Youth, sectoral groups assail Duterte on human rights

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KARAPATAN, hindi karahasan! (Human rights, not violence)”

Human rights groups marked International Human Rights Day yesterday with protests denouncing the Duterte administration’s push to reinstate the death penalty and lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to nine years old.

They also condemned several human rights issues piling up during President Rodrigo Duterte’s watch such as extrajudicial killings of alleged drug users and pushers, labor contractualization, increasing misogyny, and former president Ferdinand Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Human rights groups marched from España Boulevard in front of the University of Santo Tomas, Philippine Normal University, and Plaza Miranda, and converged in front of the Mendiola Peace Arch for a program organized by the Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement.

Among the organizations present were Partido Manggagawa, SENTRO, Teatrong Bayan, and the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP). Students from the Ateneo de Manila University, University of Makati, and the Philippine Science High School were also present.

The morning march was part of day-long activities commemorating the event. The “Alab ng Puso” concert-rally at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani as well as another rally at Mendiola organized by the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang were also held last night.

The demonstrations were held despite Duterte’s recent threats to human rights activists whom he blames for the rising number of drug dependents and pushers.

Youth in the fight for human rights

According to Union of Students for the Advancement of Democracy Premier Lanz Espacio, who also spoke at Mendiola, mobilizing the youth is instrumental in deepening the discourse on human rights issues and achieving long-term solutions.  

Ang kabataan ay handang lumaban para sa ating bayan, handa tayong magsalita. Kahit na may represyon na nangyayari sa ating lipunan, nakita natin sa mga pagkilos sa mga nadaan na araw, puro kabataan ‘yung lumalabas (The youth is ready to fight and to speak out for our country. Despite the repression in our society, we have witnessed how the youth has been taking the lead in the recent protests),” he said.

Rian Magtaan, a student at the City of Montalban University who performed spoken word poetry at the Mendiola program, also talked about the responsibility of the youth in today’s society.

Dapat tumitindig tayo sa sa karapatan natin, dapat nagsasalita tayo, responsibilidad natin ito bilang kabataan, tulad ng responsibilidad natin na gambalain ‘yung nagpapakasasa sa kapangyarihan, at bigyang ginhawa ‘yung nahihirapan (We must stand for our rights and speak out, for this is our responsibility as youth, like it is our utmost duty to disturb those who indulge themselves in power, and to provide just welfare for the poor),” Magtaan said.

Several youth organizations have joined calls for the protection of human rights. The Sanggunian released a statement of solidarity yesterday with all victims of human rights violations. “It is our moral duty to affirm that anyone else’s humanity is as valid as ours, that human rights are the rights of all,” the statement read.

The Kilos Kabataan ng Ateneo student movement also released a statement calling the Duterte administration’s policies on the drug war, death penalty, and the lowering of the MACR as “regressive, anti-people, and anti-poor.” The group said that these policies are “contrary to President Duterte’s claim to genuine, forward, and transformative change.”

Instead, the group urged the president to “focus on social welfare measures that alleviate poverty” and the transformation of oppressive social structures.

Pen Medina, a veteran actor who attended the concert, said that “critical thinking,” and the love for learning and curiosity should be nurtured in the youth so that they will not easily fall for propaganda of scheming politicians.

Stakeholders weigh in on Duterte’s policies

Various sectors also took the opportunity to air out their opposition to some of the administration’s policies.

Last December 7, the bill seeking to reimpose the death penalty was approved at the House Committee level. The bill is now up for second reading, where all members of the House will debate the measure in plenary. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who co-authored the bill, hopes the bill will be passed before Congress goes on Christmas break.

Jean Enriquez of the World March of Women denounced the death penalty as it would result in added blame on women who are victims of sexual abuse.

“Death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. For women, we have seen how many victims are wary of reporting their cases to the authorities because the threat of their perpetrators being executed puts the burden on the victims. Kahit na galit sila, at gusto nila ng katarungan, pagkapinatayan, sila ang sisisihin (Even if they are angry and they want justice, when the perpetrator is put to death [because of the death penalty], the women are blamed),” said Enriquez.

Wilnor Papa, Campaigns Program Coordinator of Amnesty International Philippines, criticized death penalty as the “worst form of human rights violation.”

According to Papa, Amnesty is against political policies that malign the dignity of the human person, including the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Recently, the subpanel of the House Committee on Justice and Correctional Reforms opened deliberations to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to nine.

Papa pointed out that amending the juvenile justice law would be a direct violation of the international standards set for the rights of a child. “Right now, we are doing everything we can to make sure that this does not pass the legislative process,” he said.

Defending human dignity

Despite Duterte’s campaign promise to end contractualization, SENTRO Campaign Coordinator Jun Santos claims that the government efforts are not only insufficient but are also favorable to the companies rather than their employees.

Ang kontraktuwalisasyon ay mistulang epidemya na pumapatay sa kabuhayan ng manggagawa (Contractualization is an epidemic that kills the livelihood of the employees),” said Santos.

Santos also lamented the collateral damage from the spate of extrajudicial killings, which also impinges on the welfare of the laborers. He feared that the silence of citizens affected by these recent issues is a result of the culture of fear and discontentment being instilled in society.

Kami ay nananawagan sa gobyerno na pakinggan ang boses ng mga mamamayan, pahalagahan ang buhay ng tao (We plead with the government to listen to the voices of the masses and value the life of a human person)”, said Santos.

Br. Angelo Cortez of the AMRSP said that defending the human right to live is an integral principle espoused by the Catholic faith.

Naniniwala kami na aming pagpapakita ng aming pakikiisa ay isang malaking puwersa para ipaglaban ang buhay. Hindi kami pipigil hangga’t nakikita pa namin na maraming pang biktima ng violence against human rights (We believe that our display of solidarity is a powerful force in our fight for human life. We will not stop while there are still victims who suffer from violence against human rights),” Cortez said.

Papa also stressed that human rights should be the “foundation of a just, free, and progressive society.”

“Human rights activists are the best partners of the government if it wants to push forward real policies for real change,” he said.

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