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Miriam nudges Duterte, other presidentiables on human rights



MANILA, Philippines - Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, an elected judge of the International Criminal Court, challenged other presidentiables in the May elections to include human rights concerns in their list of priorities.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Photo Credit: Facebook /Sen. Miriam, Rodrigo Duterte
Santiago on Monday lamented that three of her four fellow contestants for MalacaƱang failed to respond to the questionnaire sent by international observer Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Only Santiago and Liberal Party bet Mar Roxas shared their human rights views, HRW revealed. Vice President Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte did not answer the questionnaire.

"Human rights should be at the forefront of the agenda of any person running for public office. A rights-based approach in public policy has historically proven to be most effective," the senator said.

The list of questions HRW sent out as early as March 22 quizzed candidates on the issues of impunity, violence against indigenous groups, the Reproductive Health (RH) Law, journalist killings, summary executions, the Anti-Torture Law, persons displaced due to conflict, and the HIV/AIDS situation.

"The Philippines has made broad strides in human rights policy in the past decade," Santiago said, citing the passage of important laws that she either authored or supported in the Senate. These include:

Republic Act No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women;

R.A. No. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Law;

R.A. No. 9851 of the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity;

R.A. No. 10354, or the RH Law;

R.A. No. 10368, or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act;

R.A. No. 10361, or the Kasambahay Law; and

R.A. No. 10353, or the Anti-Enforced Disappearances Law.

She also considered as gains the Philippine commitment to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, and accession to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, both in 2011.

But Santiago stressed that "policies aimed at promoting human rights are meaningless unless fully and wholeheartedly implemented."

She cited as challenges failure to convict a perpetrator of torture despite the passage of the Anti-Torture Act, and hurdles in the implementation of RH Law amid a hold order on contraceptive implants and congressional budget cuts.

"The culture of impunity threatens to perpetuate human rights abuses. Cases that need to be immediately resolved include the continuous disappearance of activists working in the countryside, allegedly because of military operations; the deaths of some 50 media workers in Maguindanao; and the recent deadly skirmish between elite cops and Moro rebels in Mamasapano," Santiago added.

The senator also tagged as urgent the need to protect the rights of vulnerable members of society, including children, women, and indigenous groups, especially in times of disaster and conflict.

"Child labor remains rampant, with underage workers reported even in the most dangerous of sectors such as small-scale mining. Children are also being recruited by rebel, terrorist, and paramilitary groups," she said.

Santiago added that in the aftermath of disasters, stories of abuse against children and women abound. "The Philippines must address with urgency the militarization of indigenous communities," the senator further said.

Human rights priorities under her administration, Santiago said, include:

The swift approval of the Freedom of Information Law, to open the military to scrutiny amid allegations of abuses and to protect journalists;

The abolition of private armies and a review of state sponsorship of militias and paramilitary groups;

Full and conscientious implementation of the RH Law;

An immediate review of the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life;

The introduction of a national quick response hotline for enforced disappearances and torture;

The urgent passage of the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Act; and

The declaration of a national emergency to address the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Santiago, a widely respected expert in constitutional and international law, is also known as a strong defender of human rights. She first became popular as a trial court judge for a landmark human rights ruling during martial law.