It is significant that the hallowed grounds of the University of the Philippines is where we launch today MAKATAO (Mambabatas para sa Karapatang Pantao).
For decades, the University has been the fertile ground which nourished human rights advocacies and their fulfillment.
It is also opportune that UP is the venue of our launch in order to rekindle the spirit of human rights activism in the face of perception that the UP officialdom and studentry are beginning to waiver in the crucial fight for the promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights.
This launch is propitious as the Duterte administration continues to brazenly derogate human rights, the latest of which is abandoning the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which is the global bastion for adherence to and enhancement of human rights protection.
It is equally auspicious because the Duterte administration has categorized human rights defenders and advocates as “terrorists”.
The State’s obligation to uphold human rights spans a person’s total existence from cradle to grave: from the basic human right of a mother to freely determine the number and spacing of her children to the exhumation of victims of torture and enforced disappearance to end impunity.
While human rights inhere in a human being without need of any constitutional or statutory grant, legislation is still indispensable for the triple objectives of respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights.
This underscores the overriding multi-faceted role of legislators in the campaign for human rights promotion, protection and achievement, more particularly in:
Enacting positive statutes on human rights and opposing measures which negate human rights;
Exercising oversight functions to monitor compliance with human rights legislation and international human rights instruments; and
Providing leadership in the formulation of enabling public opinion.
The act of legislation can be both arduous and lengthy. It took 22 years for the anti-torture law to be enacted, 18 years for the passage of the reparation for martial law victims law, 16 years for the anti-disappearance law, and 13 years for the RH law.
We hope that MAKATAO could hasten or expedite the legislative process for human rights measures.
MAKATAO is a non-partisan group of legislators as its members have crossed party lines. It aims to contribute to the attainment of genuine human development through quality human rights legislation. To achieve this goal, the objectives of MAKATAO are as follows:
To serve as a powerhouse lobby group that will generate support for quality human rights legislation from fellow legislators as well as opposition to legislative measures that pose a threat to human rights;
To promote dialogue on human rights issues, thereby helping form public opinion, and how these may be addressed through legislation;
To serve as a link between the legislature and civil society, especially the human rights community.
To push for the adoption of human rights-based governance.
To help ensure that Philippine legislation complies with international human rights standards and that the country fulfills its international human rights obligations.
To serve as a militant watchdog for the protection and promotion of human rights in the Philippines.
Toward these objectives, MAKATAO shall adhere to the principles of collective leadership and shared responsibility.
I am elated to introduce to you the charter members of MAKATAO, namely:
Hon. Kaka J. Bag-Ao
Hon. Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jr.
Hon. Jose Christopher Y. Belmonte
Hon. Emmanuel A. Billones
Hon. Arlene D. Brosas
Hon. Emmi A. De Jesus
Hon. Raul V. Del Mar
Hon. Ramon V.A. Rocamora
Hon. Amihilda Sangcopan
Hon. Antonio Tinio
Hon. Tom S. Villarin
Hon. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate
Hon. Edcel C. Lagman
MAKATAO hopes to expand its membership to Senators and local legislators of the various Sanggunian nationwide. It will also conduct regular media forums and briefings on human rights.
We have yet to enact a law that adopts the United Nations’ definition of extrajudicial killing. The current administration limits the offense to killings of cause-oriented activists and media practitioners. This flawed definition excludes from coverage suspected common criminals who constitute the overwhelming majority of those summarily executed.
MAKATAO’s top priority in its legislative agenda is the enactment of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Law. The bill is introduced by the MAKABAYAN bloc members of MAKATAO in the House of Representatives and its counterpart in the Senate is principally authored by Senator Leila de Lima.
Countless lives have been mercilessly lost and civil liberties arbitrarily curtailed in defending human rights.
But keeping both our eyes closed and our lips sealed amid the unabated summary killings and unexplained disappearances is an offense of omission which condones and exacerbates crimes against humanity.
Let us hold accountable or responsible through legislation, court proceeding and mass action all perpetrators of human rights violations from the President down to the rank and file of the military, police and civil service.
Even as MAKATAO is now propelled into orbit, it remains anchored on the actualities of human rights developments.