Advocacy and Democracy
A colleague from another country with an iron fist rule said to me, years back, that she envies us, advocates in the Philippines. She was excited about the work of civil society organizations when we shared our engagements with both communities and government and which, at times, included locking horns with some officials who do not understand what we do.
But for her, we were ahead as we enjoyed the freedom to express ourselves and to seek redress of grievances. Unlike where she came from where they have to walk in tiptoes and could not touch on political issues. They had, she said, a boring existence.
I had to agree that we had everything except boring moments in the road to societal reforms in our beloved Pilipinas. We have roller-coaster rides even, with public servants who seem to feel that they own the territory once they warm their seats in the Municipal or City Hall.
I clarified then that while the Philippines subscribes to democratic principles, it is not all a bed of roses especially for our most vulnerable sectors like the fisherfolk, farmers, women, children and those living in areas hosting extractive and polluting industries. There are still communities in the Philippines where fear dominates and the inhabitants are scared to speak out. There had been killings of advocates because they spoke out not for themselves but for the marginalized sectors whose issues are bigger than all of us.
Doctor Gerry Ortega of Palawan was one strong crusader for the protection of our life support systems and was assassinated because he was vocal against policies and actions which destroyed the environment.
Here in Cebu, ten years ago, Cebu City Bantay Dagat Project Director Jojo de la Victoria was gunned down in broad daylight, a few meters from his home in Talisay City. Some believed that the marker denial policy of disallowing blasted fish in the market and the national ban on illegal fishing which he implemented agitated some sectors.
In Mindanao, a petitioner in the anti-mining suit, a member of the Subanen indigenous community, was brutally killed, together with his son, for asserting their right to their life and livelihood which hinged on a healthy forest ecosystem.
Yet our 1987 Constitution, which towers and should guide all policies and actions, is filled with provisions that protect all of us, especially our most marginalized brothers and sisters. It is a duty required from each agent of the State to ensure that they are given life and implemented, not violated.
In this era where unexplained killings are happening every day in our island, it is important for us who care to acknowledge that a full respect for the rule of l aw and human rights is required if we are to have a just, fair and decent society. If these abhorrent violations go on and people and civil society are as meek as lambs, with institutions weakened further, do not expect peace to reign in our land.
Pertinent provisions of Article II (Declaration of State Principles and Policies) of the Constitution reads, as follows:
“Section 5. The maintenance of peace and order, the protection of life, liberty, and property, and promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.
“Section 9. The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living, and an improved quality of life for all.
“Section 10. The State shall promote social justice in all phases of national development.
“Section 11. The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.”
The crucial role of nongovernment organizations and people’s organization is given much emphasis by our Constitution. Article XIII on the Role and Rights of People’s Organizations states that:
“Section 15. The State shall respect the role of independent people’s organizations to enable the people to pursue and protect, within the democratic framework, their legitimate and collective interests and aspirations through peaceful and lawful means.
“People’s organizations are bona fide associations of citizens with demonstrated capacity to promote the public interest and with identifiable leadership, membership, and structure.
“Section 16. The right of the people and their organizations to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political, and economic decision-making shall not be abridged. The State shall, by law, facilitate the establishment of adequate consultation mechanisms.”
There is a compelling need, more than ever, for more citizens and leaders to be enlightened and to respect and assert our human rights in these trying times.
We went through the dark days of Martial Law where civil and political liberties were infringed upon. We should never allow the same to happen all over again. We cannot afford to be bystanders. Even the business sector must promote the rule of law. As outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared, “Businesses succeed when societies themselves succeed. When countries are affected by violence and the absence of the rule of law, business can and must be a messenger of peace.”
We must all be advocates, do our share, express our outrage and act against the gross human rights violations taking place in our country.
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