CRITICS of government can easily throw this a smirk. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) have agreed to work together in advancing human rights education, training and advocacy. The memorandum of understanding, signed between the two parties last week, will reinforce the La Breza Declaration on Human Rights Cooperation, which the AFP issued in 2012 via its human rights office and key service commanders.
It doesn’t help that the move comes after a spate of alleged human rights abuses, the latest of which came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” one weekend that left nine activists dead and six others arrested.
The CHR and the AFP have had partnership activities geared towards educating soldiers on human rights. The recent MOU, says AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobrejana, emphasizes collaboration “to create monitoring mechanisms and data sharing of incidents and cases of human rights violations.”
“We in the AFP will always endeavor to seek the most effective ways to address the gaps, in particular on the observance of Human Rights of our organization. I am certain that by fostering close coordination, which involves a mutual exchange of knowledge on the intricacies and the proper interpretation of human rights and the best ways to promote them, there is surely much to learn from our counterparts from the CHR,” says Sobrejana.
While the AFP-CHR agreement is yet to roll out, government faces a number of reputational issues on many fronts on the aspect of human rights.
Investigate PH, an international civil and legal society coalition, recently reported a worsening human rights situation in the Philippines. It reported of militarized governance, political repression, adding that the country’s check and balance institutions are “eviscerated.”
“The human rights crisis in the Philippines springs from deep and long-standing economic, social and political conflicts in the country, including international relations... Our investigation raised hopes among victims and justice might come from the international community,” the coalition’s report read.
The other challenge surfaces after the Communication Workers of America, a leading trade union in the US, and a host of other groups, called for the passage of the Philippine Human Rights Act in the US Congress. The lobby proposes a suspension of US aid to the Philippine Government until human rights violations by state forces are investigated and their perpetrators punished.
A similar legislation was passed after a landmark US Senate hearing on human rights in 2007, resulting to cuts in US military aid to the Philippines in 2008.
Finally, the third challenge comes as the International Criminal Court is about to conclude its investigations on human rights abuses by the state in relation to the drug war.
A closer look at realities on the ground proves to be more challenging while authorities, still in their internal cleansing mode, have to wrestle with different realities in their operations.
The AFP-CHR memo, however, may be seen as a welcome development even as investigations on human rights abuses are ongoing. Education, data sharing, joint monitoring mechanisms definitely address a lot of missing gaps in advancing human rights in our institutions.