Wednesday, August 30, 2006

“Strong Participative Democratic Government: The Antithesis to Human Rights Violations”

“Strong Participative Democratic Government: The Antithesis to Human Rights Violations”

By: Arnel L. Cadeliña

Disturbed by the continuous revulsions of abductions and political killings in our country and elsewhere, I recently reviewed a statement of the nationalist and prolific writer Emerenciana Y. Arcellana made three decades ago and which I had filed on the human rights day of December 10, 1997:
“Human rights…include the natural rights to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness; the civil rights to privacy, property, freedom
of abode, association, conscience, religion, expression, contract,
and movement; the political rights of assembly, petition, suffrage,
direct and indirect participation, self-determination, self-
government, and election to public office; the social and economic
rights to livelihood, equal opportunities, education, housing, leisure
and recreation, the freedom choose one’s occupation, to picket and
to strike for better working conditions and various benefits to
improve the quality of life.”
The Philippines is blessed with Ms. Arcellana and countless Filipinos who fervently struggled for human rights. The Kartilya ng Katipunan, the Malolos Constitution of 1899, the 1935 Constitution, the 1973 constitution and the 1987 constitution uniformly embody the sacred commitments in the promotion and encouragement of respect and observance of human rights. We, as a race, are one with the others in believing that human rights are implanted in human nature. History validated that though how long we suffer, at the end it propel us to seek for justice ; the indignity forced to us by foreign colonialists and their Filipino authoritarian heirs eventually made us realized that in order to break the yoke of tyranny we need not be a cog in the machinery of oppression.
Sadly, today we are witnessing the resurgence of the state interfering with civil and political rights; people living in miserable poverty and rampant disregard of life by the bloody political killings happening almost daily. Newspaper headlines banners political killings, torture and coercion. The nation is again sliding back to the dark days of martial rule contributed by the harsh realities of a democratic system whose respect for human rights are in the cloud of doubts.
In our time we are now again facing the question on how can we realize the protection of human beings and how can our democratic system guarantees the defense of the people’s rights.
I can think only of Jose “Pepe” W. Diokno, whose adherence in the defense of human rights, civil liberties and democracy, as more worthy to answer our questions.
It is time to re-read his statement and be reminded that respect for human rights stem from three basic principles: right to life, right to human dignity, and right to develop which can be summed up to his maxim “food and freedom, jobs and justice” . Can these three basic principles and its maxim effectively provided by a democratic system thru its empowered democratic institutions?
Until the 17th century, human rights were vague. Even the basic concepts of it were put in a debate. The French Revolution who started the concept of Human Rights was successful in introducing it because of the alternative it offers. But many argued that from the French Revolution and throughout the 19th century human rights remain as a purely theoretical concept in a democracy that contribute little in stopping the exploitation of workers. The Western Europeans and the Americans, who swear in the sanctity of democracy and human rights, were also practicing during that time child labor, racial discrimination and colonial exploitation. Human rights became an important issue only in the 1960’s and that decade marked the strengthening of democratic institutions in Western Europe and America and the weakening of human rights violations.
In a Third world country like the Philippines, the democratic institutions are fragile and many times lame in their fight against injustices and oppressions. Diokno’s “ food and freedom, jobs and justice” was a concept that is not only correct but timeless. The weak democratic institutions in the country are exploited by the powerful, the rich, the rightist and leftist armed groups which collectively resulted in the trampling of people’s rights.
We need a strong and real participatory constitutional democracy which would bring about the transformation of the Philippine society and play the role to end poverty and lawlessness which are the very things that deny human rights to Filipinos. A democracy that is leading the way in following Diokno’s maxim of providing food (meeting basic needs and creation of domestic market) and freedom (free and honest elections, democratic participations), jobs (elimination of poverty and job creation) and justice (social justice).
First. Food (meeting basic needs and creation of domestic market). The poor who make up the largest part of the population continue to be ruthlessly exploited by rural land, credit, trading and marketing monopolies and are kept in miserable poverty. The poverty in the urban and countryside are prevalent now that the rapid increase in prices of commodities and services has also accelerated the rise in the cost of living. IBON Foundation estimates that a family of six needs at least P546.80 to live decently. The minimum wage of P325 as of April 2006 does not even fulfill the daily cost of living. Thus, with rising cost of living and low wages in the country, more and more Filipino workers are falling into the mire of poverty. IBON estimates that almost 83% or 8 out of 10 families are poor.
Add to that, the wholesale liberalization of economies have proven to be disastrous despite claims of developed countries of fostering economic growth. Underdeveloped countries like the Philippines do not have the capacity to compete with the production levels of developed countries, thus the country serve as dumping ground for highly subsidized products. This export dumping depresses farm gate prices consequently rendering small farmers bankrupt aggravating food insecurity, poverty and social unrest.
The democratic government, who believes that all of us have an equal rights to life and share the same inherent human dignity, need to strengthen its democratic institutions that will meet the basic needs of the people. It is in a democratic setting that more people have the opportunity to create wealth and develop a flexible strong government that can distribute it. The right to life, the right to dignity and the right to develop ourselves will only flower in a participatory democratic setting.
