Human Rights

Sexuality and Spirituality: Using art and contraceptives to teach sexual health


SAS_ART-H poster


(Quezon City, Philippines—September 22, 2011) Sex and Sensibilities (SAS), in partnership with DKT Reproductive Health (Frenzy Condoms and Filipinay), will be holding a mandala art making contest using contraceptives on September 26-28 at theUniversity of the Philippines-Diliman. A cash prize of up to P15,000 is at stake for groups with a winning mandala design.

The word “mandala” is Sanskrit for both “circle” and “center.” Mandalas are a good way to communicate sexual health, because mandalas are seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself. Mandalas are also reflections of the spiritual self because they offer a unique and powerful way to self-discovery and healing through the use of imagery, symbolism, color and balance.

About 100 UP students are expected to participate in the ART-H contest. On Monday, September 26, registered groups will attend the ART-H primer: a sexual health workshop and mandala art making orientation in Palma Hall. This primer is open to all: contestants, bloggers, journalists, writers, students, RH advocates.

During the contest on Tuesday and Wednesday, the participants will create mandalas using Frenzy condoms and birth control pills to be provided by DKT-Reproductive Health. They are expected to create designs linked to the related key issues: reproductive health, maternal health, women’s sexual health rights, and informed choice.

The mandalas will be evaluated based on a panel of judges and the number of most “Likes” on the Sex and Sensibilities Facebook page. All artworks will also be displayed in front of the office of the College of Social Science and Philosophy Student Council, located at the West Wing of Palma Hall, for a week.

“By using art, students will get to touch, feel, and interact with condoms and birth control pills. We want to create an environment that will allow young people to ask questions about their sexual health and openly discuss sexuality issues. We see this as a concrete step in fostering a healthy and responsible attitude towards sex among young adults,” says Ms. Ana Santos, founder of SAS. “We highly encourage the participants to attend the workshop as a primer to the contest because the story has to be complete–it is not enough that you’ve touched or felt condoms or know about birth control pills. You need to know how to use them properly and responsibly,” she adds.

DKT Reproductive Health, manufacturer of Frenzy condoms and Filipinay line of contraceptive pills, has always been a staunch supporter of SAS in actively promotion positive sexuality and informed choice.

This project is supported by the UP-Diliman based network, RH AGENDA (Reproductive Health and Gender Advocates Movement).

Students must join in groups of 4-10 members, and must indicate time slot for the ART-H primer: 10AM-12PM or 12-2PM. The participants will then be divided in two groups for the contest on Tuesday, September 27, and Wednesday, September 28 from 11:30AM-1PM at the Palma Hall lobby. The group that lands first place will win P15,000, 2nd P12,000, and 3rd P10,000 in cash.

To inquire and/or register, students may email [email protected], or contact +63917-851-0209 or +63917-836-0345 from September 1-22, 2011.

For the complete mechanics and details, please visit and follow @dash_of_sas on Twitter.


Sex and (SAS) is a non-profit website committed to improving the level of understanding of sexual reproductive health rights among Filipinos through the dissemination of accurate, practical and factual information on STI/HIV prevention and population and development in governance. SAS open to all, and is represented in other online media outlets, including popular social media networks Facebook and Twitter.



Towards a Strategic Development Road Map (Update)

The following is a matrix of the Strategies contained in the government’s Philippine Development Plan 2011-16  plotted against the five key results areas under the Cabinet Cluster system of the Aquino Cabinet.

The five themes include: 1) Good Governance and Anti-Corruption, 2) Human Development and Poverty Reduction, 3) Economic Development, 4) Security, Justice and Peace, and 5) Climate Change, Adaptation and Mitigation. This was contained in Executive Order 43: Pursuing our Social Contract with the Filipino People Through the Reorganization of the Cabinet Clusters.

The strategies under each theme were taken from the Philippine Development Plan 2011-16. In some cases, the actual targets were contained in it or some other announcement such as the renewable energy target. Some targets we are actually proposing here based on the intent of the PDP and other statements by the government. Some targets remain ambiguous or require quantification, but at least a measurement indicator is identified here.

