THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE PHILIPPINES
on the Occasion of the Workshop on Rights-Based Approach to Legislation
Lagos del Sol, Cavinti, Laguna
16-18 July 2008
LEILA M. DE LIMA
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
To all the participants, my co-workers in the CHR, representatives from the House of Representatives and the Commission on Audit, welcome to the Commission on Human Rights Workshop on the Rights-Based Approach to Legislation.
Rights-Based Approach to Legislation. At first, one might ask, “What’s so novel about a Rights-Based Approach to Legislation? What other approach is there but a Rights-Based Approach?” After all, the concepts of rights and law are so inextricably linked that, more often than not, a discussion of one ultimately leads to a discussion of the other.
Particularly from the point of view of human rights practitioners, it appears that nothing could be simpler, more self-explanatory and commonsensical. It seems that it should be a matter of course that legislation should be rights-based. As a matter of fact the Constitution itself mandates that human rights shall limit as well as guide the acts of the State.
However, at closer inspection, one would discover that, far from being the norm, in the past, legislation has been more needs- than rights-based. This could be seen in the rise of the influence of lobby groups that advance the agenda of the special sectors they represent.
There is nothing wrong with lobbying per se. However, the inadequacies and, yes, even unfairness of such a practice are revealed when you stop to consider what happens to the rights of those who are not as well-represented. They tend to be overlooked. Their voices and plea for help drowned out by the well-practiced rhetoric of experienced lobbyists.
That is, until someone takes notice or until a catastrophe forces them to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. Take, for instance, the scavenging community of Payatas in Quezon City. If it hadn’t been for the tragic avalanche of the mountains of garbage on 10 July 2000, which killed hundreds of people including children, their community would have remained just another unattractive aspect of the city’s landscape, which other people would rather ignore.
Instead of realizing the vision of a Philippine society characterized by an environment that enhances human development of every person, there is a danger that legislation might become a game of survival of the fittest.
As duty-bearers and as public servants to whom public trust is reposed, we cannot let this happen. We must ensure that no one is left behind. Everyone deserves, at the very least, a fighting chance. This is what a Rights-Based Approach (RBA) provides.
There have been many formulations of RBA, some more complicated and technical than others. RBA focuses on the integration of two groups of rights: civil and political, on the one hand and, on the other, economic, social and cultural rights as set out in international human rights conventions and covenants. In the past, the latter group was viewed as “second generation rights.” But, in the RBA framework, they are viewed as indivisible and each is necessary for the realization of the other.
Perhaps the most effective way of highlighting its merits is by juxtaposing it against the alternatives, such as the Welfare-Oriented or Needs-Based efforts.
First of all, a needs-based approach is aimed at satisfying immediate needs. Where access to food is a problem, a needs-based approach addresses the immediate need by providing dole outs in the form of food, cash or vouchers. Once the immediate crisis is averted, or after the allocated funds for dole outs are depleted, the needy remain as they were: economically isolated. We’re back where we started or, perhaps, even worse off.
Whereas a needs-based approach would provide temporary aid, a Rights-Based Approach is aimed at attacking the structure that perpetuates the problems by shifting the focus towards a systemic change. We must “Anticipate charity by preventing poverty” (Maimonides).
In this context, the RBA might address the problem of access to food, not just by addressing the immediate needs, which is also quite important but, at the same time, by discharging its obligations to:
(1) Respect the right to food – by not taking any measures that result in preventing access to adequate food, such as by marketing unsafe food;
(2) Protect the right to food – by taking measures to ensure that enterprises or individuals do not deprive people of access to adequate food, such as by storing food for speculative purposes; and
(3) Fulfill the right to food – by taking positive steps to promote access and use of food, such as by building farm-to-market roads, price regulation, and so forth.
By making changes in the system and structures the result is a visible and permanent improvement of the conditions of society.
