Taking a determined stand for human rights

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos December 10,2017 - 09:56 PM

Atty. Gloria Ramos

Human rights should never be trivialized. One of the greatest Filipino leaders who ever lived, Senator Jose ‘Ka Pepe’ Diokno, aptly said “No cause is more worthy than the cause of human rights … they are what makes a man human.

Deny them and you deny man’s humanity.”

The world observed the International Day of Human Rights yesterday. It marked the 69th year that’s one of the most historic documents, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (‘Declaration’), was proclaimed and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

The principles enshrined therein, form part of the law of our land.

The celebration this year marks the beginning of the year-long countdown for the 70th anniversary commemoration on December 10, 2018. Let’s make it doubly meaningful by safeguarding human rights in our country.

Human rights promotion is the antidote to a culture of impunity.

With the Philippines, as one of the signatories to the Declaration, the Constitution ordains a life of honor and dignity for each Filipino, irrespective of race, gender, age, political or religious beliefs, among others.

It requires promotion of respect and tolerance for the exercise of one’s rights such as freedom of expression, right to participate in decision-making, equality, access to justice, and the substantive rights to life, health and a healthy environment.

Last week, the banner headline was on the Philippines as “a global hotspot for environmental murders”.

The watchdog, Global Witness, reports that “Environmental activists are being killed in record numbers around the world, with the corruption-plagued Philippines, one of the most dangerous countries.”

In September, barangay captain Ruben Arzagga of El Nido, Palawan was murdered when he tried to approach illegal loggers.

In Cebu, we have our own Norlan Pagal of San Remigio, now paralyzed, when he was shot by persons who were not happy with his determination to stop illegal fishing, as Bantay Dagat enforcer.

They are among the hundreds, if not thousands, who had been killed or harassed because they were protecting our environment.

Ruben and Norlan are Environmental Human Rights Defenders (EHRD) defined as individuals and groups who work to protect the environment on which so many human rights depend.

As UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John H. Knox, stated, “We cannot fully enjoy our human rights to life, health, food, water, housing and many others, in the absence of a healthy environment.”

Human rights and the environment are closely interlinked.

Amid upsurge of killings, harassment and threats that EHRD are subjected to, not a few of which remain unsolved, it is high time for all, including the public authorities, to prioritize and mainstream human rights protection and education.

The State has the duty to ensure that each person’s human rights, including environmental rights, are never compromised.

It is a positive development that our independent Commission on Human Rights has vowed to investigate violations of both human rights and environmental rights.

As big support to protect and defend EHRDs, a web portal has been created, accessible at www.environment-rights.group.

Apart from being a source of information on their rights and remedies, and networking among them, it also aims to “Provide technical and capacity-building support to help EHRDs engage with, and seek help from, the UN human rights protection system.”

The front liners in the fight to protect human and environmental rights deserve our utmost support.

The words of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, reverberate, “We must organize and mobilise in defence of human decency, in defense of a better common future.

We must not stand by, bewildered, as the post-World War II system of values unravels around us.

We must take a robust and determined stand: by resolutely supporting the human rights of others, we also stand up for our own rights and those of generations to come.”

* * *

We mourn the passing of retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Flerida Ruth P. Romero, on December 8. She is one public servant whose life was filled with integrity, strength of character, humility and excellence.

She was our beloved professor at the College of Law of the University of the Philippines who inspired her students to be the best that they can be.

One of the leading lights in the drafting of the Family Code, she was a strong advocate of the rights of women and children.

I am privileged to have had the opportunity to acknowledge Justice Flery Romero as our inspiring role model, during the Induction Ceremony of the Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in May, this year where I talked about Benham Rise.

Always very supportive, she lost no time in arranging for a similar presentation before her former colleagues, several of the retired Supreme Court Chief Justices and Justices, for them to be more aware of this unique and significant natural heritage and the need to protect the pristine Benham Bank.

It was a great honor to speak before our esteemed magistrates and her initiative inspired me no end.

Thanks so much, Ma’am. You will be deeply missed.

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TAGS: determined, human, rights, stand, Taking

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