“The defense of human rights is a task of every person.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) led the launch of a project to promote the rights and strengthen the work of human rights defenders today, March 17 at the Balay Kalinaw in the University of the Philippines.
The European Union is financing the three-year project, dubbed “Confronting Challenges on Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines,” with funds amounting to P27.8 million ($600,000) coursed through its European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.
Rev. Rex Reyes Jr., NCCP general secretary, said the church draws its strong stance on the promotion of human rights from the firm belief that humans were created in God’s image and likeness, making each “entitled to God’s bounty.”
“The defense of human rights is a task of every person,” Reyes said.
Among the NCCP’s consortium partners in the project are: the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu), Hustisya, and alternative news media Bulatlat.
This is the third time that the NCCP forged a partnership with the EU, said Jerome Riviere, deputy head of Political, Press and Information Section of the EU delegation to the Philippines, which has been providing assistance and partnership to various civil society groups in the country for the past 25 years.
Project coordinator Mervin Sol Toquero said justice remains very wanting for victims of human rights violations in the country, even those that were perpetrated under the bloody nine years of the previous administration of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He noted that there has been a spike in attacks against human rights defenders in areas where there are mining interests.
In a press release, the NCCP said the project aims to promote protection of human rights defenders through education and training, public advocacy and lobbying and by providing support to defenders who are under threat. The church group added that they also aim to provide means to victims of human rights violations to rebuild their lives through livelihood assistance, medical support and psychosocial intervention. They will also provide educational assistance to children of victims of human rights violations.
Meanwhile, Josalee Deinla, NUPL assistant secretary general for education, presented the Paralegal Bust Card, which they plan to distribute to human rights activists and paralegals in the country. She said that though “tiny” and could fit in one’s palm, it contains vital information needed for a speedy response to a human rights violation case.
The bust card unfurls into almost legal paper-size. It contains pertinent laws on the rights of a person arrested, detained or under custodial investigation, the Bill of Rights and other essential reminders to a person whose human rights are under attack.
It also contains telephone numbers of various police stations and major hospitals in Metro Manila, which could go handy whenever conducting quick reaction response.
Cristina Guevarra of Hustisya, one of the consortium partners, said that “an important element of this project is the practical support that will be offered to victims of human rights violations and their immediate families.”
She said that many victims of human rights violations are forced to leave their homes due to threats and intimidation.
Torture victim Rolly Panesa shared that he has yet to secure a job after his illegal arrest, torture and detention for 11 months. Panesa, a security guard, was arrested and declared by the military as a certain Benjamin Mendoza, an alleged ranking leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
During the short program, Lumad leader Josephine Pagalan also shared her experiences and said it has been nearly 200 days since the brutal killings in Lianga, Surigao del Sur that forced thousands of Lumad to leave their communities. Today, March 17, the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood was holding its moving up ceremony at the evacuation center at the Tandag Sports Complex.
But Pagalan said attacks against the Lumad have not stopped, citing the burning down of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines’ mission center in Haran, Davao City last month. The said mission center has served as sanctuary for Lumad evacuees forced out by intense military operations.
She added that this week, a Manobo farmer was shot and wounded in a shooting by soldiers in San Miguel town in Surigao del Sur. The incident has triggered yet another forced evacuation of at least 33 tribal families.