Martin Luther King, Jr. might be best known as an icon of the civil rights movement, but he exhibited a commendable understanding of economic rights when he wisely cautioned that “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”
Secondly, in a needs-based or welfare-oriented approach, there are no demandable rights and the arrival of aid depends on the benevolence of the State. In contrast, the RBA focuses on raising the levels of accountability by identifying claim-holders and their entitlements, and duty-holders and their obligations. Duty-holders serve and are accountable to claim-holders for the denial of their rights. Otherwise, without accountability and grievance mechanisms, no one will take responsibility.
Thirdly, proceeding from the element of Accountability, RBA is geared towards the Empowerment of people through legal and policy reforms. We could give people the power, capacity and access needed to change their own lives. Instead of perpetuating a welfare system that treats the State as donors and claim-holders as little more than mendicants, the RBA allows people to exercise their right to self-determination.
This is how we give people a fighting chance. By making reforms in our educational system, particularly in the aspect of access and entry, we give people the power to change their lives. At no other time, than in this age of Information Technology, does the aphorism “Knowledge is Power” hold more truth.
As the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”
The fourth element of RBA, Participation, is particularly essential to a society such as ours, which is characterized by diversity in cultural beliefs which, in turn, results in a diversity of needs. Our Muslim brothers and sisters have needs that are different from those of the Christian majority. So do the various communities of indigenous peoples who are scattered all over the archipelago with little to no representation.
In contrast to the one-way traffic that characterizes the welfare-oriented approach, RBA allows the duty-holders to benefit from the multiple perspectives and inputs of diverse claim-holders through active, free and meaningful consultations. Vital information and experts in every field are at our disposal, if we were only willing to listen to them.
Finally, closely related to the element of Participation, is the element of Non-discrimination. By attacking problems in a systematic and rights-based way, the possibility of neglecting vulnerable groups will be avoided altogether. Nobody gets left behind. Not the children, the indigenous peoples, women, prisoners, the differently abled, and other marginalized sectors.
In reality, upon closer inspection, the novelty of this rights-based approach disappears. We’ve always known that this is the right, nay, the only possible approach if we are to discharge our obligations as duty-bearers. The only problem is that we have become too accustomed to using the shortcuts.
After all, let’s face it, this Rights-Based Approach is the more tedious, more laborious and time-consuming method. It’s much, much, much easier to cure the symptom, rather than go through the painstaking process of differential diagnosis in order to discover and cure the real disease. And, sure, prevention is better than cure, but why worry about a problem that hasn’t even manifested itself yet? Why borrow worry from tomorrow when there are plenty of problems waiting to be solved here and now?
Of course, it will be difficult. Learning is always an arduous process. And that is exactly what we are about to do here in this workshop. To paraphrase Doris Lessing, we came here in order to understand something we’ve understood all our life, but in a new way, in a new perspective.
We’ve known all along that our duties and responsibilities as public servants demand a great deal of hard work and sacrifice on our part. We knew that when we accepted our respective appointments.
We knew that there will be challenges ahead, and yet we pledged that we are up to the challenge.
Therefore, we can do no less but to take up the gauntlet in behalf of the claim-holders who have reposed their trust in us. We can do no less.
Nothing worth achieving comes easy.
We in the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines are grateful for the opportunity, not only to take a pro-active role in mainstreaming the Rights-Based Approach in our system of government, but also for the opportunity to aid you, our fellow public servants, in discovering how you can do your part.
Through this Workshop, which was operationalized through the commendable efforts of our Government Linkages Office, under the very able stewardship of Director Karen Gomez-Dumpit, the CHR has assembled a lineup of highly qualified lecturers, the “cream of the crop” – a “powerhouse cast” of resource persons and workshop facilitators – who will guide you through the RBA learning process. All this is in pursuit of the CHR’s role as an advocate, educator, adviser, monitor, capacity-builder, constituency-builder and network-builder in the application of the Rights-Based Approach.
We hope that this strengthens and makes the partnership between the CHR and the Legislature all the more effective so that, together, we could realize a Philippine society characterized by an environment that enhances the human development of every person, and by a government committed to the observance of human rights standards, norms and practices.
Once again, I welcome and thank you all for coming. I wish you a productive three days here in Lagos del Sol!