human rights

A Government is Only Respected When It Respects the Human Rights of All

Author: Fr. Shay Cullen
18 May 2024

The defense and respect for the fundamental human rights of citizens and the promotion of those rights and dignity, equality, and prosperity is the duty and purpose of the government. 

The credibility of an administration and its legitimacy to govern depends on its commitment and success in protecting and defending these rights. When it allows by design or neglect those rights to be violated and inequality and poverty to be inflicted on a sizable proportion of society, the government fails. It falls into disgrace, can be criticized, and has lost its mandate to govern. Such a failed state is shunned on the international stage. The worst pain a nation can suffer is to be socially ostracised by the human family of nations for allowing violations of human rights.

That is what is happening to our beloved Philippines. In a population of about 110 million Filipinos, there are 20 million good, kind but impoverished Filipinos struggling to survive poverty, according to government statistics. This, is in a relatively wealthy but unequal nation. Respect for human rights and citizens’ well-being has diminished. This is where the death squads of the brutal “war on drugs” have killed an estimated 30,000 decent and innocent citizens by extrajudicial killings without a single mass demonstration against it. The nation stayed silent and let it happen. Only a few brave bishops and priests took a stand to speak against the killings. 

Small protests were met with the jailing and execution of more innocent human rights and environmental advocates by state actors with impunity. Global Witness documented the killing of 281 environmental defenders since 2012. These courageous Filipinos have been allegedly murdered by rogue military commands and militia mercenaries in Mindanao, paid for by mining and logging corporations. Are they beyond the command of the Philippine military generals? 

The Philippines carries the disgraceful title of the third most dangerous nation for environmentalists and journalists. Media workers are on the frontline. One hundred ninety-nine have been killed since 1986. Another painful truth is the fact that seven million Filipino children experience sexual abuse every year, according to Unicef. That is the tip of the iceberg of hidden child abuse. The nation is named as the hub of online child sexual abuse. This truth was presented to an emotionally shocked President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. recently.  Law enforcement is unable to stop it. The justice system needs urgent reform. 

The root cause of social unrest is social injustice. The rich elite is only 0.1 percent of the population but owns about 46 percent of the national wealth. They are growing richer, yet the poor are even poorer. Many true Filipinos protest this inequality and claim family dynasties control the government and favor their wealthy friends and relatives in business and irresponsible large mining corporations that destroy the environment. Filipino advocates of environmental justice and human rights are branded subversives by the military and police and are arrested without evidence. 

As many as 281 environmental, justice, and human rights advocates have been killed, and these human rights violations are ignored by the powerful ruling elite. The Filipino rich elite expect honor, prestige, and respect from the international business and political community but they are living in a fantasy world. They are likely to be despised instead for allowing the gross violation of human rights and the killing of the brave Filipinos trying to bring justice to the indigenous peoples.

President Joseph Biden, a Catholic, placed the defense of human rights at the center of his administration, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “The United States is committed to a world in which human rights are protected, their defenders are celebrated, and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable. . .” Yet, it is the United States that is providing the weapons and bullets to the Philippine Army to kill their own citizens, their own youth, and their own people who are defending the last of the forests and the rights of the poor and marginalized people. These are the very people that the military swore to defend. 

The United States stated in June 2023 that the Joe Biden administration would sell US$ 2.5 million worth of military weapons to the Philippines. The American military contractors of the arms industry will benefit and become donors to and support the reelection of President Biden.

Weapons and bombs for Ukraine and Israel will win more friends. For sure, the US$ 2.5 billion arms sales to the Philippines would be borrowed by the Philippines from US banks and paid to the US arms industry. That will place the Philippines firmly in the control of the United States, which will hold the Philippines in debt bondage so that the Philippine rulers, politicians, and business elites will always do the bidding of the United States and allow the US military to continue to occupy nine and even more Philippine bases. 

The United States should act to pressure the Philippine military to stop the killings and murders of human rights defenders using American-supplied weapons. That is a violation of US law if it is shown that the weapons are used to kill civilians. More weapons cannot be supplied or sold to the nation violating human rights.

Neither the United States military nor President Joe Biden nor the Philippine generals want to be associated with the abuse and violations of human rights by rogue Filipino troops. We appeal to the good senior Philippine army officers of integrity with a conscience that believes in moral values to use your command-and-control authority to stop the killings. You are answerable to God, your country, and your children not to allow the killings of young advocates. If there are suspects of wrongdoing, bring them to a court of law, present evidence, and let the judge decide. Justice and the rule of law must prevail.

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