FULL OF SOUND AND FURY: Human Rights and the 2010 Presidential Candidates

By Ramil A. Andag and Joy Anne Icayan

Elections themselves are human rights events: first, because they give voice to the political will of the people involved; and secondly, because, to be truly free and fair consistent with international standards, they must be conducted in an atmosphere which is respectful of basic human rights.
–    Human rights and elections:  A handbook on the legal, technical and human rights aspects of elections

Suffrage is a human right which has international and domestic guarantees. This right involves, among others, the right to self determination, the right to take part in government, the right to vote and be elected, and the right to equal access to public service.

This right is guaranteed by various international instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). At the domestic level, the right of suffrage is guaranteed by Article V of the 1987 Constitution.

Suffrage is a right best exercised by an informed and educated electorate.

To help voters make an informed decision, PhilRights looked into the human rights components of the various platforms of government espoused by those running for office. Specifically, PhilRights sought to answer the following:

1.    Are human rights principles integrated in the platforms of the parties and individuals seeking the presidency?
2.    What are the human rights agenda and focus issues of the presidential candidates?

Using the rights-based approach (RBA), PhilRights reviewed the platforms of the eight (8) political parties and one independent candidate for the presidency, to see how human rights principles have been integrated in their programs. The following themes were sought out:

1.    Provisions expressly linked to human rights (i.e., whether the contents and programs of the presidential candidates were framed along the principles of human rights;
2.    Elements of civil and political rights
3.    Elements of economic, social and cultural rights
4.    Other issues that impact on human rights

Aside from the review of the platforms, PhilRights also conducted a survey among the presidential candidates on the following questions:

1.    What is your human rights agenda?
2.    What are the top three (3) human rights issues you will address if elected president?

To find out if human rights is considered an election issue by the candidates, PhilRights also reviewed three candidates’ debates as well as one radio program which interviewed eight (8) of the presidential candidates.

REVIEW OF PLATFORMS

Of the nine (9) platforms, human rights is mentioned, in varying degrees, by four (4) parties and one independent candidate (Sen. Jamby Madrigal).

Lakas-KAMPI-CMD (Lakas) recognizes human rights as the “principles of a democratic system for which our institutions are built.”

The Nationalista Party’s human rights and justice provision focuses mainly on civil and political rights: justice and indemnification to HRV victims as well as the implementation of the Alston recommendations. NP’s platform likewise has provisions on the rights of workers, indigenous peoples and migrant dwellers in upland areas. Under “governance and accountability”, it promises to address impunity and hold the President Arroyo and other officials accountable for possible gross HR violations.

Ironically, Bangon Pilipinas mentions human rights in the context of its opposition to the pending reproductive health bill, arguing that the State as the protector “of every facet of human rights” should not interfere with the individual’s right to choose which birth control measures to practice.

While Senator Madrigal’s platform has no specific provision on human rights, the following HR-related issues are mentioned: prosecution of HR violators; women’s equality, participation and protection; defense of civil rights and civilian supremacy, including union rights; and a “pro-human rights” security and peace, including repeal of the Visiting Forces Agreement and other pacts.

Of the platforms being offered in the 2010 presidential elections, the one that elaborates most on human rights is that of the Liberal Party (LP). Its platform links human rights with peace, and holds itself to the immediate task of establishing “the conditions for a genuine human rights regime in the country.” It promises to “always adhere to, defend, respect, promote and preserve the human rights of all” and commits itself “to build the necessary infrastructure” for HR advocacy. The party promises to settle the armed conflict to ensure peace; establish institutions for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights; release all political prisoners; abolish the death penalty; re-orient the military and police; reorganize the judiciary; guarantee the rights of those undergoing criminal investigation; reorganize the Commission on Human Rights; and advocate for an ASEAN HR mechanism and prioritize ratification of international treaties.

While Pangmasa only specifically mentions promotion of consumer rights to safe and healthy foods, integrated in its six-pillar platform are policies and programs that bear upon civil, political and ESC rights, although these are not explicitly expressed as human rights (e.g., eradication of poverty and enhancement of quality of life, social justice, education).

Three political parties (Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, Ang Kapatiran, and Bagumbayan) did not specifically mention human rights in their platforms.

