THE 2021 National Human Rights Consciousness Week (NHRCW) opened on Monday, December 1, calling on to address inequalities presently being experienced by Filipinos compounded by the present coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

“Our survival as human beings is dependent on the preservation of human rights,” said Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit during her message for the opening program.

The kick-off activity was held on-site at the Liwasang Diokno at the CHR Central Office in Quezon City and online with government and civil society representatives present through video conferencing.

“In the midst of the current pandemic, issues of equality have come to the fore and underlying inequalities in the world and our different societies have surfaced and have become more pronounced—inequalities in vaccines, inequalities in healthcare services, inequalities in recovering from the pandemic, inequalities in opportunities in life amidst the pandemic, inequalities in accessing life-saving medicines, and other inequalities and incidents of discrimination have exacerbated our vulnerabilities and have bred further divisions among us,” Dumpit said.

Equal in dignity and rights

This year’s theme is “Pagkakapantay-Pantay: Isulong mga Karapatang Pantao sa Panahon ng Pandemya.” It was adopted locally based on the theme of the United Nations for Human Rights Day.

“Today is a most opportune time for us to come together to affirm this year’s theme which is a cornerstone principle of human rights: equality, or in Filipino, pagkakapantay-pantay,” Dumpit said.

As part of its mandate, CHR continues to advocate for the respect, promotion, and fulfillment of human rights as the primary consideration for all government actions and policies.

CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, in her message for the human rights week celebration, noted that “our continued engagement with duty-bearers have at times resulted in the re-calibration of their procedures so that it could become more aligned with a human rights-based approach.”

“While we have not always been successful in all areas, I am heartened to know that our indefatigable efforts have started to shape the consciousness of our people that many of them now are also advocating our own advocacies within their respective networks. In light of these positive developments, we should continue to press on with our important work,” she said.

Continuing work for equality

At the same time, CHR rallies for the need to address the long-standing causes of discrimination, inequality, and inhumane treatment usually experienced by the most vulnerable, disadvantaged, and marginalized sectors of society.

“We are encouraged to combat discrimination; fight for the protection of rights; obtain equal access to opportunities—that is true equality,” said CHR Commissioner Roberto Eugenio Cadiz in a prepared speech.

“Women’s rights, together with children’s rights, must be advanced. And discrimination of whatever form and kind must be condemned. The rights of people with disabilities and the wide variety of economic, social, and cultural rights should be obtained without any discrimination whatsoever. Violators have to be taken to task and be held responsible because they violate rights and laws safeguarding rights. They violate dignity—the inherent worth of the human person upon which the principle of equality rests and finds it utmost meaning,” he said.

CHR Commissioner Leah Tanodra-Armamento, for her part, highlighted the goal of ensuring that human rights and dignity are felt and lived beyond being mere abstractions. “Human rights are not alien to human existence,” she said. “But why do violations of human rights pervade our society?” While the answers often elude us, Commissioner Armamento urged everyone “to do what is right, lest the evils [of violations of rights] will triumph.” (PR)