End goal: just and lasting peace
President Duterte’s election campaign slogan “change is coming” raised hope among Filipinos that, under his presidency, their lives would improve. People imagined basic socioeconomic rights long denied them—e.g., three meals a day, decent housing, regularization for contractuals, work for the unemployed and underemployed. They looked forward to building peace by bringing justice to communities and people.
Though improvements and changes have been felt in the recent months, the people have mainly been served promises and rhetoric. They still long for the Duterte administration to deliver more basic services, to further streamline access to government offices, to vigorously pursue peace-building, and to engage in development that upholds the dignity and rights of the Filipino people.
But even as President Duterte talks about peace and has gone as far as to open formal negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, under his command, repeatedly sow fear and terror in various rural and urban communities. Encampments in schools and villages, as well as military operations in the guise of humanitarian services, show the continuing pursuit of Oplan Bayanihan in the countryside. State forces are violating their own unilaterally declared ceasefire, even as Mr. Duterte insists that there must be a bilateral ceasefire agreement.
Even worse, the President refuses to recognize the obligation of the Philippine government (GRP), under previously signed GRP-NDF agreements, to release political prisoners. They are not criminals, gangsters or drug lords; they are committed to justice and peace work, they champion democratic rights. Some of them may have taken the revolutionary path—but this option requires both courage and principles, and they seek to put an end to the people’s suffering and to oppressive imperialism and state violence.
It is disturbing that in the barely six-month-old Duterte presidency, the discourse on human rights has become unnecessarily controversial. Rather than hearing out the true concern of Filipinos, Mr. Duterte prefers to be on the defensive as the people assert their rights. When people decry and demand accountability for the escalating extrajudicial killings linked to the so-called war on drugs, he meets them with steely indifference. Meanwhile, police officers allegedly involved in drugs have been given every support to defend themselves. Even more, policemen alleged to have committed drug-related EJKs have been presented as if they are beyond criticism and above the law.
President Duterte must respect both the people’s socioeconomic, civil and political rights. No amount of berating or belittling their importance will change the fact that the people’s basic rights are non-negotiable.
We enjoin all church people to relentlessly uphold and protect the rights of the defenseless, as we affirm that genuine peace can only be made possible by affording justice to those who have been denied justice.
We call on all victims of human rights violations and their families to bravely make public the abuses and atrocities committed against them and their loved ones by state forces. We must speak out if we want to make sure that the rights of the people are not violated.
Human rights are not freely given; we must fight for them.
We urge civil society and local communities to seek the truth and refrain from blind allegiance, and to insist on the truth from the state and from the victims themselves. We must not feel contented staying indifferent and passive in our comfort zones, when the vulnerable and the marginalized are falling prey to human rights violations. We must fight; we must dare to struggle—for our human rights and for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves.
We call on President Duterte to seriously work for peace and to respect human rights; these two are inseparable. A just and lasting peace is only possible when human rights issues are properly addressed.
The faith community, at any time in history, must be able to expose the state’s rebellious defiance of God’s rule. Let us all be reminded that each person is created in the image of God, with holiness and dignity. Therefore, as we uphold and defend human rights, we proclaim the words of the Prophet Isaiah (32:14): “Because everyone will work for justice, there will be peace and security forever.”
Nardy Sabino is the general secretary of Promotion of Church People’s Response.
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