distaste for human rights violations and demand perpetrators to cease and desist and/or be investigated and punished. In fairness, the government and its officials are responsive to the wills of its people. The combination of people courageously voicing their desires and the government’s willingness to listen and act, often bring a mutually favorable resolution. hr4all

Every Filipino has the right as well as duty to right wrongs and ask for resolutions. The culture of impunity in the Philippines will not be eradicated without the media and citizenries’ vehemence.

Those who weaken the social justice system to a point where their actions do not carry consequences need to be exposed and punished. The plunderers, smugglers, murderers and other wrongdoers who flaunt their might because they are shielded and protected from punishment by their powerful allies should have their day of reckoning.

The Philippine government’s audacity to fight for its sovereign rights against China’s bullying was praised by the global community. It is time for Filipinos to take their oppressors to task.

Please stop turning the other cheek. Start exercising your human rights.

25 Responses to “The Philippines: Human Rights versus Culture of Impunity”
  1. Tomas Gomez III says:

    Re: 17….the right to own property. “….a person violates one’s human rights when he/she takes one’s property without a valid reason.” Abject poverty is never a valid reason much less an excuse for thievery. It is, instead, reason for humane but disciplined care and nurturing under State sponsorship and supervision until reasonable rehabilitation is achieved.

    What ought to be the proper/ humane attitude of government….as administrators of its citizens’ human rights vis-a-vis informal settlers/’squatters’/ property grabbers (now a very common form of thievery in practically every Philippine community)?

    The hapless among our brethren have a right to safety. They also become wards of the State by reason of their pitiful conditions and as recipients of Conditional Cash Transfers, where these apply. As wards of the State, they have the corresponding responsibility to obey. Yet the potential good that government can deliver to them is negated by their refusal to accept the norms of civilized, safe and healthful life under the aegis of acceptable social norms because they have the physical capacity to disobey government.

    Squatters do possess “might” which they flaunt because they are “shielded and protected” and, indeed, abetted by politicians whose power through elections is shored up by the status quo of these illegal occupancies. These masses provide the purchased votes come elections.

    That the poor of the poorest become pawns of politicians’ is also, to my mind, a very insidious violation of their human rights, without their knowing it, because the culture of impunity has seeped into the lowest levels becoming second nature … have their way, regardless!

    Between the “squatters” and the abettor/sponsor/beneficiary politicians are the rabid, belly-aching malcontents right in the middle of the fray stoking more uninformed discontent and shouting to their lung’s limits: “taking somebody else’s property” is KARAPATAN (right) simply because they are poor and propertyless. At Easter, what else can likewise be so unchristian?

    A Happy Easter to y’all…..

    • Joe America says:

      Happy Easter to you, Buddy. (Requested corrections consisted of three commas, a couple of dashes, insertion of a “have”, and one apostrophe that your wayward fingers missed.) I shall defer comment on your eloquent statement of the dilemma until Juana has had first crack at it, once she awakens from her distant slumber.

    • I have been reading about the Illegal Settler Families’ (ISF) problem in the Philippines. I am aware that the government had tried a few solutions to the problem to no avail. The National Housing Authority had been building tenements and even high rises to entice them out of the urban areas. Some were offered money to go back to the provinces. Both did not yield the desired results. I have the impression that these people do not only need shelter but also some livelihood. Giving them shelter in an area devoid of survival opportunities will not work.

      Public housing programs called “projects” in the US were not that successful either. I do not know why the Philippines opted for them. The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) now offers shelter voucher. The government partnered with landlords in what is called Section 8 housing by subsidizing rents for the lower income and homeless population.

      Squatting in private properties is NOT a right. It is an illegal act. In effect the ISF, “took someone else’s property.” The politicians should be ashamed of themselves for exploiting the ISF and not doing anything substantial about their problems, but we can’t ask politicians for values that they do not possess. The human rights people should be better informed and put their money where their mouths are. They should advocate for the ISF to have a better and dignified living condition instead of telling them to stand down where they are.

      The ISF population need to be studied in an up close and personal manner. Who are these families? What led them to squatting? What are their unmet needs from where they came from? Lots of questions need to be asked to find out how to solve the ISF problem…

      Happy Easter, Tomas.

      • Joe America says:

        That is a very good idea, actually asking people what they need rather than telling them what we think they need. I’m a believer in gray, myself, over black and white. So the solution needs to come from both ends, more aggressiveness at building a jobs base nationally, which will give some squatters some relief. And establishing and adhering more tightly to notions of private property, which are very weak in the Philippines, as was noted in our review of the Family Code. That Code mandates squatting as a right within families. And I note here that cars and motorcycles and other equipment are shared widely, an outgrowth of need and compassion for that need, and that also promote a kind of “what is yours is mine” mentality. It also promotes a lot of broken equipment, because people don’t care for equipment as if they were the ones who had to spend to replace it. The Philippines almost seem like one gargantuan commune. And I feel a blog coming on . . .

        But build jobs more aggressively and firm up rules in order to cut down the number of people who must be cared for by the state.