This should form the basis for a periodic review of the government’s progress in meeting its official development plan and agenda. In the future, we will be revisiting these targets to hold this government to account. Comments on the construction of the matrix are quite welcome. Feel free to point out things that are missing or need to be revised.

Scorecard of Social Contract and Philippine Development Plan 2011-16 Targets


Good governance targets

I chose to go with the World Bank’s Good Governance indicators because the government has adopted its whole philosophy of economic development from the Washington Consensus. It is only but fitting that it should benchmark itself against the indicators set by this Washington-based institution.

In setting the targets for the nation, I had to benchmark our rating with our East Asian neighbors. For instance under control of corruption, the Philippines and Indonesia were at 27.1 and 28.1 respectively, China and Vietnam were at 36.2 and 36.7, Thailand was at 51, and Malaysia was at 58.1 back in 2009. Hong Kong and Singapore were in the 90s.

It is only but fitting that we try to break into the range of Thailand and Malaysia. So I said we need to be achieving above 50%. I used a similar approach with the other indicators in this area.

Human Development and Poverty Reduction

Most of the targets found here were lifted from the government’s plan. The only target which I had to set on my own was the HDI target. To do this I simply projected the current trend from 2005 to 2010.  The target of reaching a 0.65 value for HDI means we would catch up to where Thailand and Sri Lanka were back in 2010.

All the other targets dealing with poverty reduction, literacy, land reform and distribution, Pantawid Pamilya recipients, housing and reaching the MDG targets were all based on official published documents by the government.

Economic Development

Most of the targets came from official published documents by the government. The only targets where I took the liberty of setting were the fiscal spending targets, but even there I took the policy pronouncements contained in the PDP into account.

For example, the PDP stated that its Medium Term Expenditure goal was to “substantially increase productive expenditures and catch up with the accumulated deficits in these areas.” It also noted that in 2007, the average expenditure on education among our Asian neighbors was 3.9% of GDP. To “catch-up” and make up for our accumulated deficits, we would need to at least match that spending, which is reflected in the target.

Aside from education, the PDP also made mention of our infrastructure spending which is woefully inadequate when compared with that of China, Vietnam, and Thailand which spent upwards of 7, 8 and 14% of GDP over the last decade. The 5% target was based on the World Bank’s recommended level for a middle income country such as ours. In other words, it was a modest but reasonable target in light of our regional peers’ spending.

The targets for achieving higher rankings in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness and World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business reports are self-explanatory. You can see by reading their most recent editions the countries in whose proximity we would be landing if we achieved the targets.

The consumer welfare and agricultural productivity targets are yet undefined and merit further discussion.

Security, Justice and Peace

The target for achieving political stability was arrived at similar to the other good governance targets already discussed above. The defense modernization target assumes that the government has a revised plan for this and will be working towards achieving 100% of it by the end of its term. Finally, the press freedom strategy and target, I had to personally add given the silence of the PDP on it. I based this on PNoy’s policy pronouncements at an AFP conference call. I further believe the Human Rights Commission should seek to publish official statistics in the area so that we can aim to bring that figure down.

Climate Change, Adaptation and Mitigation

The targets for reducing environmental damage and casualties are yet undefined but flow directly from the strategies outlined in the PDP. The rest of the targets contained here are from official published statements by the government, including the renewable energy target.

Why the Need for a Scorecard?

It has been nearly three months since the cabinet reorganization was announced, and yet it seems no further developments were made towards fleshing out the social contract in terms of major strategies and targets, which the EO that created it envisioned.

That is the reason why we have taken this bold step towards developing this strategic development road map. Of course, nothing would please us more than to see the government announce something similar. When it does, we will be sure to revise the document to reflect it.

The Propinoy Project began as an attempt to hold the government to account for its electoral promises. Now that the government has officially laid down its official policies and plan for its term, it is but fitting that we assess its future performance against its own targets with objective baselines and independent and reliable sources.

This matrix as detailed as it is cannot capture the complexities at the implementation or operational level. We leave that to the community service organizations who are partnered with various agencies to monitor. At least at the strategic level we can look at this scorecard to assess whether the government is doing the right things (and doing them right!) at the operational level to achieve its strategic goals.

