THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE PHILIPPINES
on the Occasion of the Launching of the CHRP-NZHRC Human Rights Community Development Programme
Quezon City, Philippines, 10 July 2008
LEILA M. DE LIMA
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
It is with great pleasure that I welcome all of you, the representatives of the indigenous communities, Excellencies – the diplomatic community, my co-workers in the Commission, the various representatives of the national government, local government, our counterparts from the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, the various stakeholders in our bold enterprise, all of you, our valued partners in this momentous project.
The genesis of the CHRP-NZHRC Community Development Project began with what seemed to be yet another broad call to the Philippine government to address serious human rights issues and violations at a time when both the national consciousness and the international community had taken grim notice of EJKs and enforced disappearances. Subsequently, initial talks between the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines and the New Zealand Human Rights Commission were held. The consensus was that the Philippines faces the serious challenge of translating the Constitutional guarantees, the laws and the strong policies that assert human rights into effective practices at the grass-roots level and in the communities. It is from this conclusion that the Community Development Project had been born.
The project itself targets a very specific sector that is far more susceptible to human rights abuses. At a time when human rights abuses, seem to stalk the media, leftists, student and labor leaders, the creators of the project had pinpointed a far more susceptible sector, that is not as fitted as these victimized sectors: the indigenous communities. The indigenous communities do not share in the spotlight of the front-page news. Their susceptibility is not the subject of mass actions, pickets or protests that assemble in the name of victims from other sectors. The means available in our justice system to remedy human rights violations are inaccessible to them. By reason of several factors of disenfranchisement that affect aspects of their lives well beyond the realm of EJKs and enforced disappearances, members of indigenous communities have become more predisposed to human rights abuses.
The broad objective of the project is to strengthen the understanding and respect for, and practical experience of, human rights in three (3) predominantly indigenous communities in the Philippines. The selected community partners include:
1. The Kankana-ey of Kibungan, Benguet, represented by Mr. Bobby Wayan and Mr. Bernard Paleng-awan: The Kankana-ey people are a predominantly agricultural community living in an area high within the Cordilleras, which is difficult to access due to the lack of paved roads. They have been the subject of a previous pilot study a few years ago under the Metagora programme, which focused on indigenous people’s rights to ancestral lands.
2. Another selected community is the Higaonon of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, represented by Datu Ducu Aquilino Lidanhog and Datu Sakili Agapito Lidanhog . The Higaonon are one of the earliest settlers on the western side of the Agusan River. Their culture is steeped in tradition, employing a Datu system and their own code of conduct.
3. The third and last community selected is the Sama Dilaut, more commonly known as the Badjau, of Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga, represented by Mr. Buhali A. Adjilani and Mr. Anthony Penafiel. The Badjau are a boat-dwelling people with ties to the ancient sea-faring tribes of Southeast Asia.
The objectives specific to our community partners are to:
• Identify and investigate local human rights violations;
• Verify, document and monitor these violations;
• Advocate more effectively the realization of the community’s human rights priorities, whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural.
These objectives are geared towards empowering the members of the community to promote and protect their human rights.
The innovation that this project brings is the critical involvement of our government partners, particularly the NCIP, PNP, AFP and the local government units, especially the mayors of the chosen municipalities. The premium placed on government involvement spells the difference in bringing institutionalized national policy into actual practice by effectively integrating human rights into the operations of the partner government units that directly affect the indigenous communities. It is through a partnership and synergy between the stakeholder indigenous communities, the government, the CHRP and NZHRC, all partners, that we hope to bring about a metamorphosis of our indigenous people’s protracted vulnerability into an invigorating empowerment.
I call all of you our partners, not out of polite rhetoric, but with serious regard for the crucial contribution we must all make in order that this Human Rights Community Development Programme succeed and truly make an impact. Kahlil Gibran once wrote, about lovers, that it matters less that partners look at each other than look in the same direction. What we have here today is an assembly of partners, with the primary purpose of collaboration and reliance on one another’s strengths and determination. Partners who, all of which, have staked and promised their commitment to the single and singular direction to embark on, to strengthen human rights among the indigenous communities.
