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On the Occasion of the Philippine Air Force’s Human Rights Advocacy Seminar

17 January 2011

delivered by
Loretta Ann P. Rosales

Thank you very much for inviting me to your human rights advocacy seminar. It is an honor and a great opportunity for me to share my thoughts and experiences with you. Tomorrow morning I will also speak before the PNP at Camp Crame as they jumpstart the series of intensive human rights training of their human rights officers who will be detailed in each and every police station all over the country. I believe the AFP under the leadership of Lt. Gen. David is also contemplating of doing the same for the military.

I put great importance in engaging with the security sector for two particular reasons. First, the security sector plays a very crucial role in winning the peace through the paradigm shift espoused by the new administration. This is a huge responsibility because in the ultimate analysis, the peace process greatly affects the over-all human rights situation in the country. Second, many human rights violations are committed by rogue members of the security sector. I am sorry to say this, but we need to admit this fact. It is only when we come to terms with our frailties and shortcomings as individuals and as an organization that we become empowered to correct them and address systemic issues. It is for these two reasons that the CHR is doing everything it can to reach out to the security sector.

You may be asking, what is Human Rights anyway? Why should the security sector bother with it? Would human rights be even relevant in situations of armed conflict where soldiers either kill their enemies or get killed by them? Why do soldiers always get blamed for human rights violations, as if soldiers do not have human rights that are also violated by other armed groups? These are persistent questions, and we shall attempt to answer them.

Human rights are rights that every human being has simply because she or he is human. The concept of human rights is based on the inherent dignity of the human person. Because every human being has intrinsic worth, every human person, therefore, is born with equal and inalienable rights. In other words, these rights are not created or given by the State but are possessed by every human being as soon as she or he comes to the world. These rights are universal, meaning all human beings in the world have them regardless of their sex, gender, skin color, race, nationality, social status, religion or political belief. These rights are also interdependent, interrelated and indivisible, meaning one human right is necessary for the fulfilment of all the other human rights; consequently, the violation of one human right will necessarily violate all the other human rights. No one, neither state nor non-state actors, may curtail these rights except only under a small number of clearly defined situations that are strictly applied.

Human rights were not given much attention until we have experienced the scourge of two world wars. This ugliest part of human history made us witnesses to the systematic murder of millions of people and many other unspeakable, barbarous acts, all of which resulted from a patent disregard and contempt for human rights. With an outraged conscience, every nation stood together in 1945 and declared, “Never again.” The United Nations was then established, whose Charter reaffirmed faith in the dignity and worth of the human person. In 1948 all States signed and promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then, governments around the world, including the Philippines , have signed and ratified many international human rights covenants. With these treaties, States legally obliged themselves to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.

In the Philippines , in no other period in our history has the clamor for human rights been so pervasive than during Martial Law. In those dark years, an oppressive dictator arrogated unto himself all powers of government, and egregiously used the military to silence those who stood against his despotism. Widespread and systematic violations of human rights were committed by Marcos, with the security sector doing the dirty work for him. Many civilians were murdered, tortured and abused. I know this for a fact because I myself was tortured and molested by members of the military.

When we regained our democracy through People Power in 1986, we said, “Never again.” We declared it a national policy in the 1987 Constitution that the State values the dignity of the human person and guarantees full respect for human rights. We provided in the Constitution full articles for the Bill of Rights, Social Justice and Human Rights, and even established the Commission on Human Rights. We willed it that every action of the government should be directed towards the achievement of one goal – the establishment of a just and humane society – a goal which can only be realized if human rights are universally recognized and respected, with the government actively protecting and promoting them.

Article II Section 3 of the Constitution expressly provides that “The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State.” Note that the “people” comes first before the “State”. This is not unintended, but in fact deliberately meant. This is because the State is established to serve the people and to ensure that the most basic of their human rights are observed and fulfilled. Thus, if the Armed Forces of the Philippines is to faithfully comply with its duty, then the Armed Forces of the Philippines should be the foremost human rights advocate; conversely, every violation of human rights coming from the military is a violation of its sworn, Constitutional duty. Human rights, therefore, should be at the core of all the operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines .

If the military always gets blamed for human rights violations, it is because of the fact that indeed, many human rights violations are committed by the military. Again, we need to be honorable enough to admit this fact. This is not to say that members of the military have no human rights. Every human being has human rights. Thus, unless you don’t consider yourselves human beings, you also have the same human rights as any other human being. If you feel that your human rights are being violated by anyone – by rebels, by civilians, or by your immediate superiors alike – come to the CHR and we will defend your rights.

You may feel it is unfair that every action of the military is rigorously put to the test of human rights. True, the military is under stricter scrutiny, but it is not unfair or unjust. The Armed Forces of the Philippines must be gauged by the highest standards of honor and dignity, and rightly so, for you are neither the rebels who have no accountability to the people nor are you the scoundrels who use weapons for personal gains. No. You are the Armed Forces of the Philippines – the protector of the people and the State – and we expect from our protectors full respect for human rights and nothing less.

I believe that there are many good women and men in the armed forces than there are violators of human rights in its ranks. The challenge for the armed forces is how to regain the trust and confidence of the people. This will be possible if you are able to effect meaningful and lasting change in the way you conduct your operations. To do this, two things are imperative:

These are tall orders and certainly the AFP cannot do all these on its own. You need to cooperate with other stakeholders. I invite you to strengthen your linkages with the CHR. The CHR is not here to find-fault in the military; we are here to help you perform and remain true to your duty. I also ask you to extend your linkages to other human rights defenders, for like you, they also fight for democracy and freedom.

The road to winning the peace is not one where war is waged at every step of the way; it is not one where the rule of law is supplanted by the rule of bullets and ammunitions; it is not one where sheer brute force reigns supreme. The way to peace is paved by the utmost respect for human dignity which manifests itself into full observance of human rights and humanitarian law. Hinihikayat ko kayong lahat, sama-sama nating tahakin ang daan tungo sa kapayapaan, kaunalaran, at karapatang pantao.