How long is a piece of string?

What yardstick are we using to measure P-Noy’s performance?

The arbitrary, rule of thumb of the first year in office is about to come and go for this administration. The obligatory journalistic pieces assessing the president’s performance have consulted the usual suspects.

Political analysts, polling firms and pundits, the business community and the average man on the street express varying degrees of satisfaction, from impatience on the part of Conrad de Quiros for instance, to a more sanguine position on the part of Mon Casiple. Regardless of their positions, they are essentially in agreement that while one year is too brief a period to expect major change, some demonstrably concrete level of progress or achievement is lacking in the president’s first 365 days in office.

As expected the president’s men were engaged in a charm offensive to address these complaints with Undersecretary Manolo Quezon of the Communications Group appearing on ANC, Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte on Twitter, and Budget Secretary Butch Abad polemically addressing the issue of economic management. The to-ing and fro-ing has been at times entertaining as in the case of the Valte-Magsaysay twitterverse exchanges and insightful as in the case of Quezon’s revelations about the president’s love life.

The advocates of the president (both in and out of government) say that much has been accomplished. The emphasis on government frugality and public spending restraint has created domestic private investor confidence and a credit ratings dividend according to Cielito Habito. Plugging the leaks in infrastructure spending has generated fiscal space to expand social spending by the end of the year according to Abad. Public private partnerships are “on track” to be consummated this year according to Finance officials.

That in essence is the shortlist of accomplishments brandished by Malacanang. Judging by his poll numbers, the public seems to give P-Noy the nod of approval with 64% expressing satisfaction with his performance.

Is that it, then? Should we give the president a pass too?

Unfortunately, what is missing is a solid discussion over, well…what sort of yardstick is appropriate for measuring the president’s performance. For instance,

• Shall we judge him on what he said he will do?

Based on the president’s anti-Gloria campaign theme, De Quiros now questions why the former president and her ilk have not been brought before any court to answer for her alleged transgressions. Based on his anti-corruption platform, the Management Association of the Philippines now asks why there have been no measures like the Freedom of Information bill or any meaningful reductions in business redtape progressed.

Civil rights advocates wonder what has happened to Jonas Burgos and many other like him. Women’s groups are still waiting for the RH Bill to be passed. Farmers are wondering what happened to the resolution of Hacienda Luisita. The ordinary man on the street wonders where the jobs are and the relief from the rising cost of living. These were issues PNoy promised to resolve once in office.

• On the other hand, should we judge him based on his ability to prudently modify or alter what he said he would do?

Those with a nationalist agenda like Teddy Casino say P-Noy is delivering more of the same as far as economic policy goes, and hopes he will re-think his developmental economic strategy. The anxiety felt by Casino and others like him (Walden Bello for instance) is that the quality of growth is poor and insufficient to make a dent on unemployment.

Budget analyst Ben Diokno is looking for a two-step tax reform process that will make the system fairer and more effective at raising revenues. Both of these policy prescriptions run counter to the “steady as she goes” pronouncements that PNoy made during the election season.

Measuring up

The answer to the question, what yardstick do we use, depends on whether you are a strict contractualist or not. Some will say, we should evaluate the president plainly on what he said he would do, and nothing more. For me, however, I believe that given the tenor of the campaign, there were promises that were bound to be made in the spur of the moment, which need to be reconsidered.

The problem for the president of course is, whether you adhere to the strict contractual sense or not, he has failed to register meaningful progress on many fronts. So the question then becomes, how much time should we give him before we start downgrading his performance assessment? How long before we start saying that the president has either reneged or foolishly forged ahead down a dead end path?

Should we give him another six months? A full year? Two years? It’s like asking the question, how long is a piece of string?

After all, for the marginalized groups awaiting resolution to decade’s old injustices, their well-being has been put on hold for far too long. The well-healed chattering classes may feel aggrieved that bringing justice to Arroyo has been delayed, but their grief is nothing compared to what farmers and human rights abuse victims have suffered.

