Feature: 2nd NHRAP Cebu consultation ends with substantive human rights issues

October 12, 2009 Cebu City -- The 2nd National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) area consultation in Cebu City recently ended with substantive human rights issues and concerns crafted from eight (8) thematic frameworks.

USEC Severo Catura, executive director of the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) said, the eight thematic sectors included (a) Civil and Political Rights; (b) Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (c) Rights Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment; (d) Rights of the Child; (e) Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; (f) Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; (g) Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; and (h) Rights of Persons with Disability.

Based on these thematic rights, more that 100 participants coming from government agencies, civil society (NGO/PO), children representations and the PWDs slugged it out for two days to give inputs from their specific local human rights issues and concerns to the formulation of the 2nd NHRAP.

In the plenary presentations, the PWDs batted for accessibility and safety as major concern while the CEDAW group raised the need to strictly implement the anti-Violence Against Women & Children (VAWC) laws that would include counseling for perpetrators and the right to efficient and effective redress mechanisms.

Dr. Rose Asong, the group's presenter said that there is a need to address tech-related issues such as cyber sex, internet brides, sex videos, text dating, etc as well as the dire need for a unified database system on VAWC.

Dr. Asong who is also the gender coordinator of UP-Visayas reported that her group also saw the need to fast-tract the institutionalization of gender equality measures as specified in the Magna Carta for Women.

Specifically, the group said this will include the repeal of schools policy against admitting pregnant female students, unmarried women teachers and other school personnel.

"This is a violation of their right to education and right to work," Asong reported.

The group also included issues such as recognition of women's rights to economic participation and land equality rights; raising the level of awareness and understanding on our obligations and rights under the CEDAW specifically in media and schools advocacy.

The group that tackles the rights against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment had Fr. Nestor Cabir, a Chaplin of the Bureau of Jail Management & Penology (BJMP) in region 8 as its reporter.

Fr. Cabir's opening report was about congested jails and inhumane conditions of inmates that result in hazing and other cruel practices.

His group said that there is a need for an integration of all the correctional institutions under one agency because there is a fragmented approach to jail management today.

"There are jails managed by LGUs, other jails by the Bureau of Corrections and some jails are managed by the BJMP," Cabir reported.

Other issues include eviction and demolition of informal settlers leading to psychological and mental torture; exploitation of children in any form specifically bringing children to rallies, armed conflict, drug business and other environment hazardous to children's health and preservation.

Tortures and purges of insurgents (CPP-NPA); infliction of physical harm to arrested persons; and lack of government hospitals and facilities for the poorest of the poor that leads to psychological and mental torture of poor families were some of the highlights of the group's human rights concerns.

After the group's report, PHRC read a message from Manila that after the October 8 senate committee hearing on the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago announced the Senate's commitment to finally ratify the OPCAT.

The announcement added that the OPCAT focuses on the need to improve jail and detention center conditions to prevent torture of detainees while in the custody of authorities and, more importantly, to effectively rehabilitate the prisoners.

The announcements elicited a warm applause from the participants, more so when the next presenter came up to the podium-a child participant reporting on the issues relative to the Rights of Children.

Reynante Nicor, 13 from the Euphrasia Dev't. Center, an NGO in Cebu City reported that the group identified seven (7) basic issues that included concerns on the rights of children to a friendly environment with access to education, especially more SPED schools in the municipalities.

Nicor said his group underscored the Right of children to a name, identity and nationality because of the increasing number of children that are not registered and or their birth certificates have been simulated.

The child participant added that under the Survival and Protection rights, there is a need to establish a database system of trafficked children as well as the protection and prevention of teens from early pregnancy through sex education in schools.

Norman Amante, another child participant reported on the absence of facilities for those children in contact with the law (CICL) especially now that the Juvenile Justice Law mandates that no child shall be in prison for any crime.

Amante said the group also recommended that the age of exemption from criminal responsibility of children is lowered to 9 instead of 15.

Meanwhile, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) group presented a 10-point agenda to include the integration of ICESCR standards in developing planning at the regional, provincial and municipal levels.

The group also said there is a need to review of existing laws on forced evictions; prioritization of health concerns and to manage health workers' out-migration and the rights of workers to safe and healthy working conditions.

As far as education is concerned, the group said, larger budget must be allocated to build calamity resistant schools and a need to amend the Roxas Law. It also raised the concerns on how to improve the conditions of poverty in hunger-stricken and in armed conflict areas.

On the environment and land reform, the group said environmental and sustainable economic growth policies must be improved and the CARP law, specifically on the jurisdiction of contested CARP lands must also be reviewed, putting this under the exclusive jurisdiction of the DARAB.

The last two issues that the group raised were the monitoring of the implementation of wage standards and employment conditions; and minimize conflicts in the implementation of laws relative to the exploration development and utilization of the natural resources.

The sixth presentation is in relation to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The group talked about issues on extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances since Martial Law to the present; establishment of local inter-agency fact finding team and massive public information and education campaign on human rights including civil and political rights.

There is a need for a tripartite dialogs among the LGU, military, NGO/PO and cultural sensitivity training among the members of the PNP, AFP and politicians to correct the habit of tagging and or labeling of NGOs, CSOs and its members and supporters, the group said.

It also sited the lack of mechanism to hold non-state actors (NSA) and rebel groups liable for human rights violations. Deprivation and or delay in the delivery of basic services to the communities and ineffective barangay justice system may unnecessarily caused dissatisfaction from the people.

The group in its final report asked whether vote selling is considered a human right issue as well as the harassment of poor Agrarian Reform farmer beneficiaries.

The group that worked on the rights of the migrant workers and their families considered issues like withholding passports of OFWs, substitution of contracts, mail order bride scheme and trafficking in the guise of inter-marriage as very important concerns that needed protocols.

The group said this sector is vulnerable to human rights abuses that would include the issues of illegal recruitment; returning OFWs with health problems with nowhere to go because they don't have social security benefits (GSIS, SSS, PhilHealth).

It then recommended that there is a need to establish a mandatory pension program for OFWs and immigrants to protect them in their retirement age.

The last thematic framework-Elimination of Racial Discrimination of people included issues such as the rights of the indigenous peoples (IPs) and the preservation of their customs and traditions, which are slowly being eroded due to development and modernization.

The dislocation of IPs due to land grabbing and employment displacement has developed aggression among them. Lack of accessible venues for free expressions has contributed to armed conflict in their areas.

More often than not, indigenous peoples are not represented in various councils and in governance. This is compounded with the government's non-support in terms of the delivery of basic services, social welfare, health, education and other learning.

The worst forms of discrimination to the IPs are the non-recognition of their indigenous systems and practices and the negative, discriminating and disregarding outlook on them, the group said in its presentation.

The open forum capped the consultation where additional issues and concerns that were not included in the 8 thematic matrices were given attention and the panel of resource persons from the PHRC tried to explain, expound and or answer the queries raised.

The same round of area consultations will be done in General Santos City and in Cagayan de Oro City after which all the inputs will be consolidated, reviewed and validated for presentation in a national human rights summit in December in Manila.

The end result of the process is the government's action plan to promote, respect and fulfill its human rights commitments as agreed upon among peace loving countries in the world. (PIA-7)

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