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Respect at core of governance

/ 02:11 AM May 21, 2016

With candor and conviction, I wish to share thoughts on the idea of putting respect at the core of governance: respect for basic rights; respect for women, youth and children; respect for the environment and the people’s right to a just peace. I have drawn these reflections from the contentious election campaign that I would now like to convey to presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

Respect for rights.  Preeminent among the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 is the right to life. In the next six years, it is imperative that we underline the message that life is sacred, and that the rule of law will prevail by putting a stop to all forms of killings, particularly summary political killings and extrajudicial executions.

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Human Rights Watch and the Commission on Human Rights have documented the unsolved killings of over 1,424 people allegedly perpetrated by death squads in 1989-2015 in Davao City, as mentioned in the pastoral letter of Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ.

People cannot take the law in their own hands, and these death squads, as well as self-styled vigilantes who operate with impunity in other localities, must be disbanded and held accountable. The police and local authorities under whose watch these crimes have been committed must likewise be made to answer for these atrocities. Violence begets more violence until a vicious spiral spins out of control.

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Moreover, the threat of the reimposition of the death penalty has again been raised, which, rather than inhibit, will certainly further promote a culture of violence. When the 1987 Constitution was drafted, the majority decided to abolish capital punishment for these reasons:

  • It does not deter crime. Studies of Amnesty International over four decades have repeatedly discredited the argument that it serves as a deterrent. In fact, AI concludes that “there is no evidence that the death penalty is any more effective in reducing crime than imprisonment.” A most effective deterrent against crime is the certainty of conviction and the effective administration of justice.
  • It is irreversible. Once someone is executed there is no way to rectify human error. Examples of prisoners sent to death row and later exonerated demonstrate that in matters of life and death, there is no room for error. Moreover, the proposed medieval practice of hanging desensitizes people, reflecting the barbaric methods that were condemned in the past.
  • It is discriminatory. In an imperfect justice system where unfair conditions may exist, those who are poor or marginalized, or who belong to minorities, are more likely to be sentenced to death; more often than not, it is those who have less in life who are unable to mount a proper defense. Besides, it goes against the spirit of the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis.

Respect for women.  During the election campaign and now in countless articles in the global media including the Time cover story featuring the presumptive president-elect, mention is made of the attitude and the words of disrespect to women and to women victims of rape and abuse. It is important to note that in politics as well as in life, “words do matter” whether said in anger or in jest. Words are what people hear, read and believe. For many of our countrywomen, this practice is obviously disgraceful and needs to stop.

We are led to believe that the new administration will be gender-sensitive. This is welcome news, and such initiatives if undertaken need to be sustained.

Respect for youth and children.  I am a teacher by profession, and one word that we learned in school was “magis”—to do more and be more; to do honest, hard work; to strive, to excel.

To say even in jest that it is all right to copy, or to cheat, or to be content with a 75 percent—that is, to be mediocre—provides a demotivating example to the young. Moreover, profanities are perhaps not the best lines to utter on prime-time media. It is our hope that our presumptive president-elect comes through with his renewed pledge to show a better example to our young people who are both impressionable and may easily be influenced by leaders who may seem larger than life.

Respect for the environment.  Our Constitution speaks about our right to a “balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.” Given the impact of climate change and our country’s position as one of the world’s most vulnerable to natural calamities, respect for the environment will be most critical, particularly in Mindanao where aggressive business practices have done damage to our forests, mountains, valleys and rivers, affecting the lives and livelihoods of our people.

Among the contributors to the presidential campaign are business people and financiers known to have vital interests in the extractive industries. Balancing competing voices in any coalition (especially one with no clear program of government presented to the people during the campaign, and absent political parties with comprehensive platforms of government except perhaps the Communist Party of the Philippines) will present a monumental challenge. Reassurance has been given that no concessions will be made to friends and funders alike as quid pro quo, which remains to be seen. Thus, vigilance is essential.

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Respect for the people’s right to a just peace.  For countrywide development to be sustainable, the building of a just and durable peace, one that responds to our people’s needs and the aspirations of those on the margins of society, is required. As Jose W. Diokno once put it, we have to address the underlying causes of the conflict, “jobs and justice, food and freedom.” It would also mean redressing historical injustices and ensuring respect for the dignity of the Bangsamoro and lumad  in Mindanao.

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Bangsamoro Basic Law were the fruits of rigorous peace negotiations and extensive consultations. Waging peace with the CPP, National Democratic Front and New People’s Army, on the other hand, has been a labyrinthine journey that now needs to be completed to ensure that peace will prevail nationwide. To silence the guns once and for all after nearly half a century will indeed be a lasting legacy to succeeding generations. To move the struggle from the field of battle into the parliamentary arena will remove guns out of politics, leading to a future truly different from the past.

Prof. Ed Garcia cosponsored the provision abolishing the death penalty as one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution. He worked with the secretariat of Amnesty International and the London-based peace-building organization, International Alert. He taught political science at the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila, and now works at Far Eastern University Diliman.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Basic Law, death penalty, governance, peace, respect, Rights, Rodrigo Duterte, women
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