Similarly for those denied access to education, healthcare, sanitation and protection from the elements, the experiment to improve tax collection without a root and branch reform process would prove to be the most costly of all, if it fails. Is it therefore worth the gamble?

Perhaps, it is in addressing the needs of the least of our brethren that the president ought to be judged. In his “Back to the Future” moment, the president like his mother in the mid-1980s seemed to have prioritized the needs of rich creditors and bondholders over that of poor and marginalized stakeholders. Private investments have improved the skyline, but public investment failed to raise more out of the poverty line.

How long is a piece of string? Well we will have to wait and see…

Round and round we go

Prof Solita Monsod in her weekly column for The BusinessWorld quotes a paper authored by Ms Rosario Manasan of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies or PIDS a government think tank which estimates that based on its current trajectory, the Philippines will meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of achieving universal primary education by (brace yourself) 2079(!) sixty four years behind the 2015 deadline.

That is unless the government changes its course and raises education expenditures in the near term. Currently there is a mere 65% completion rate of students that enter primary school. Many factors contribute to the high attrition rate, most of which we are all too familiar with: large class sizes, poor teachers, a backlog of classrooms, materials and clean drinking water, improper access for disabled and indigenous children.

To bring the current attainment rates up to 90% by 2016 (the end of President Aquino’s term) would require a near-doubling of the current education spending in the next year according to the paper. Manasan provides forward budget estimates of P382 billion (3.8% of GDP) for 2012, P308 billion for 2013 (2.3%), P325 billion for 2014 (2.8%), P341 billion for 2015 (2.7%), and P355 billion for 2016 (2.6%). The spending “surge” in 2012 includes provisions to bridge the capital spending backlog accumulated over recent years. The likelihood of this happening is very low considering the fiscal consolidation being undertaken to contain public deficits and debt.

Given its inability to raise and sustain a tax collection rate above 15% of GDP (Manasan says it should be around 18%), the government has resorted to expenditure contraction as a means of keeping its deficits in check. To raise its tax take to the prescribed level while sticking to its “no new taxes” pledge, the Aquino administration would have to pull a few policy levers at its disposal. What are these? Well, they’re the usual suspects: rationalizing tax exemptions to investors, restructuring excise taxes on sin products, and reforming the road users tax.

These are all familiar prognostications. After all the animosity the government has recently faced over reducing subsidies for commuter trains, highways and utilities, the politics of increasing rates on alchohol, tobacco and automobiles would make the enactment of two out of the three proposed measures unlikely.

Improving Retention

In this year’s budget the Aquino administration has tried to improve retention in schools via the demand-side of the equation by placing more money in the conditional cash transfers (CCT) program. This is a recognition that apart from inadequate inputs from the public sector, it is the lack of family income that drags attainment levels down. The problem of course is that once demand for education on the part of families is stimulated, supply on the part of the government will have to surge to meet it.

So round and round we go, locked in the policy/spin cycle until the year 2079…unless of course we introduce some kind of structural “break” in the process. That could come in the form of a reproductive health act that would allow parents to make informed decisions about the number and spacing of their children. By all accounts, that would mean lowering the average size of each household if the true wishes of parents were fulfilled. If this were introduced this year, its effects would be felt in the kindergarten enrollment levels of 2016. While current enrollment growth rates are already declining, the reform would slow them down even more. This would allow the government some breathing room to catch-up with the demand for schooling.

Many players on both sides of the debate do not seem to appreciate just how close their positions are.

Of course the reason why past incarnations of the RH Bill have failed to make it through Congress is the opposition faced from the powerful Catholic bishops. From watching the panel discussion on Al Jazeera TV (see video clip embedded below), the main stumbling block in this Congress has been what an abortifacient consists of. Bishop Ted Bacani seems to accede to other forms of man-made contraceptives that prevent conception. Perhaps this is in part due to the Pope’s own statement regarding the acceptability of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Many players on both sides of the debate do not seem to appreciate just how close their positions are. While the current RH Bill does not explicitly enumerate the different forms of legal and safe methods of birth control that would be offered; by the same token, it does not seek to legalize abortion either. The position of the clergy seems to be that under the bill, substances, both herbal and synthetic, that induce termination of pregnancy (abortifacients) could be construed as legal forms of contraception. An example of this the morning after pill, that in some countries has been offered to victims of rape, might form part of the mix unless explicitly prohibited.

As presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda pointed out, that was an issue up for debate. The disengagement of the bishops from the process is the reason for the current impasse. It is quite unfortunate that Ms Beth Angsioco an advocate of the RH Bill was not asked to clarify her position on the matter. It would have been enlightening to hear it rather than the toing and froing over rights that occurred. It should be noted that even in countries where abortion is legal, the use of such morning after pills is tightly controlled. For the sake of guaranteeing its passage through Congress, it would be best for advocates of the bill to compromise and  leave the debate over whether or not to legalize abortifacients for another day.



Untangling the Complex Policy Web

Returning to the issue of how to finance education. It is quite clear that in the near term, the bridging of the education gap will be difficult particularly because the government is hoping for a credit upgrade from the various rating agencies. This would mean reducing the fiscal deficit to within 1-2% of GDP. One cannot discount the benefits a one or two notch upgrade would bring about. You cannot get there without fiscal consolidation or controlling cost pressures in the budget, improved collection by the government revenue agencies recently reported notwithstanding.

The basic source of this gap is the sheer size of our population. Reducing its growth rate even fractionally would have huge benefits down the track in terms of education, health and employment outcomes. The government may not be able to attain the MDG target by its deadline, but it can lay the groundwork towards balancing the conflicting policy goals it has to contend with at the moment.

Human Rights Watch World Annual Report

The Philippines

Benigno Aquino III, the son of the late president Corazon Aquino, swept to power in the May presidential elections on a platform of fighting corruption and promoting justice for victims of crime. The national and local elections were considered largely free and fair, though marred by violence, including dozens of killings prior to election day. Political violence continued after the elections as more than 20 activists, journalists, party members, and politicians were killed since Aquino took office on June 30.

The Philippines is a multiparty democracy with an elected president and legislature, a thriving civil society sector, and a vibrant media. But several key institutions, including law enforcement agencies and the justice system, remain weak and the military and police commit human rights violations with impunity.

In September Andal Ampatuan Jr. and 18 others went on trial for the November 23, 2009, massacre of 58 people, including more than 30 media workers in Maguindanao on the southern island of Mindanao. Several witnesses to the massacre and their family members were killed in late 2009 and 2010.

Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances

Hundreds of leftist politicians and political activists, journalists, and outspoken clergy have been killed or abducted since 2001. So far only 11 people have been convicted of these killings—none in 2010—and no one has been convicted of the abductions. While soldiers, police, and militia members have been implicated in many of these killings, no member of the military active at the time of the killing has been brought to justice.

In December 2009 the Philippines enacted the Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity Act (Republic Act 9851), which defines and penalizes war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. It provides for senior officers to be held criminally liable for abuses committed by subordinates if they knew or should have known of the abuses anddid not take the necessary steps to stop them.

At least five witnesses and family members of witnesses to Ampatuan family abuses, including the Maguindanao massacre have been killed since December 2009. On June 14 an unidentified gunman shot and killed Suwaib Upahm, an Ampatuan militia member who had participated in the massacre and had offered to testify for the government if afforded witness protection. Three months before he was killed, Human Rights Watch had raised concerns with Justice Department officials in Manila about his protection. The department was still considering his request for protection at the time of his killing.

President Aquino has proposed an 80 percent budget increase for the witness protection program, but his administration has not taken steps to make the program independent and accessible and to extend protection from the onset of a police investigation until it is no longer necessary, including after the trial.

Optimism over Supreme Court writs to compel military and other officials to release information on people in their custody and take steps to protect people at risk continued to be dampened by hesitancy to grant inspection orders and difficulty in enforcing them. In two cases, the Supreme Court held that investigations had been inadequate, but simply referred the case to the national Commission on Human Rights for further investigation and monitoring—a role that the commission should already be carrying out. One of these cases involved the 2007 abduction of leftist activist Jonas Burgos who remains missing.