On the whole, the platforms of the candidates seeking the presidency reveal the following: human rights included in the platforms mostly pertain to civil and political rights i.e., references to the Bill of Rights, extra-legal killings, democracy, participation). Most of the platforms have programs on the economy, work, health, education, and housing among others, although these were not couched in the language of human rights but were discussed as part of the programs to be delivered ((e.g., Nacionalista Party, Pangmasa).

Some platforms which mentioned human rights were not able to expressly link human rights principles into their programs. Some discussed programs/projects in the frame of social welfare and not as human rights. This perspective has a major effect in their implementation, both in the process and in the results.

The principle of accountability is clearly discussed in most platforms, except in the case of Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP). Accountability in PMP’s platform can be extracted from its political principle, which states that the criminal justice system must prioritize “the prosecution of the rich and powerful offenders and criminal syndicates.”

The seven (7) platforms which discuss accountability expound on this principle in different ways. Bangon Pilipinas and Lakas discuss accountability in relation to transparency in government transactions. Meanwhile, Senator Madrigal (Ind.) and NP view accountability in relation to holding government officials accountable for human rights violations. LP for its part discusses accountability from the perspective of citizen’s power over State institutions, the State’s duty to protect, promote and fulfill human rights, and citizens demanding their rights from the State.

Participation as tackled in the platforms ranged from participatory democracy and decision-making (Liberal Party, Madrigal), watchdogs to monitor the implementation of projects (Lakas Kampi CMD, Pangmasa ) and support for non-government organizations and communities (Ang Kapatiran, Lakas Kampi CMD, Madrigal, Pangmasa).

Only the platform of independent candidate Madrigal mentioned women’s participation.

SURVEY OF PARTIES/PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

Of the nine who are eyeing the presidency, only four (4) parties/candidates submitted their responses to the survey, although all parties/candidates assured PhilRights of their responses before this article was finalized. The parties/candidates who responded are Ang Kapatiran (JC delos Reyes), Lakas (Gilbert Teodoro), Bagumbayan (Richard Gordon), and Nicanor Perlas (independent).

Human Rights Agenda Top Three Human Rights Issues
Ang Kapatiran Integrity (which the party defines as “the steadfast adherence to a strict moral/ethical code” and human rights.

Respect for life (“in all its forms and stages”) and dignity of the human person.

Corruption

–      End and prohibit political dynasties

–      Abolish pork barrel, improve basic service delivery

–      Law on full public disclosure of all government transactions

–      Abolish laws, rules and regulations that give government personnel, like the BIR, the discretion to allow or disallow certain deductions or exemptions, etc.

–      Speedy administration of justice

–      Political parties to voluntarily waive Bank Secrecy rights, including immediate family members

Issues affecting life (“being pro-life across the board”)

–      Reject the RH Bill

–      End death penalty

–      Dismantle culture of guns (total gun ban and progressive disarmament)

Other key issues (morality, genuine agrarian reform, limiting foreign debt, rejecting the VFA, environmental protection – expanding forest lands and national parks)

Bagumbayan Rule of law, uplifting the people’s dignity, and good governance.

Law enforcement agencies should protect the rights of the people under custodial investigation.

Specifically:

Protect the basic human rights to life, liberty and property, the rule of law and due process through political will that enforces peace and order and strengthens our juridical, prosecutorial and penal institutions.

–      Uphold the authority of the Government in every community, province and region in the country.

–      End the Communist insurgency and the Muslim secessionist rebellion through peaceful negotiation if possible or by force of arms if necessary.

–      Disarm and disband all private armies.

–      Eradicate extra-judicial killings and other serious crimes by ensuring speedy resolution of cases and that the perpetrators of the crime are meted out the appropriate penalty.

Ensure an accessible government by providing 24/7 government service.

–      Provide the people with a Presidential Hotline wherein the new president will be apprised of violations of all kinds, most especially of human rights and be able to address these issues expeditiously.

–      Create night courts to address the backlog of cases.

–      Ensure that convicted criminals are meted out the appropriate penalty and are not given any special treatment based on rank or financial capacity.

–      Adopt the principle of restorative justice in law enforcement

Give back dignity to the people by uplifting their quality of life.

–      Provide equal and equitable access to quality education and healthcare

–      Increase the salaries of teachers and healthcare providers.

