Monday, December 12, 2005

Human Rights and Development

In commemoration of World Human Rights Day, the Philippine Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism held its annual Kapihan on the Human Rights Situation Today in Quezon City this Monday. I was invited to deliver a special message. I appreciate this invitation as it allowed me to network with civil society groups and also gather first-hand information on an issue close to the heart (and mind) of every liberal.

What I heard regarding the state of human rights in the Philippines is hardly encouraging. While the speakers acknowledged a new openness in ASEAN to push for a regional human rights mechanism, the Philippine speakers said that in their own country things are not getting any better at all. One concern is the seemingly endless series of political killings targeting left-wing activists and journalists in the country-side. Some speakers accused the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of hardening its position vis-Ă -vis the opposition and sacrificing civil liberties to stay in power.

Speakers also challenged the government’s optimism regarding the economy. They claimed the opposite is the case and said a majority of Filipinos was worse off today than some years ago.

Listening to the highly critical accounts of civil society leaders and comparing these with reports I get from the other side, it became apparent to me once more how divided the Philippine society is even if it comes to an analysis of the basic conditions prevailing in the country.

In my greeting, I highlighted two liberal essentials:

First, human rights are universal. Expressing solidarity and support for victims of rights violations is not only legitimate but mandated, also in an international setting. Second, the human rights issue is basically political. While I appreciate that in a country with mass poverty like the Philippines, human rights activists advocate social and economic rights (the so called second generation rights), abundant empirical data show that the key to economic and social development lies in safeguarding the respect for the political and civil human rights (the so called first generation human rights).

My conclusion: Before Filipinos do not rid themselves of corruption and impunity and at the same time strengthen their political institutions all the talk of social and economic progress will remain baseless.

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