“Private Armies”

In numerous provinces, ruling families continue to use paramilitary forces and local police as their private armies. By recruiting, arming, and paying members of these various militias, often with national government support, local officials ensure their continued rule, eliminate political opponents, and engage in corruption.

The Maguindanao massacre, the most egregious atrocity implicating a ruling family in recent years, was allegedly carried out by a private army consisting of government-endorsed paramilitary members, as well as police officers and soldiers.

In 2010 the government created task forces to dismantle private armies in Masbate and Abra provinces, but they continue to operate. In July President Aquino directed the police and military to take control of paramilitary forces, properly train them, and ensure that all forces are insulated from political entities.

Aquino continues to defend the use of these forces, which often provide manpower for private armies and have a history of perpetrating rights abuses.


The August release of a cell phone video showing a Manila precinct chief pulling on a rope tied around a suspect’s genitals and beating him during interrogation focused public attention on police torture. Investigators have filed charges of torture against nine of the police officers involved in the video. The victim, Darius Evangelista, is thought to be dead.

The 2009 Anti-Torture Act criminalizes torture and introduces mechanisms to prevent against torture. For example, it requires the police and military to declare each month the location of all detention facilities to the Commission on Human Rights. The police and military conducting trainings on the law but have yet to declare the location of detention facilities.

Targeted Killings of Petty Criminals and Street Youths

So-called death squads operating in Davao City, General Santos City, Digos City, Tagum City, and Cebu City continued to target alleged petty criminals, drug dealers, gang members, and street children. The number of killings has declined following a Commission on Human Rights investigation.

In January the Ombudsman preventatively suspended 26 police officers for failing to solve the summary killings in Davao City, but this order was reversed by the Court of Appeals in July.

At this writing the Commission on Human Rights has not reported on the outcome of the investigations of the multi-agency task force into summary killings in Davao City, which commenced in April 2009.

Armed Conflict in Mindanao

A ceasefire remained in place between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and peace talks are expected. However, at this writing more than 100,000 people remained displaced after the escalation of the conflict in 2008 and 2009.

The army continued to fight Abu Sayyaf, an armed group implicated in numerous attacks and abductions against civilians, particularly in Sulu and Basilan.

Conflict with the New People’s Army

Military clashes between government forces and the communist New People’s Army (NPA) continued in 2010, especially in Central and Northern Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Negros, and on Mindanao. Around 1,100 people in Surigao del Sur, Mindanao, were displaced twice this year for several days each time after government forces moved into their area.

On February 6 the military and police arrested 43 men and women on firearms charges, and accused them of being NPA members. All but five of the detainees say they are health workers and deny links to the armed group. The arresting officers detained them blindfolded and without access to communication for the initial 36 hours, and refused them legal counsel during this time. Rather than investigating these allegations of abuse, the military granted awards to the two officers that led the arrests.

The NPA continued to kill civilians and extort “taxes” from individuals and businesses. For example, on July 13, NPA members killed the former mayor of Giporlos, Mateo Biong, Jr., in Eastern Samar province. The NPA said that it killed Biong after he was sentenced to death by a rebel “people’s court.”

Reproductive Rights and Access to Condoms

Restricted access to condoms continues to impede HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in the Philippines, where more than 90 percent of HIV transmission occurs through unsafe sexual contact and both rates of transmission and overall HIV prevalence have increased sharply in recent years, particularly among the most at-risk populations. In September President Aquino pledged to enhance access to all forms of family planning, including condoms. At this writing the Philippines continues to prohibit abortion.

Filipino Workers Abroad

Approximately 2 million Filipinos work abroad, including hundreds of thousands of women who serve as domestic workers in other parts of Asia and the Middle East. While the Philippine government has made some effort to support and protect migrant domestic workers, many women continue to experience abuses abroad including unpaid wages, food deprivation, forced confinement in the workplace, and physical and sexual abuse (see Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Malaysia chapters).

