on the Occasion of the Signing of a Memorandum of Understanding Between the Philippine National Police and the Hanns Seidel Foundation
Quezon City, Philippines
26 February 2009
LEILA M. DE LIMA
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
Police Director General Jesus Verzosa, Police Supt. Franklin Jesus Bucayu, Deputy Dir. Gen. Barias, other officers, members of the Philippine National Police, Mr. Paul Schafer and other representatives of the Hanns Seidel Foundation/Germany, all our partners in human rights protection, our friends and partners in media, good afternoon.
Let me begin by saying that today’s event is a very assuring reminder that the PNP and the Commission on Human Rights remain on the same page. The efforts of the PNP to instill human rights protection into the ranks of the men and women of the police force reminds us of the continuing legacy that the previous Director General, Avelino Razon, had sought to galvanize and carried on by the current Director General, Jesus Verzosa, – the PNP as a fortress of human rights protection.
I am very pleased to have been invited to witness today’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the PNP with the purpose of implementing various PNP human rights projects. The addition of more allies in human right is always a welcome development. And further improvement and training of the national police force in its human rights awareness and adherence is certainly a welcome development, and very timely, as well.
The import of keeping the police force human rights-compliant is found in the very core values of any police force - to serve and to protect. Every legitimate police operation is not simply a hazard of the job. To combat criminal elements, as dangerous as they may be, is not simply about overcoming lawless elements. It is about serving and protecting the rest of the law-abiding and peace-loving population from these lawless elements.
However, has anyone in the chain of command ever bothered to elaborate on the reason and wisdom behind the dictum that the police serves and protects the Filipino people? Have you yourselves considered exploring the greater significance of these core values of the police force?
The purpose, ladies and gentlemen, is to ensure that every Filipino is free - free to conduct his daily affairs in peace, free to move unhindered and unafraid, free to feel secure in his possessions and his person, and free to his own person, as an upstanding member of society. Freedom hinges greatly on the absence of those elements that impair freedom, such as criminality.
Freedom is not a gift we grant, but a circumstance that we owe to the people. Freedom is a right of every person and it partakes of various forms, embodied in a host of rights - rights that policemen read about in human rights manuals, rights that are incorporated into our law, and enshrined in our Constitution.
The fundamental connection, thus, that ties service and protection with freedom underscores the importance of human rights in the work of PNP. Every function of the police force is fundamentally and irrevocably about human rights. In fact, there is nothing in the campaign against criminality that escapes human rights. It isn't just about the rights of criminals, as many people obtusely assume. It is about the rights of every person whose freedom is secured by winning the war against crime, by succeeding in establishing peace and order.
Many times, the CHR is criticized for taking adverse positions against the police and other government agencies. We are seen as defenders of criminals, objectionists, or even obstructionists to the acts of the police against criminals, or as a stumbling block or a hindrance to your mandate. They say that we seem so concerned about the rights of those who try to defeat the law, which we appear to ignore the fact that society is better off when these criminals are dead.
Yet, what is the value in violating rights of criminals when the end objective is to protect rights of everyone? What is the value in depriving criminals of their rights to life and to due process, when such violations strike fear into every citizen - that they too might someday be violated in their own rights? If the police can shoot someone else without ensuring that every measure had been taken to secure human rights, what will stop them from shooting me? It is not just paradoxical, but abhorrently incongruent to violate rights in order to protect rights. Let me state it again so that there will be no mistake about it - there is no police force that is not designed to protect human rights for everyone. To the men and women in uniform, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that you do in your official capacities that are unrelated to human rights.
The pressure or the discomfort that you must feel when the CHR intervenes in cases of alleged human rights violations committed by the police is deservedly so as it is understandable. We do not take the side of alleged carnappers or bank robbers who are summarily executed because we arbitrarily decide to take an adverse stand against the PNP. We take the side of every law-abiding person who, fortunately, was not at Ortigas in 2005, in Tanauan, Batangas on September of last year, in Parañaque on December also of last year and at EDSA corner NIA Road a week ago. We take the side of their human rights, which coincidentally extends to the rights of everyone else, law-abiding or otherwise. Therefore, the CHR MUST take the side of the rights of those alleged carnappers or bank robbers killed as well.
There is no such thing as pro-government or anti-government when it comes to human rights. There is only for human rights and against it. And for those of us here, whom I assume are on the side of human rights, there can be no fence-sitting. Worse still, you have no alternative but to be on the side of human rights. Therefore, I fully expect that those responsible for the latest incident at EDSA cor. NIA Road, an unmistakably sorry example of police officers on the wrong side of human rights protection, will not just be preventively suspended, relieved or transferred - they must be punished. They must be punished not just for arbitrarily taking the life of suspected criminals, but for violating the sacredness of human rights that belong to the very people they serve.
We know that the PNP leadership is on the right track in delivering to the people a truly human rights-oriented police force. But there is one major breakthrough to overcome - to show that all these human rights projects and programs, especially human rights education and training, actually translate to consistent behavior of operatives in the field, to show that in spite of the stress, the confusion, the adrenaline that attends armed encounters, policemen are still able to clearly uphold human rights. It must translate to the field operations and it must be consistent. And it is urgent. There is urgency in making our human rights education/training modules respond to the need or demands of the time – to write finis to this spate of summary killings.
How else can we appreciate today's event, the partnership of the Hanns Siedel Foundation with our own PNP? How else can we appreciate all the efforts of the PNP to be a fortress of human rights protection? How else can we appreciate the freedom that every Filipino enjoys? How else, but to be, ourselves, genuinely on the side of human rights.
With that, I congratulate the PNP once again for showing that it is sincerely committed to human rights protection. As I am assured, I wish to assure you, General Verzosa and the rest of the PNP, that we will continue to support the PNP in its drive for human rights protection and promotion. To the representatives of Hanns Seidel Foundation, congratulations as well and thank you for your support to our common cause. We wish you all the best in the implementation of the human rights programs of the foundation and the PNP.
Maraming salamat po!