        • Juana Pilipinas says:

          Yes. I believe in participatory form of governance. People know their circumstances and most often they already know the solution to their problems. They just need a little guidance to resolve them.

          I also agree with your observation about jobs, and more jobs. Job creation is sorely needed to alleviate poverty, bring home the diaspora and cure a lot of social ills emanating from the population’s lack of fiscal resources.

  2. Joseph-Ivo says:

    Declarations are nice and lofty, but….

    1776: “ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL”… But slavery was only abolished on paper with the 13Th amendment in 1865, the practice continued until WWII, the mentality didn’t change in the South until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960ies, almost 200 years later. Implementation of lofty principles does never come as a gift, it needs strong citizen organizations to claim them, abolition movements, suffragettes, unions, civil rights movements…

    And here, nice laws, proud speeches, no problem, we can imitate Americans as no one else. But real change on the ground? The Philippines with no political parties, with a weak civil society will have a real uphill battle to get civil rights implemented in the field. EDSA being the proof, a loose assembly of citizens and change that lasted one week. Politics as usual immediately after, nothing organized for the follow-up.

    The Philippines has the best laws, at least the most detailed ones, but the worst implementation. The question is not better or more laws, declarations and lofty speeches. The only relevant question is how to organize people?

    • Juana Pilipinas says:

      I am going for citizen awareness and introspection. I am aware that I am trying to plant a seed on a somewhat rocky and infertile terrain.

      As an aspiring farmer, I have the patience of Job. Rocky, clayey, sandy and infertile soil do not deter me. I just keep on amending it, season by season, until the soil becomes rich enough to sustain a bountiful harvest. It is all I can do for now until I can come home and have a hands on experience of what is going on in ground zero.

      “Bato bato sa langit. Ang tamaan sana ay gumalaw at gamitin ang galit para sa ikabubuti ng bayan.”

  3. edgar lores says:

    1. The UDHR is the finest statement of human aspirations yet. But…

    2. Rights are inalienable and personal? They cannot be given or taken away?
    2.1. Hmm. In a utopia perhaps. But not in the present world. And certainly not in the Philippines.
    2.2. When a voter sells his vote he transfers his right of suffrage to his political patron.
    2.3. When a candidate kills his political rival, he takes away not only the personal right of that rival to run for office but also takes away the right of that person to life. Additionally, he takes away the right of the voters to select and elect freely.
    2.4. When a bishop imposes church doctrine upon a senator to vote against the RH Law, or upon a justice to declare the law unconstitutional, either by promise of heaven or threats of hell, he infringes on the right of religion, to one’s thoughts and beliefs. He also discriminates against the right of women to decide what to do with their bodies.

    3. I can think of two preconditions that must exist before rights can be exercised. These are freedom and equality.

    4. And I can think of two conditions that must be present for the exercise of rights to flourish. These are respect and responsibility.

    5. Freedom. The Philippines is classified as a Partly Free country and not a Free country. You know why.

    6. Equality. The Philippines is ranked a high 89th in the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom. But the Filipino remains in chains and economic disparities remain wide. You know why.

    7. Respect and responsibility. I think the emphases on rights and freedom are overstated, and that the requisite conditions that allow them to exist and flourish are understated, or worse, not stated at all.
    7.1. Who talks of respect? Who practices responsibility? And even if one talks but does not practice, it is of no use.
    7.2. Deriving from the examples given above, our rights go hand in hand with our respect for the observance of those rights for ourselves and in others, and for the responsibility by which we and others exercise those rights.

    8. One would think that people yearn for freedom but they do not. They will choose security over freedom, and they will give up their rights in the process. They will gladly enchain themselves.

    • Juana Pilipinas says:

      The complexity of Philippines always baffles me in a good way. It makes me think deeper for possible solutions to problems at hand.

      Is every Filipino aware that he/she has rights and freedoms just by existing? Are the Bill of Rights in the Philippine Constitution and the Universal Rights and Freedoms widely known in the Philippines? Is the educational system instilling the youth with their basic human rights and responsibilities and making them aware that they are the building blocks to a progressive and productive nation?

      #8 hits me like a baseball bat. Sad but true. Where do we start from here?

  4. Joseph-Ivo says:

    Indirectly related, the Bertelsman Foundation transformation index, as mentioned in the FDI today. A very interesting link, especially if you want to compare with – learn from – other nations:

    … German “gruendlichkeit” (thoroughness).

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      As you will see, transformation is not one-dimensional. We will have to start at many fronts. Poverty, welfare, sustainability and resource efficiency jump out.

      • Juana Pilipinas says:

        Yes. There is a lot of work to do to get Philippines to a higher plane. I just hope that the Filipinos will realize that they can help in getting it there faster.

    • Joe America says:

      Wow. Wonderful resource, thanks. I’ll add it to the Library tab, and put it in the “Must Read” space in a day or two. It will take some time to digest, but I am sure it will end up in a blog or two.

    • Good stuff, Joseph. I enjoyed reading the report. Thank you for sharing.

  5. First of all. the universal declaration is not binding. it’s the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in which countries sign and observes the stipulations.


