We have heard it all the time, the current administration is resistant to international scrutiny when it comes to human rights and respect of the law. Their argument rests on one idea alone: International bodies should not encroach on national sovereignty.
Is this idea fool-proof? Can it stand against the arguments of the law?
“No” is the clear answer. Patriotism is never a good defense to set aside questions of law, nor the idea of national sovereignty carries heavier weight in this age where human values rise above or have proven to have a lasting, universal value than parochial ideology. History, global and local, are replete with examples.
Why should the Philippines as a “young” democracy invest in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948?
The answer is because we have seen its benefit to human good; it is a collective achievement in the last 71 years, preventing deadly wars in Europe, Asia, the Americas and elsewhere, and mitigating other conflicts that would have erupted or worsened. True, there are wars still erupting and some governments are abetting them, but the ideal has been built and enshrined, and destroying the few already in place only betrays the negativism that will not in any way help humanity.
The Duterte administration, or any other administration, stands to benefit in the long-term if ethical standards are in place. The common idea circulating among the staunch and misguided followers of Duterte is this: There is a rising feeling or tide of patriotism that needs to be acknowledged and hence it is hugely popular to play to the discontented crowd and stay with the herd.
Consider the kudu, an antelope-like animal which reduces risk of predation by staying with the herd. The political herd in our country are stoking the fires of patriotism and remain blind to the wanton disregard for basic human rights. Drug addicts or suspects, whatever their alleged violations are, remain members of our society and are entitled to the same rights as anyone else—a fundamental and shared principle.
Breaking the law and turning back on our international obligations are not only unethical but also reckless and speaks of arrogance in the face of goals to achieve and encourage human decency and maintain peace-keeping.
If our current leaders and a segment of the Filipino population do not have adequate motivation to support and respect human rights and peacekeeping goals, the practical question now is—are there other reasons to pursue international compliance? Is there any good that can come out of it, one that will rise above the easy sentiments of patriotism?
Yes, but we need to shift our perspective from viewing peacekeeping as a burden to one that offers clear opportunities. Human rights are closely tied to peace-keeping measures, and economic progress in turn can only thrive in times of peace. Closely observing human rights provide practical benefits, and if our country or regions in our country remain in the grip of violence, it is not because of the failure of the law, but the lack of will to enforce them and the worsening cases of injustice. How many lawyers have been killed in the last few months? Are there effective investigations looking into these killings? Is there a quality assessment being done on our justice system?
There is another worrying trend unfolding now, aided by the swiftness of modern media such as the Internet to disseminate false news and deceive the most vulnerable in our society. Adding to these challenges is the election of political kudus to both the Senate and the Lower House. Judging by the debates in both houses, and the appointments of the most dubious names to key positions, we are, as a nation going off-track, similar to a ship of fools setting out to the high seas in stormy weather. Instead of lifesavers we are given lightweights, hiding under the guise of a boxing champ or worse a killing-machine executor.
When answering the question “Why should we keep our commitments to universal commitments like the UDHR?” Understand that peace-building and respect for human rights are difficult processes, one that is vulnerable given the shifting alliances in local and global politics. Big players may prove unreliable and costs are high when economic and political interests come into play.
In the long-term, we stand to benefit in real economic and political terms when supporting universal agreements. Now that the face of populism has reared its ugly head, there is more urgency to gather forces beyond borders. The histories of developed countries were as bloody as what we are seeing now happening in our country. All the more reason for us to learn from their experience, and that learning process will lead us back to the most basic and binding declarations such as the UDHR.
Joel Vega works as an editor in Arnhem, The Netherlands, and has recently published his first book of poetry “Drift,” under the imprint of the UST Publishing House.