Key International Actors

The United States remains the most influential ally of the Philippines and, together with Australia and Japan, one of its three largest bilateral donors. The US military has access to Philippine lands and seas under a Visiting Forces Agreement, and the two militaries hold annual joint exercises. The United States Senate appropriated US$32 million for the Philippines in fiscal year 2009-2010 under Foreign Military Financing for procurement of US military equipment, services, and training. Of that sum $2 million is contingent on the Philippine government showing progress in addressing human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings. In September the Millennium Challenge Corporation granted a five-year economic development compact to the Philippines, totaling $434 million. Implementation continued on the 2009-11 European Union US$5.3 million program to address extrajudicial killings and strengthen the criminal justice system by providing training and technical assistance.

Relations with China, particularly Hong Kong, have remained strained since a dismissed police officer took a busload of Hong Kong tourists hostage in Manila. The police response was incompetent and eight tourists were killed, plus the hostage taker, and nine tourists were injured.

source: Human Rights Watch

Are some people's rights more human than others?

Perhaps, it is worth recalling what exactly the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was jailed for. Here it is from the Preamble of Charter 08, a manifesto released on December 9, 2008, the document that was considered so subversive it led to this former literature professor being sentenced to jail for eleven years (translation courtesy of HRIC or Human Rights in China).

This year marks 100 years since China’s [first] Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since the Chinese government signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Having experienced a prolonged period of human rights disasters and challenging and tortuous struggles, the awakening Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly aware that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, republicanism, and constitutional government make up the basic institutional framework of modern politics. A “modernization” bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives people of their rights, rots away their humanity, and destroys their dignity. Where is China headed in the 21st century? Will it continue with this “modernization” under authoritarian rule, or will it endorse universal values, join the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic form of government? This is an unavoidable decision.

In deciding to boycott the Nobel Prize conferment on Liu, the Philippines according to President Noynoy Aquino or PNoy was putting the interest of its citizens (particularly those on death row without reprieve in China now numbering six for allegedly smuggling drugs) above that of a foreigner. In sending its regrets to the Nobel Foundation, the government was seeking to appease China over a series of incidents that had strained bilateral relations. Here is what PNoy had to say against his detractors from human rights groups

It’s not their call to make the decisions, it’s my call. We have immediate problems, amongst them all those incarcerated in China. We’ve had strained relations because of the incident and so many other things, my interest has to be first with the Filipinos, I think nobody will begrudge me kung (if ) secondary interest ang (are) any other nationality, I did swear an oath to defend and to safeguard all Filipinos everywhere, inuna ko Pilipinas, kung kasalanan yun uulit ulitin ko yung kasalanan na yun (I placed the Philippines first, and I would do it again regardless of what others may think).

Fair enough, some might say. But, then again when PNoy’s father, the late Sen Ninoy Aquino, was incarcerated and sentenced to death by firing squad on trumped up charges of treason, it was in part due to the appeals of the same international human rights groups to Western leaders backing the dictator then Pres Marcos that he was granted a lease on life. If these leaders had thought the way PNoy had; for example, if they had thought that the rights of a dissident in a country led by an ally were not as important as the safety of their own people (and for a time they did just that), then things would have turned out differently back then.

The core question here is was it really in the Philippines’ interest to boycott the ceremony and hand China a diplomatic coup over the United States in the process at a time when its power and prestige are waning? And to do so on such a significant date as the commemoration of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document which the Philippines through former UN Sec Gen Carlos P Romulo co-drafted, was just utterly distasteful (it makes you wonder what was passing through the mind of Foreign Affairs Sec Alberto Romulo at the time).

Not that we should be big fans of America and the way it has conducted its foreign policy in this and other parts of the world over the past century when it reached the zenith of its global might, but does the Philippines still have a coherent policy to speak of when it comes to this arena? Ever since the execution of Flor Contemplacion in Singapore back in 1995 and the public backlash against Philippine government officials that followed, it has been the policy of successive administrations to avoid such incidents at all cost. The question that emerges is could there have been a better way to smoothen ties with our immediate neighbor without having to sacrifice such a fundamental belief?