    So if the Philippine is serious about promoting and observing (human rights) HR principles, statutory measures should be legalized. The CHR should be strengthen and gov’t must integrate those human rights principles into law enforcement and military operations.

    But wait! Has Aquino III made drastic reforms in the PNP or AFP? Or just like most prexies, is he afraid of the coup card that the Corrupt Establishment in the AFP can play?

    How much is the budget for the CHR? Heck, they are still based at that seedy, worn out building inside UP Diliman.Aside from token HR-promoting workshops for policemen, what does the CHR do to perform its mandate?

    What CHR is all about:

    In the judiciary, how’s the persecution of extra-legal killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violation? Is there a court branch/division/cluster or whatever-lawyers-call-that that focuses on HR violation cases?

    Considering Aquino III’s admin trademark slowness and failure, I highly doubt any meaningful HR-program/reform will come about in its closing years.

    You’re right about your age-old, proposed solution– speedy and bribe-proof courts. Speaking against HR abuses can only do so much. When human rights violators understand that they can’t avoid jail time, that’s the time they learn how to respect those rights.

    • Juana Pilipinas says:

      Joseph made a good point when he asked: “The only relevant question is how to organize people?”

      Any law, instrument, or reform will not succeed without the citizens’ backing. Citizen buy-in is the most important factor in any change. Awareness is the first step, then maybe people will have it in them to give each other respect.

      In my opinion, all human rights can be spelled out into one word: RESPECT. Respect of self and others. Alas, changing people’s mindset is not easy to do.

  6. ikalwewe says:

    Article 11. The right of presumption of innocence. Nobody should be ascribed as a wrongdoer until due process has proven his/her guilt. Everyone has the legal right to refute accusations and be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

    Article 12. The right to privacy. Nobody has the right to impugn our good name, come into our home, open our letters or bother us without our permission or a good reason.

    I wonder if cops in checkpoints can really ask to inspect our cars or ask us to step out of it, if there was “a probable cause”? Some years ago, a group of m16 waving men in uniform blocked my car in the middle of the night and ordered us to step out. We refused,inviting them to open fire if they wanted to..

    • Joe America says:

      Scary moment, I’m sure.

      The police attitude and skill level in the Philippines is still unrefined. “To protect” is understood, “to serve” . . . not always. The idea of “human rights” completely escapes the justice institution. Or why do trials take 5 years . . . or more, and why do police “rub out” suspected criminals? Yet, there is something new in the wind, and it is the spotlight shined by modern Filipinos who tweet and clamor on the internet. Give it 10 years, maybe 15, for a modern enlightenment to set in amongst police, prosecution and judges. Or maybe 25 . . .

  7. vhile says:

    good day,can u please discuss more about culture of impunity,and what might be the solution to stop this mess?thanks..

    • Joe America says:

      That’s what I tried to do in this blog. Information is the key to discovery of ill deeds, so matters like ending the Bank Secrecy act and FOI are very important.

  8. – this should be the right place to save this:

    The Philippine National Police (PNP) reaffirmed its commitment to respect and adhere to the principles of human rights in its community policing activities with the signing of the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for its Partnership Agreement with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) Germany on April 13, 2015 at the PNP Headquarters in Quezon City. The MOU was signed by PNP Deputy Director General Marcelo P. Garbo and HSF Resident Representative Paul Schäfer in the presence of Chargé d’affaires Michael Hasper of the German Embassy and Police Chief Superintendent Antonio Viernes who heads the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office.

    “An environment where there is the respect for human rights and observance of the rule of law will attract business investment and further economic development for the benefit of all,” said PDDG Garbo shortly after the signing ceremony. “Aside from improving the PNP’s crime prevention and crime solution, it is also our mission to improve community safety awareness through community oriented and human rights-based policing,” he added.

    The partnership agreement between the PNP and the HSF supports the PNP’s institutional development and training activities including the conduct of human rights-based policing (HRBP) core trainors for seven regional groupings namely Northern Luzon, Central Luzon and the National Capital Region, Southern Luzon and the Bicol Region, Eastern Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, and Southern Mindanao.

    In addition, the PNP will soon conduct a two-day “Human Rights Forum for Southeast Asian Police Officials” to develop consensus and foster regional cooperation among police officials of Southeast Asian countries to promote and strengthen the respect for human rights and the rule of law, and for the police adherence to the principles of rights-based policing.

    In February 2015, with assistance of HSF, the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office conducted a “PNP –Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) Rights-Based Policing Forum” for over 100 police officers and CSO representatives based in the Cordillera Region. The activity provided police officers and CSOs the opportunity to have a common understanding of the police procedures and how to work together, and to network with each other and discuss common issues affecting local peace and order.

  9. David says:

    It is interesting to ask: Do you know and understand your constitution? Some will say: Is just another Coin word that needs to be beautify, Others will say: My lawyer is my spoke man.

    • Juana Pilipinas says:

      That is a very interesting observation, David. I am assuming that you are in ground zero and has the masses’ pulse as a guide to your opinion so I will not argue as to its validity. The real question is how can we educate our people about the true meaning of the local and international laws? How can we reach a huge portion of the populace to make a difference in their lives?

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