Second. Freedom (free and honest elections, democratic participations). For human rights to flourish the people should have a right to express his convictions and beliefs through legal means. They should have the power to determine the kind of social and political existence they should have without perverting any notion of freedom. How can this possible? It should begin in the most important institution of a democratic government: the Commission on Election. In order for a democratic country to commit, uphold and implement human rights agenda we need to believe that human rights and free elections are inseparable. A fiercely independent Commission on Election that uses it’s sovereignty to promote pluralist character. This institution of democracy should allow the majority who are without power and without wealth to be informed and support candidates who embody the belief on human rights. It should identify candidates who abused the people and barred them permanently in seeking any elected seat in the government. An undeserving officials, elected by guns, golds and goons, because of his power and influence, may become a human rights violators by being deaf and blind to his patrons whose companies poison rivers and oceans, destroy rain forests and the minorities living there and politically resettling indigenous people.
Next to the Commission of Election (COMELEC), the institution critical to the realization of human rights is the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The importance of civilian supremacy over the military at all times should be adhered to. The Armed Forces as an institution of democracy are created to protect the people and the state. The extrajudicial killings, the illegal arrests and detentions should be understood by the institution as a tool for human rights violations and should be denounced.
Raul Alfonsin, the former President of Argentina, said, “What both the military an civilians forget here, to the detriment of both country and the Armed Forces, is that golden rule which applies in all civilized nations whatever their political system or ideology, which is that the Armed Forces should always be subordinate to the civilian authority established through democratic institutions.”
Third. Jobs (elimination of poverty and job creation). The Philippine economy is characterized by import dependence and export orientation. Basic commodities such as rice and fresh meat are even imported abroad. The country has become a net food importer, meaning that it imports more foodstuffs that what it actually exports to other countries.
The Congressional Planning and Budget Department, House of Representatives issued their social services expenditure program for 2004-2006. From the said budget, the biggest chunk at 32.3% is for debt servicing which is only for the payment of the interest rate. The budget for the entire social service sector is P239.2 billion and compared to other sector is meager. The meeting of basic needs such as medicine, hospitalization, education and other services remain an elusive dream for millions of impoverished Filipinos. In terms of Labor Force, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) says that the 447,847 college graduates last March 2006 may opt to look for jobs abroad since at least one in four new college graduates will be jobless. The national economy is so unable to generate jobs that the efforts of families to invest in education are tragically coming to naught. In this setting, food in the table is the first priority of Filipino families and some scrupulous employers exploit it to trample on their rights of just wages.
It is without doubt the biggest challenge of a democratically elected government is how to eliminate poverty. But history is full of proof that poverty can be best solved in a democratic setting. The free choice of employment, the profit sharing, participation in equity, formulation of policies and support of democratic institution through favorable labor laws such as the laws affirmed by the Supreme Court are opportunities available for the workers which a participatory democratic state provided.
Fourth. Social Justice. In our country, hunger, disease, violence and unemployment are prevalent. The primary role of a participative democratic government is to strengthen democratic institutions that will ensure social justice especially to the impoverished and powerless. In a participative democratic government, economic growth and social justice are treated as having significant relationships. Wealth can be quickly created in a democratic setting but it is a mere abstraction. It is shallow in meaning if majority of the people do not enjoy social justice hence people in a participatory democratic state produces philanthropists that help the government to address the social problems. .
Democratic institutions are tool of the government to ensure that social justice alleviate the financial hardships of the people and empowers them to deal with their social circumstances in a sustainable manner.
These are the four reasons needed why we need a strong participatory democracy. This is the only system that ensures the protection of human beings against violations and abuses thru its democratic institutions which can be strengthened and utilized to employ Diokno’s maxim. His is simply the antithesis of the current malady we are now experiencing and the only guide to stop the human rights violations and abuses. If this nation is to survive, we need to have a strong participatory democracy which defend and respect the people’s rights. As Jose W. Diokno’ said in the KAAKBAY Congress held at Ateneo de Manila on March 15, 1987:
If the past and the present teach us anything, it is this::
“Unless our people are freed to work and create,
to speak and decide – that is, unless there is
democracy – and unless the nation is freed to be itself,
to set its own goals and choose the means to
achieve them – that is , unless the nation is sovereign –
our country will never be what it can become.”
Let me stress the need to have a strong participative democratic government that will create ways to meet the basic needs of the people; utilizes its means to empower democratic institutions which in turn create healthy pluralism; create jobs and bring social justice to empower the many who are poor. If we remain true to these beliefs, then this is the type of democracy that will make human rights violations and abuses a thing of the past.

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