By Pet Melliza/ The Beekeeper
Negros Oriental is the only province in the Philippines to have enacted an ordinance prohibiting humanitarian services to areas of armed conflict between the Philippine government and rebels.
Stated otherwise, that Central Visayas province licenses harassments of members of fact-finding and relief missions to far far-flung villages where civilians are reported to have been displaced by the armed conflict, by enacting Provincial Ordinance No. 5, s. 2008.
Two human rights workers have been slapped charges for violations of the measure called “An Ordinance Regulating Outreach Activities Through Medical and Fact-Finding Missions in the Countryside of Negros Oriental and for Other Purposes,” it sanctions imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of P5,000 maximum on participants of medical and fact-finding missions that have no permit from the governor.
Aside from securing permits, the ordinance further requires of participants to log in at the municipal police station log book before entry and on return, log out at the police station. Failure to log in and out puts one to the risk of being jailed or fined.
The ordinance was enacted, not during the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship, 1972-1986, and neither during the reign of the Erap grangster clique, but in 2008 during the unlamented rule of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It still persists today under the Matuwid na Landas administration.
Human rights organizations in the time of Marcos conducted medical and fact-finding missions especially in far-flung places to give material and moral support to victims of military abuses and, equally important, to break the culture of silence by recording residents’ harrowing tales in the hands of state security forces and letting the world know of news the military wanted suppressed.
The military during the time of Marcos committed human rights violations in the course of their operations against the rebel New People’s Army (NPA), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The abuses consisted of indiscriminate bombings of civilian communities, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, summary killings, and restriction on human and food movements through “hamletting”, forced evacuations and food blockade.
Notwithstanding the so-called restoration of democracy after EDSA I, human rights violations persists to date despite loud denials by P-Noy.
By restricting humanitarian services in areas of armed conflict between the Armed Forces and the NPA, the Negros Oriental provincial government is complicit in the perpetration of human rights violations by preventing civil libertarians from reaching out to victims of rights violations most of whom are children, which the Geneva Convention I and II and their protocols, define as “zone of peace”, that is, protected from harm by either party in the war.
By enacting Ordinance 5, Negros Oriental provincial reinforces the culture of silence; it suppresses information the public ought to know, especially the cries of victims and orphans, the children, women, elderly and other civilians from reaching our attention.
May 29, the date this piece comes out in TNT, the United Nations Human Rights Committee will start its periodic regular review in Switzerland on the progress of member states in complying with the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Philippines is the only one in Southeast Asia which signed the treaty.
Justice secretary Leila De Lima, will be among the leaders of the Philippine delegation to give glowing accounts on how the P-Noy administration performed its treaty obligations.
De Lima will not be alone. The human rights group Karapatan will also attend to give the contrary report of the P-Noy administration’s human rights abuses, that the much maligned Oplan Bantay Laya I and II of GMA continues, this time, rehashed as “Oplan Bayanihan”.
De Lima will also be confronted by the Center of Media Legal Defense led by Atty. Harry Roque who will again remind her of the “ruling” by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Committee, which finds the Philippine’s failure to decriminalize libel “incompatible with the ICCPR.
Remember broadcaster Alex Adonis? He was serving imprisonment after conviction for libel. Roque brought his case to the UNHRMC which reminded the Philippines that criminal libel still in its statute books was incompatible to the ICCPR. The government grudgingly obliged by releasing Adonis on parole, after one-and-a-half year service.