Perhaps if our diplomats had handled the matter with a little more foresight, tact and diplomacy (as their job descriptions suggest), the government would not have painted itself into a tight corner. The president would not have been forced into such an awkward position of having to cover for the mixed messages springing out of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

For the sake of the safety of its citizens overseas, the United States would never countenance sacrificing its core principles in the same manner. And the reason is that that nation regards America as not just consisting of its people, but of an idea. And it is that Idea (that all men are created equal) that they are willing to put their citizens in harm’s way in defense of. They may not always justly determine what constitutes a clear and present threat to Freedom, but they have at least demonstrated time and time again a capacity to offer their blood and treasure in pursuit of that ideal.

Perhaps our decision-makers ought to heed the words of PNoy’s late father who penned the following passage during the dark days of authoritarian rule

Leaders I admired, whose advice I sought
Became fallen idols, their souls were bought,
Their conscience they bartered for soft convenience,
Due to despicable cowardice, they’ve lost their patience.

Leaders became dealers, begging for part of the spoils,
Forgetting the value, the essence of the hottest toil,
Paralyzed by fear, they joined the amoral dictator,
Defending, waving the bloody flag of the new oppressor.

The pillars of society became the props of tyranny,
Be realistic, they urged, if not for safety, for money.
It is useless to resist, the tyrant is too strong,
Yet aware, with their help the tyranny will prolong.

In bartering for the safety of its citizens overseas, has this administration incurred too high a cost and become a prop of tyranny in China? In reference to George Orwell’s Animal Farm , where the dominant pigs wrote “some animals are more equal than others”, I ask are some people’s rights more human than others?

Photo: Eleanor Roosevelt holding the International Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.

‘PH skipped Nobel for the sake of Pinoys on China death row’

As a follow-up to the backlash against the government for boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony last week, ABS-CBN news reports the following explanation from the palace: Boycott in exchange for (the hope for? this is unclear) clemency of 5 Filipinos on China’s death row:

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III admitted the country did not send a delegate to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring a Chinese democracy activist for the sake of 5 Filipinos on China’s death row.

In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Aquino said “our interest [is] to advance our citizens’ needs first.”

Human rights activists lambasted the Aquino administration for boycotting the awards ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. They said such action is very disappointing considering the country’s history in fighting for democracy.

The Philippines is not alone, however. Sixteen others boycotted the ceremony supposedly due to pressures from China.

Aquino stressed the government remains “committed to human rights.”

He said it just does not want to put at risk the efforts done so far for the 5 Filipinos who had been sentenced to death for acting as drug mules. The Filipinos – 1 male and 4 females – are detained in Beijing.

The President noted he had already sent a letter to China asking for clemency for the 5 Filipinos.

Aquino also said the country is aiming for a “closure” with China over the August 23 hostage incident, where 8 Hong Kong residents died.

The hostage crisis has caused diplomatic strains between the 2 nations. The Hong Kong government has voiced out its dismay over the “watered down” penalties that those involved have received.

He also said he was concerned for the safety of the Filipinos who may be caught in the tension between North and South Korea.

China earlier offered to mediate between the 2 Korean peninsulas. China is an ally of North Korea.

Initial reactions to this have ranged from supportive, understanding to disappointed and enraged (comparisons drawn between Liu and Ninoy, drug traffickers should be punished etc.).

What do you think?

Noy lauded for remaining firm on RH Bill support

Noy lauded for remaining firm on RH Bill support
By Paolo Romero
The Philippine Star

House Minority Leader and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said Mr. Aquino “needs to be complemented and supported for standing firm against the Catholic hierarchy in his advocacy for responsible parenthood and contraceptive use based on freedom of informed choice.”

Curiously though, a prominent member of the House minority bloc, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is against the RH Bill and has co-authored a pro-life measure to protect the rights of the unborn.

“The steadfast position of the President on voluntary family planning is an unequivocal endorsement for the enactment of a comprehensive and nationwide statute on reproductive health and population development,” Lagman said.

100 Days On, Aquino’s actions fall short

Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia Elaine Pearson said this today about extrjudicial abuses and the justice promises of the Aquino adminsitration:

President Aquino came into office with a mandate to abolish abusive forces and pursue justice for serious abuses. He made impassioned promises, but 100 days on we’re still waiting for action.

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