–      Improve public school infrastructure.

–      Ensure universal health coverage and accessible primary health care facilities.

–      Provide development in disaster-stricken and war-torn areas

–      Provide transport ships which could carry goods from war-torn areas in Mindanao to Luzon and the Visayas.

The huge gap between world standards and local conditions in education and health care

–      Scholarships in vocational training and science/engineering programs; encourage state colleges to focus on research and development in conjunction with the requirements of the private sector.

–      Increase the scope of classroom feeding programs; pay neediest families whenever they send their children to school; improve school clinics

The war in Mindanao

–      Sustainable development is the key to bringing about lasting peace.

Extra-judicial killings

–      A strong police and military, and principled prosecutors and judges.

–      Swift action against these killings

Lakas Kampi CMD A Centrist Humanist Agenda

People empowerment as the basic requirement in the advancement of democracy

Protection of Migrant Workers, from the point of recruitment.

–      Install safeguards so that recruiters can provide more assurances of safety for OFWs. More active network of support systems to monitor the conditions OFWs. Help establish a system of mutual assistance in every host country.

Resettlement of Urban Poor

–      A program on urban renewal providing medium-rise housing. In particular, relocation of the victims of Typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng”.

Extrajudicial Killings and Disappearances

–      Work with the Commission on Human Rights in investigation and prosecution.  Closely follow the progress of the Maguindanao incident.

IP Rights and Ancestral Domain

–      Improve implementation of laws for the protection of cultural minorities. Hasten the delineation of ancestral lands must be hastened so IPs will be able to advance their economic and cultural interests through tourism ventures, agricultural projects, and partnerships with investors.

Nicanor Perlas (Pangmasa) A prosperous, peaceful, democratic, moral and visionary nation, living in harmony with Nature and energized by creative, honest, responsible citizens who are aware of their divine origin and purpose. Citizens who have united together to sustain a free, vibrant and diverse culture, a broad-based and inclusive economy, a participatory, just and compassionate governance that contributes positively to world affairs.

Developing the full human potential.

Cultural diversity and unity.

Authentic participatory democracy.

Equal sharing of the fruits of economic activity among different regions and provinces.

National sovereignty.

Biogeographical equity.

True gender sensitivity.

Abolish all private armies

Re-open investigations into extra-judicial killings

Release detained military men and women who are fighting for rights and reporting abusive plans and actions in all military departments

ANALYSIS OF PUBLIC FORA, DEBATES AND INTERVIEWS

The following public forums were analyzed: Inquirer Presidential Debate  held February 9, 2010 at U.P. Diliman; “Ikaw na Ba?” interviews by Mike Enriquez with the ten (including delisted candidate Vetellano Acosta) presidential candidates over radio station DZBB conducted on separate dates; and “Ikaw Na Ba: ANC Harapan Presidential Forum” held January 29, 2010 and moderated by Ted Failon.

1.    Inquirer Presidential Debate

Eight “presidentiables” were present during the Inquirer Presidential Debate: Benigno Aquino III (LP), Manny Villar (NP), JC de los Reyes (Ang Kapatiran), Richard Gordon (Bagumbayan), Jamby Madrigal, Nicanor Perlas (Pangmasa), Eddie Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas), and Gilbert Teodoro (Lakas).

The Presidential Debate focused on three key topics: law and politics, (moderated by Raul Pangalangan); social issues, moderated by (Rina Jimenez-David); and economics and budget, moderated by Cielito David.

Lakas standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro was asked whether he would defend the rights of indigenous peoples (IPs) in situations when their rights are threatened by mining, logging, creation of dams and other programs. Teodoro said that it is necessary to get the consent of IPs to ensure sustainability of these projects.

On the issue of impunity, Villar stressed the importance of strengthening the human development index in places where private armies are rampant, through the enhancement of entrepreneurial skills, health and access to education, while also strengthening security through enhancement of the military.

Madrigal said that she sees the need to control advertising of junk food, saying that the emphasis should be on food quality. She said she intends to limit the advertising of several companies and implement stringent measures against companies that “misadvertise,” such as milk companies that advertise powdered milk as breast milk substitute.

Eddie Villanueva stressed the importance of social security for the elderly.

De Los Reyes of Ang Kapatiran reiterated his stand against the RH bill, but stressed the importance of maternal health and promoting better access to medical services.

