Human rights vs human lives?
In 1998, I was among those invited to the 50th anniversary celebration of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, held in Paris. The huge gathering was in the same venue, Palais de Chaillot, where The Declaration was drafted and adopted on a chilly December Day in 1948. Sometimes The Declaration was called “Best-Kept Secret,” because decades after it was adopted by nations, human rights continued to be violated all over the world by those who either were not in on the “secret,” or chose to pretend they knew nothing about it.
Whoever they are, the ghostwriters who prepared President Duterte’s July 23 third State of the Nation Address created a lightning rod when they made him read the line that pitted human rights against human lives—as if, to borrow Kipling’s words, “never the twain shall meet.”
The President, looking somewhat under the weather and minus his rude and crude ad libs, dutifully read from a teleprompter. Out flew a tirade against human rights advocates: “Your concern is human rights. Mine is human lives.” An OMG! moment there.
He continued: “The lives of our youth are being wasted and families are destroyed, and all because of the chemicals called ‘shabu,’ cocaine, cannabis and heroine.” “Unrelenting” and “chilling,” he warned, would be his war on drugs, like it was on his Day One in 2016.
Paraphrased: To hell with the human rights of drug pushers and users, because what about the lives of those they waste and destroy (their own included)? Sorry na lang for the collateral damage? He was again peddling the fallacious idea that human rights advocates protect only the rights of drug suspects and not the rights of drug victims.
The gullible and brainwashed believe this, not comprehending that the human rights violations by agents of the state against civilians are the issue, because these agents of the state are supposed to be the protectors, not violators, of civilians’ human rights. To put it bluntly, who will protect us from our protectors?
“The lives of our youth are being wasted.” Yes, in the Duterte drug war, it is mostly the youth whose lives are indeed wasted, because they are ended by bullets from law enforcers whose mandate is to kill, kill, kill. Because “nanlaban,” meaning “the victims fought back.”
Take the case of Kian delos Santos, all of 17, whose life ended in a dark alley because “nanlaban.” (You can read online the illustrated storybook “Si Kian,” produced in 2017 by Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s Story Project. Last week it won a National Children’s Book Award. Written in English and Filipino by Weng Cahiles and illustrated by Aldy Aguirre, “Si Kian” was judged 1 of the 9 best books for kids in 2016 and 2017.)
“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives” is something for Du-trolls to add to their Dutertisms notebook. But as I said earlier, it was a lightning rod that attracted fire and brimstone from the sky.
From Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan Diocese: “Such a statement implies that the victims of drug-related killings are not human lives! Is not the right to life the most basic human right? Yes, use the full force of the law, file charges against violators, jail the pushers and the suppliers, but save the users; do not kill them! Besides, we cannot rehabilitate dead people anymore, can we?”
From Lan Mercado, international development worker and human rights advocate: “In making the false dichotomy between human rights and human lives, Duterte was being facile about the killings he instigates. He is misleading the public to think that human rights are not important compared to the human lives he says he protects through the war against drugs… This one line is the most manipulative in Duterte’s State of the Nation Address, making people who approve the killings feel they are just and righteous because they stand for human lives, and if they have been having doubts or guilt pangs over 20,000-plus murders, or the violated rights of mostly poor people victimized by extrajudicial killings, they should feel vindicated. This one line fuels the ignorance about how human rights are integral to the protection of human life.”
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