It is not enough anymore that, in our quest to meet the highest standards of human rights across all sectors of our nation, we simply make the demand to the persons who we think should afford these protections. It is not enough to simply make demands on our government, requests to foreign aid donors, and cry for help to civil society and NGOs. It is not enough that government relents, aid donors provide, and civil society answers the call, all on your own. All duty-bearers together with the stakeholders, the indigenous communities, must all take to looking in that one direction, and act as one. All those present today, and the persons or organizations you represent, must be equally responsible for realizing our aim.
Synergy, collaboration and working together may seem trite; it may seem universally true, almost an unremarkable call and statement. We may have known this all along, but knowing it for such a long time, all the more, give us reason to find the long-standing disenfranchisement or exclusion of indigenous people unacceptable. All the more, this collaboration of partners should have been done in the forlorn past. All the more, this partnership must be carried out now to a successful conclusion.
Efforts to quell the deprivations of even the most basic and fundamental human rights among the indigenous communities are as old as our history as a nation. It is older than the campaign of benevolent assimilation and integration of the 1900s. It is older than the colonial Catholic Church campaign to Christianize the indigenous communities. After centuries of searching for a way to bring about equality, I will not say that there have been no successes. But the failures are disturbing. The inequality that still disenfranchises the various indigenous peoples persists today, found in the most brutal forms such as development aggression, loss of territorial rights and sources of livelihood. It comes in the form of inaccessibility to even the most basic modes of justice. Exclusion is the core of the problem.
For centuries of efforts, as a nation, we simply have not done enough to bring about true equality among all Filipinos. It is for this reason, (a long national history of small successes and dismal failures), that the persons who have conceptualized and drafted this project are beaming with excitement and hopefulness.
May I acknowledge with deep admiration the efforts of the Project Development Team led by the very energetic and dynamic Dean Virginia “Ginny” Dandan.
This project is genuinely groundbreaking because it is the first time that the issue of disenfranchisement of indigenous communities will be addressed through community development within a human rights framework, wherein the government collaboration from a myriad of key agencies is also an essential element. It is the first time that our vast compilations of social legislation, international treaties and our social-justice based Constitution will all be applied, not as abstract standards applicable to indigenous communities in general, but as specific as there are varied cultures among the different indigenous communities. The general human rights standards will be refined based on the varying needs of each community. The project as a whole is geared towards making all these broad standards actually work on the ground, dispensing with abstract rhetoric, and focusing on realizing the standards within the individual communities.
I anticipate the pains and difficulties, trials and tribulations, the shortcoming and failures that will come our way in carrying out the Human Rights Community Development Programme. It is in the failures that we have sought the lessons to be learned, the determination to overcome our failures, future and past. It is from the continued struggle of the indigenous people, from their hardiness, that we find the strength to fulfill our mandate and find the path to success. It is from the experience of our partners from New Zealand (specifically the NZHRC, its Chief Commissioner the Hon. Rosslyn Noonan) whose own national history of overcoming the difficult challenges of ending division and inequality between the Pakeha (White New Zealander) and the Maori, that we find that we, the Filipino people, are not alone in this quest of uplifting our own indigenous peoples. In the next two and a half years, over the course of this project, we will have our own failures time and again. After all, the unsuccessful are those who have never tried and thus, never failed. And that is why, with past failures, future lessons to be learned, the right tools, skills and partnerships, together, we will succeed.
There are many of us here today, to laud the launch of this wonderful project. There are many more who we represent, with whom we share our aspirations for this project. There are many involved, but there is only one direction, one goal. Look around you now. Look to the person to your left, to your right, behind you and in front of you. These are your partners in that one direction, one goal. Shake their hands, and call them “partner”. Ladies and gentlemen, as partners, we will succeed.
Thank you and Mabuhay tayong lahat.