Gordon was asked his opinion regarding proposals to restore criminal liability to minors. He noted the tendency of some criminals to use minors for their crimes and answered that rights must be balanced with responsibilities.

When asked about his opinion on mining investments that will bring improvements to a community but may potentially damage the environment, Perlas said that because IPs regard the environment as a crucial factor for development, all projects must respect the culture of IPs, and must see them as part of national development. On a liberalized mining industry, Perlas batted for a new mining law that will respect IP rights. He also advocated for a broader framework that will both address societal needs and also the environment.

Villanueva stressed that while women’s rights are primordial and basic, this does not extend to activities “that violate the morality of a family,” such as abortion.

2.    Ikaw na Ba?

Villanueva said he believes in the restoration of the death penalty for moneyed criminals. He acknowledged that the previous death penalty law put the poor at a disadvantage and therefore proposed that death penalty will be for moneyed criminals guilty of warlordism, plunder, systemic drug trafficking and others. As for private armies and political dynasties, Villanueva said he believes in the interdependence of the political and the moral, stating that once people are economically empowered, political dynasties will die.

Villar talked about upholding the accountability of erring political officials, noting that his administration will prosecute these people. He also mentioned the necessity of strengthening the judiciary and of ensuring healthcare to everyone, rich or poor.

Gordon said that he believes in upholding accountability of erring officials “to provide closure to the country.”  He also emphasized the need for accountability in public transactions. He also called for unity among all sectors of the government.

As to how he would solve poverty, Aquino said that the long-term solution would be access to education. He is also for providing conditional cash transfers to poor Filipinos. When asked about the problem of importing rice, Aquino said that food security must be balanced with the rights of the farmers to sell their yield.

Perlas said he believes in a participatory government and stressed the importance of civil society. He said his primary goal is eradicating poverty, which he believes can be done by focusing on the agricultural sector where 70% of the poor are. He believes the following areas should be focused on: peace and order, social services, housing, and health. Perlas also seeks to dismantle private armies and calls for genuine peace talks with rebel groups.

Transparent government will bring back the people’s confidence in the government, Teodoro said. He also emphasized the lack of long-term security when it comes to government projects. He advocates the use of private watchdogs to solve the problem of corruption in public projects. Teodoro also believes in honoring peoples’ participation such as in matters of Constitutional change.

Madrigal wants a level playing field for smaller investors, saying the country must veer away from US monopoly. She emphasized how US monopoly has caused high prices for medicines. Madrigal also said she will seek the eradication of contractualization; she also plans to prosecute companies that do not remit social security savings. She also mentioned the powers of the judiciary to prosecute erring officials.

3.    Harapan Presidential Forum

All nine presidential candidates were present in the ANC Harapan Presidential Forum, with students grilling the aspirants.  While human rights was not explicitly asked, some questions delved on several aspects of it.

De los Reyes, when asked about the empowerment of women, noted that all Filipinos are entitled to the ‘fullness of life’.

Regarding the booming call center industry, Perlas said that it is important not to rely on call centers but rather on labor intensive sectors such as agriculture, as this will solve the employment problem and at the same time address poverty in the country.

Madrigal stressed the need to provide capital for small entrepreneurs and for fighting against neoliberal policies. She also expressed her call to fight against illegal miners and rice smugglers.

Gordon mentioned the need to reassess education to promote its quality, an issue echoed by Aquino, who stressed that quality education is a prerequisite for good employment.

NOT QUITE THERE YET

The content analysis of the GPOAs of the presidential candidates reveal that human rights included in the platforms mostly pertain to civil and political rights (i.e., references to the Bill of Rights, EJK, democracy, participation). Most of the GPOAs have programs on the economy, work, health, education, and housing, among others. These, however, were not expressed as human rights, but were discussed as part of the promised programs. Some GPOAs which mentioned human rights were not able to expressly link human rights principles into their programs. Aspects of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, such as education, health, housing, work, etc., were discussed within the frame of social services and not as basic rights (ex., NP and Pangmasa). Placing these basic rights within the frame of social services naturally will have a major effect on the realization of these rights.

