Former Comelec commissioner calls out abuse of human rights, sectors during campaign period

Former Comelec commissioner calls out abuse of human rights, sectors during campaign period
Relatives of victims of extra-judicial killings attend a memorial mass ahead of All Soul's Day to remember their loved ones slain in the government's war on drugs, at the Commission on Human Rights in Manila on Oct. 29, 2021.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights said that the coming 2022 elections are in themselves a human rights issue as it called on candidates to focus on human rights violations throughout the campaign period.

Speaking at the Boses Mo, Respeto Ko, Karapatan Natin! forum organized by the Commission on Human Rights on Monday afternoon, lawyer and former Comelec commissioner Luie Guia said that even during the campaign period, human rights violations in the conduct of election-related activities are already being observed.

"Everyone has the right to take part in the government of this country directly or through freely chosen representatives. The principle is that the will of the people is the basis of all authority of government," he said. 

Guia pointed to the Oplan Baklas activities that have seen personnel of both the national police and the Comelec taking down campaign posters of candidates around the country. 

"This is a problem because the expressions of people [are being limited?] We are expressing our thoughts and opinions and you have no right because we are putting our expression in our private property," he said. 

"Respect for human rights is essential for the will of the people to be respected in electoral processes... an enabling human rights environment is essential to ensure free and genuine elections."

READ: Poll bets urged to present clear human rights plan of action

The former election commissioner also said that the proliferation of fake election-related news is a human rights violation. 

"This is so much so that some people form their choices based on inaccurate or packaged information. And this becomes more effective because of social media," he said. 

For her part, Precy Dagooc of the Alternative Politics Movement in Quezon City observed that human rights, health, education, and livelihood were among the top agendas of voters on the ground. 

"We believe that the problems we're facing in the pandemic are not an excuse because there is a government that should be providing for these basic rights and services of the people," she said. "We have seen how many we're left behind."

Dagooc said that the human rights environment in the Philippines has deteriorated over the coronavirus pandemic, pointing to the passage of the controversial Anti-Terror Law and the de facto crackdown on critical voices.

"There are a lot of democratic rights and spaces that we have to reclaim. How can we have free and genuine elections if we are under a tyrannical regime?" she said in Filipino.

READ: Democratic freedoms in Philippines now 'severely restricted' — global rights monitor 

"Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are not being recognized. How can we say that our decisions are correct and informed if we don't have access to the truth?"

Over the past few months of the Duterte administration, government officials have pushed back against groups questioning its policies. President Rodrigo Duterte, for instance, accused doctors' groups calling for a quarantine extension of pushing for a revolution

As it stands, Dagooc questioned the lack of pushback and concrete human rights plans from candidates so far. She encouraged sectors to "engage candidates in conversation" to get their stances on issues facing the country today before coming up with decisions. 

"We want to see concrete plans, not just the unity they're talking about," she said. "Historical revisionism becomes that if we do nothing about it and don't participate."

"It's scary in a way because so much has happened already that you can't help but react even if you aren't the type to speak out," she said. "Once you witness or you've heard of people you know who have become victims of Oplan Tokhang, you can't help but be angry."

READ: Next Philippine president should make human rights a priority issue — HRW

Franco Luna 

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