His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the 62nd Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights
[ Heroes Hall, Malacañan Palace, December 10, 2010]
History tells us that the most advanced societies are those that have had a healthy respect for human rights. From the ancient Greeks to Europe’s Renaissance, progress was built on creativity, openness, and respect for the individual. This is what we are commemorating today: the milestone achieved in 1948 that established a covenant to protect human rights.
I would like to greet all who join us in celebration today. It has been 62 years since the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was proclaimed in Paris, and from Paris, it has advanced toward true universality—having been translated into 375 languages and dialects, and reaching countries all over the world, including our beloved Philippines.
Today’s commemoration should focus our attention on the poor and the powerless. It is they who are the most likely to be deprived of the rights we celebrate today. This declaration has redefined for them and for the societies in which they live, our human dignity as a non-negotiable birthright for all and not just a few.
The challenges we have had to overcome in the cause of human rights have not been easy. I grew up in an era where human rights were often violated. My father, together with many others, was a victim. Our family and their families were victims too, and so many of our countrymen who were alive at the time share the same story. We know more than anyone that the blatant disregard of liberties will only bring us further into the dark.
This is why I am here to reaffirm to all of you today that our country stands in solidarity with you. The Philippines, as a signatory to most of the major international human rights treaties and instruments, must live up to its commitments. In contrast to the dark era that once engulfed us, we are now making certain that our commitments to these treaties do not remain paper promises because for the first time in nearly a decade, we have a government that is indeed serious about human rights.
As you probably know, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has established a Human Rights Office, which serves as the main platform for addressing all human rights and international humanitarian law issues involving the Armed forces. The recent designation of General Domingo Tutaan as head of this office has further strengthened its capabilities. The AFP is also set to publish a handbook that will orient the troops on human rights and international humanitarian law.
Furthermore, the Philippine National Police has crafted the Human Rights Desk Operations Manual. This provides information and operational procedures to police personnel manning the PNP Human Rights Desks. Handbooks have also been prepared for regional police offices and media organizations as useful guides in light of the risks they face in the conduct of their duties.
We are also working overtime to prevent new cases of human rights violations and to continue to resolve previous cases.
For example, of the 39 work-related murders of media men reported by the Philippine National Police, 85% have had charges filed in their respective cases. In particular, there have been significant developments in the two journalist-related cases that have occurred during our term.
In the case of Miguel Belen, a murder charge is already pending against the two suspects before the Regional Trial Court of Iriga City. On the other hand, the case of Jose Daguio has already been set for initial hearing.
Today, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima will sign a department order creating the DOJ Task Force, which will review all reported and unresolved cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Through the reviews, they will recommend measures for the effective and expeditious investigation and prosecution of the cases. Moreover, this task force has been mandated to speed up the resolution of cases with sufficient evidence and the necessary re-investigation to re-open cold files.
And there is the case of the Morong 43.
The medical workers were arrested in the waning days of the Arroyo administration on the suspicion that they were aiding NPA insurgents. These are valid concerns. Nevertheless, we recognize that their right to due process was denied them. As a government that is committed to the rule of law and the rights of man, this cannot stand. Therefore, I have ordered the DOJ to withdraw the informations filed before the court. This will, in effect, subject to court approval, free those among them who have no other standing warrants in other courts.
The people have clamored for a government that is trustworthy and transparent in its actions, and we are taking significant steps toward fulfilling that promise to them. Violators of human rights will be held accountable for their actions, and the state will protect, with unflagging commitment, the rights of all its citizens.
Let this be a concrete example of how our administration is working in the broad light of day to build a country where the law protects us equally. The culture of silence, injustice and impunity that once reigned is now a thing of the past.
And before I end, may I just reiterate something I learned from my father: Human rights has to be universal, has to be for everyone. When one’s rights are violated, you set the groundwork for violating everybody’s rights—so all includes our security forces, our peasantry, those below the poverty line, those who have more in this life.
Thank you and good day.