The principle of accountability is clearly discussed in most GPOAs, except in the case of PMP. Accountability in PMP’s GPOA can be extracted from its political principle, which states that the criminal justice system must prioritize “the prosecution of the rich and powerful offenders and criminal syndicates.”

The human rights principle of participation is tackled in all nine GPOAs (except in the case of Bagumbayan), ranging from local government autonomy (Lakas, PMP, Madrigal), participatory democracy and decision-making (LP, Madrigal), monitoring implementation of projects (Lakas, Pangmasa), and supporting non-government organizations and communities (Ang Kapatiran, Lakas, Madrigal, Pangmasa).

Only the GPOA of independent candidate Madrigal mentioned women’s participation. Pangmasa’s platform mentioned consumer rights.

ESC issues in the forums sampled were discussed as human rights whenever they were framed in terms of rights of specific sectors: women’s rights, consumers’ rights, children’s rights. Otherwise these issues were placed under the sphere of social services.

CHALLENGING THE FEEBLE

It is not enough that a full-blown rights-based approach is lacking and even completely missing from the platforms of the candidates; what is more cause for concern are the candidates’ pronouncements that contravene human rights standards. Among these are the plans to re-impose the death penalty (Villanueva) and restore criminal liability to minors (Gordon), as well as the outright rejection of the RH bill (De los Reyes). These are but a few chilling examples that show how feebly informed by human rights principles is the campaign discourse that plays out in the run-up for the 2010 national and local elections.

By experience, the promises of those who are seeking public office are for the most part forgotten after the election season. Civil society organizations should monitor the performance of those who win in the national and local polls and hold them accountable to the programs and directions they promised during the campaign period.

These are the challenges that human rights defenders and the electorate have to respond to, not only during the campaign period, but even more so during the term of office of the next president.

References

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1994). Human Rights and Elections A Handbook on Legal and Technical and Human Rights Aspects of Elections. Retrieved from March 2010 from http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/training2en.pdf.

Platforms

Ang Kapatiran Party. Ang Kapatiran Party Political Platform. Retrieved February 2010 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/23285886/Ang-Kapatiran-Platform

Bagumbayan Party. Manifesto for Change. Retrieved February 2010 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/24111308/Manifesto-for-Change

Bangon Pilipinas. Platform of Government and Statement of Basic Principles and Policies for Governance of Bangon Pilipinas party 2010. Retrieved February 2010 from http://bangonpilipinasplatform.net/

Jamby Madrigal for President. Reclaim and Regain the Wealth, Sovereignty and Dignity of the Filipino People and Nation: A vision of genuine change for the Filipinos. Retrieved February 2010 from http://www.jambymadrigal.com/

Lakas Kampi CMD. The Lakas Kampi CMD Platform: Renewing the Filipino spirit. Retrieved February 2010 from http://www.lakaskampicmd.com/

Liberal Party. Partido Liberal Pilipinas Platform. Retrieved February 2010 from http://www.liberalparty.ph/platform/vision.htm

Nacionalista Party. In Response to the People’s Concerns (Nov. 2009). Retrieved February 2010 from   http://www.scribd.com/doc/24115743/Nacionalista-Party-Platform.

Partido ng Marangal na Sambayanan. Platform of the Partido ng Marangal na Sambayanan. Retrieved February 2010 from http://www.nicanor-perlas.com/

Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino. Partido ng Masang Pilipino Platform of Government. Retrieved February 2010 from http://www.malayanghalalan.com/2010-platforms/partido-ng-masang-pilipino-platform-of-government/

Audio and Video Files

ABS CBN News Channel. (Jan 29, 2010). ANC Youth Vote – Presidential Forum

[Video Files] Retrieved March 2010 Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gbf8d0L2-M&feature=PlayList&p=14B7B2E023BE8007&playnext_from=PL&index=0&playnext=1

GMA News TV.com. February 17, 2010. Download podcasts: Mike Enriquez interviews the presidential hopefuls on dzBB. Retrieved March 2010 from http://www.gmanews.tv/story/184154/download-podcasts-mike-enriquez-interviews-the-presidential-hopefuls-on-dzbb

Philippine Daily Inquirer 1st Edition  The Presidential Debate (Feb. 9, 2010). Inquirer Presidential Debate Series [Video files] Retrieved March 2010 from http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=PDI+inquirer+presidential+debate&aq=f

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