Chairperson Loretta Ann P. Rosales
The Richmonde Hotel, Manila
4 April 2011
It is an honor to welcome you all to the Philippines for the regional pilot training workshop on realizing equal access to justice through a human rights-based approach.
Access to Justice is a recurring theme in virtually all of the human rights conventions that have entered into force following the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This fundamental principle, which seeks to guarantee the right of every human being to fair, speedy and adequate remedies under a regime of laws, is the foundation stone upon which the pillars of modern human rights law rest. We Filipinos have arrived at this conclusion by studying the history of the rule of law in our country, from its conception and including its misconceptions. When one recognizes that arbitrary deprivations of life, liberty and property do not occur in a social vacuum, but in a context of struggling political, economic and cultural forces, one is able to visualize a strong chain linking the various forms and methods of human rights violations through to the disparities embedded in the structural relationships within and across our communities. Thus, the recent spate of enforced disappearances, extralegal killings and internal displacements can neither be considered in isolation of the gross human rights violations of the Martial Law era nor analyzed without reference to the development gaps brought about by longstanding policies and laws that deliberately, if not routinely, exclude and marginalize vulnerable sectors of the community.
Because a human rights approach serves to restore the human person to the center of development programming, and brings to fore issues of dignity and entitlement over questions of need and charity, an access to justice framework that applies human rights principles and standards stands a far greater chance of humanizing legal systems replete with ideological bias and other vestiges of colonialism. Almost a century ago, an esteemed justice of the Philippine Supreme Court defined social justice as neither communism nor atomism, but the humanization of laws so that the ends of justice may be rationally approximated. The decades that followed this pronouncement, was marked by the passage of diverse reform-oriented laws animated by social justice principles. These evolved into our present laws on criminal justice, civil obligations, labor relations, social security and agrarian reform. One would expect that with the raft of social legislation, structural gaps that have existed since time immemorial would finally be bridged. But the promise of social justice ended when so-called technocratic reformists began resting on the laurels of formal equality, and, with a laissez-faire attitude, casually waved off the limitations of formal democracy. The end result is a status quo of hollow institutions, ranging from administrative agencies to courts, where justice is preached but hardly practiced.
The emergence of human rights in public discourse is revolutionizing access to justice in the Philippines. Given its mandate under Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines is no stranger to this development. We only have to examine the typology of cases being brought before the Commission to appreciate the sea of change in the people’s mindset in respect to grievances. Whereas in the past, murders are nothing more than criminal violations, and illegal dismissals carried no implications beyond labor relations, nowadays people whose sons have been killed by state forces, and employees whose jobs have been taken from them without due process, whenever the institutions that are supposed to be taking care of their grievances fail to do so, come to the Commission convinced that the State’s inaction in regard to their plight not only aggravates the violations they have suffered, but in fact constitutes a violation sui generis. As Chairperson of the Commission I have received petitions for assistance coming from neighbors warring over such mundane matters as rights-of-way and the location of water pipes. In systems where the rule of law is working, human rights commissions would have decided guiltlessly to shrug off these petitions. In the Philippines, and perhaps in other countries in the Asian region, the imperfections, inequities and corruption in our institutions compel us to take these cases, not to supplant the institutions supposedly taking care of these, but to relate to these institutions in a critical, collaborative and positive way, so that in the process of arriving at a just resolution, duty bearers and claim holders alike are empowered.
In this light, I can say that the Commission on Human Rights, as the comprehensive monitor of the progressive realization of human rights in the Philippines, is rightfully home in the Asian Consortium for Human Rights Based Access to Justice, not only because two people who had helped build this network from the ground up are with me in the Commission – one as Director of Government Linkages, and the other as my Chief of Staff – but more importantly, in view of the fact that from a rights-based perspective, justice is a vast field of practice where traditional and non-traditional actors all have an important role to play. At this point I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the Consortium Secretariat, led by Ms. Resurreccion Lao, the Steering Committee, through Mr. Pill Kyu Hwang, and the different program committees, in transforming the vision of an Asia where human rights and access to justice are enjoyed, to reality.
The work of the Consortium would be enhanced by your active participation in this pilot training workshop. We all stand to benefit from the expertise of Ms. Cookie Diokno, an internationally-recognized RBA practitioner, who also helped develop the HRBA Toolkit now being used by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). As an added note, it was Cookie’s late father, Jose “Pepe” Diokno, former Solicitor General, Secretary of Justice, Senator, and the first Chairperson of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights (forerunner of the Commission on Human Rights) who pioneered people’s lawyering in this country. Through Cookie’s expert guidance in the next three days all of you who have come from the diverse corners of Asia will hopefully become Ka Pepe’s institutional heirs.