DECEMBER 10 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the historic document that lays down the inalienable -- meaning that cannot be taken away – rights, we, as human beings, are entitled to.
Or are supposed to, anyway.
Because seven decades later, this day is still remembered not so much for the rights we enjoy than for the rights we continue to be deprived of or are snatched away from us by despotic governments and leaders whose numbers, sadly, seem to be increasing lately.
Of course, we don’t have to look far.
After all, we have a leader who has openly and repeatedly declared his disdain for human rights, seeing these as a nuisance to his preferred solution to practically everything that ails our nation and people – death.
But to be fair, President Rodrigo Duterte is not the first president to disregard human rights. He just happens to be, perhaps, the most “honest” about his loathing for the concept, even if he disguises this in populist terms such as “peace and order” and that phrase most beloved of tyrants, “national security.”
Because the truth is that all -- yes, all presidents from Marcos onwards never paid human rights more than lip service.
Even in the early days of the Cory Aquino presidency, when everyone believed a better future was at hand after Ferdinand Marcos’ ouster, there was hardly any letup in human rights abuses.
There was, of course, the Mendiola massacre of January 22, 1987 that killed at least 12 farmers and wounded more than 50 others. And then it would take a turn for the worse when two months later, at the graduation ceremony of the Philippine Military Academy, she unveiled the “Total War Policy,” declaring that “the answer to the terrorism of the left and the right is not social and economic reform but police and military action.”
In Negros Occidental, three days after Easter Sunday in April 1987, Scout Rangers rained bullets and grenades on a house in Sitio Mambagaton, Himamaylan, killing Reynaldo “Moret” Delos Santos, a leader of the Kristiyanong Katilingban, his wife Cerila, and three children – Mary Joy, Jun-jun and Jones. A son, Joaquin, survived but was wounded when he managed to take cover behind sacks of rice.
And who can forget Operation Thunderbolt, the counterinsurgency operation that displaced more than 30,000 hinterland residents of southern Negros, with more than 300 children estimated to have died of disease in cramped evacuation centers.
But in the face of the clear humanitarian crisis, a ranking provincial official had the temerity to declare that the dead children were “the price we have to pay for democracy.”
The context may have been different but this is, to be blunt about it, the same mindset that informs Duterte’s false contention that regular shabu use “shrinks” the brain, rendering users “no longer viable as human beings” – in short, beyond redemption and fit only for elimination.
At the end of the first Aquino presidency, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines had recorded more than 1.2 million victims of dislocation due to military operations, 135 massacres, 1,064 summary executions, and 20,523 cases of illegal arrest and detention, a record worse than that of the nine years of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Of course, with close to 30,000 deaths since he assumed office and launched his murderous “war on drugs,” Duterte appears to have trumped them all, including his avowed idol Marcos, for sheer brutality and contempt for life.
It is unfortunate that too many of our people continue to believe this deranged killing spree is, indeed, the solution to their woes, never mind if many of the victims come from their own ranks and, in fact, had also bought into Duterte’s bloody pipe dream.
But before we go railing against the “bobotante,” it might be good to take an honest look at why this is so. The truth is, Duterte did not emerge from a vacuum but rose on the righteous disgust of people disenfranchised by the rule of an apathetic and kleptocratic elite, people who, in the same manner they believed the lovable cinematic rogue was the real Joseph Estrada, saw Duterte’s ham-fisted boorishness as a sign he was one of them and not, in fact, descended from the same oligarchy that had, is, and will continue to screw them.
It is true that Duterte’s cache has suffered even among what he claims to be his mass base and that much of what seems to be his continuing popularity is the result of the operations of the well-oiled “troll army.” But it is equally true that there remains a dwindling yet still substantial fraction of the populace that keeps faith with him.
On the bright said, bad as these times may be, they could also be the perfect opportunity to unite people on the basis of defending our rights.
But that might be easier said than done because aside from the instinct for self-preservation that drives many to stand aside so long as they are not personally affected – this, I should say, is especially so among the middle class – there is also the grinding hopelessness that leads many dispossessed victims of abuse, including those who lost kin to the war on drugs, to see the pursuit of justice as a futile exercise, human rights as a privilege that can never be theirs.
Beyond defying Duterte, which we should do with more determination, I submit that we all need to make a conscious effort to recognize, respect, embrace and insist on the universality of human rights, that violating the rights of others is tantamount to violating our own, that there cannot be “my rights,” only “our rights.”
We cannot have it any other way lest we find ourselves on the receiving end with no one there to stand for and by us.
December 10, 2018
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