Human Rights

Not a happy women’s day nor one for farmers

Ghastly and horrible are no apt terms to describe the brutal murder of Rebelyn Pitapo, 20-year old teacher and daughter of high-ranking commander of the New People’s Army (NPA). And President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was too concerned that she ordered the Philippine Human Rights Committee and Commission of Human Rights probe into the matter. Concerned perhaps because the incident came in the wake of her new attempt at peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front.

Suppose that the President was personally affected as a woman and acted on sensibility, in addition to responsibility. This is good and goes to show that the President is also human like us. But I wonder if the President was also affected by what happened in Mendiola last February 12. She would have been and said or ordered something that was not, however, fed to the media. I don’t remember her saying something in tone similar to the case of Rebelyn on the cases of still missing Jonas Burgos and killing of unknown farmer leaders like Ka Eric Cabanit, Ka Pepito Santillan.

The President could have publicly denounced the violent and inhumane dispersal of farmers last February 12 and ordered disciplinary actions on the anti-riot police doing such dispersal. She could have done the same instruction to the CHR to probe such incident. And she could have used the incident to urge Congress to fast-track the legislation of extension and reform of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Now, Congress has adjourned session to give way to the Lenten season without any piece of legislation for the farmers. House Speaker Prospero Nograles’ promise of a Valentine gift did not materialize at all. And there are no greater reasons why farmers should observe Lent.

Lacson espouses people participation in budget process

GMANews.TV – Lacson bill to let people monitor budget process

Despite my deep frustration at this government (and previous governments), there are occasional good news to be consoled about. Take for example Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s proposed bill recognizing participation of civil society in government’s budget processes. Props to this maverick lawmaker. (Forget about the ghosts of Kuratong Baleleng and Dacer cases that seem to haunt him up to this time.)

I’m sure that the Senator took the cue from the experiences of other countries such as Brazil. Indeed, participatory budgeting is an empowering exercise whereby citizens directly influence the State’s thinking and decision-making as far as fiscal resources are concerned.

Let me just stress that participatory budgeting (as well as other exercises and processes with the modifier ‘participatory’) calls for one thing – enlightening and organizing the real stakeholders, the poor and marginalized. Unless these people are made aware of this, participatory budgeting may just be an exercise between legislators and civil society groups which represent no one but their selves (although they adeptly make legislators believe that they speak on the poor’s and marginalized’s behalf.)

It’s time that social movements took this up.

Noble in name, UN in shame

The UNDP, being an extension of the United Nations that eveyone knows is the world’s peace-keeper and guardian of human rights, has been viewed with deep respect here in the Philippines. But grossed out was I when I received an email about a Filipino civil society statement being passed around to generate support for calling on the higher UN officials to act favorably on the case the UNDP Resident Representative herself–Ms. Nileema Noble.

Part of the statement reads:

Ms. Nileema Noble has been the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Philippines for more than a year. We are aware that numerous staff under her, whether temporary or fixed term, have complained and filed cases detailing verbal and physical abuse and arbitrary termination of employment contracts. We are appalled that numerous incidents involving Ms. Noble establish a pattern of systematic abuse of authority and downright harassment.

The UN has set historic precedents in human rights observance over the past decades. Ironically now, the human rights and dignity of UN staff in the Philippines are being trampled. We cannot stand idly by.

We are further alarmed that Ms. Noble’s arbitrariness extends to external partnerships. She unilaterally invalidates existing contractual arrangements between the UNDP and government/academic institutions. Many affected agencies, through sundry statements and letters, have expressed deep concern and disappointment over these actions, citing the lack of consultation, mutual respect and professionalism.

I was even struck by the blow-by-blow account by a friend who worked for a high position in the Philippine office but was meted with inhumane treatment by the Representative. It turned that he was not the only victim of the Representative’s discrimination, abuse of authority and harassment.

Painful truth to tell, 13 Filipino staff took a brazen stance and on July 23 wrote Mr. Kermal Dervis, UN Administrator, about the matter, to the point of asking him to take appropriate actions against Ms. Noble. However, it’s over a month now but sadly the official apparently sat on the complaint. I wonder how the authors manage to work in the office while Ms. Noble must be seething in anger, troubling them even further, unscathed. (Perhaps, each of them has already resigned.)

When the statement reached me, the signatories already totaled 33. I affixed my name, making me 34th. Although, I’m sure that there are much more who would have signed it. If you are interested to sign, please let me know and you’ll immediately be emailed.

The moral lesson here is that one should at least give her parents a big favor by living up to the name given her by them. Besides, can you take telling the world that your name is say Noble when in reality you are its contrast?

Writ of amparo: More light to find the disappeared

“How can we produce [Jonas]? We will try, we will try producing him, but I don’t know how,” National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales was quoted by the Phil. Daily Inquirer as saying in relation to the Supreme Court’s order of habeas corpus for the military. Likewise, the military claims that it will appear before the Court of Appeals but without any trace of Jonas Burgos.

That situation places everyone in great doubt as to whether the State will really resolve the problem. Jonas has given a face to the thousands of desapericidos in the Philippines that have not yet been found up to this time. Whether he knows it or not, wherever he is, he has made a great sacrifice for bringing the unresolved problem of disappearances at the crosshairs. (It’s sad, though, that a disappeared person has to be associated with known people, much less, the media, if only to hug the headlines and catch the State’s attention.)

Gonzales’s impuissance, or at least his sounding powerless, reaffirms the need for the Supreme Court to intervene. (Involuntary and forced disappearance is not yet considered a crime, which makes it very difficult for victims’ families to seek justice against the perpetrators. Petitions for habeas corpus have been the hope for the families to find their disappeared. But writ of habeas corpus is incapable of effectively mandating government to produce the disappeared.)

In fact, the Court has recently launched a summit amidst the unabated extrajudicial killings. Human rights groups have found their hopes rekindled in that initiative from Chief Justice Reynato Puno. It was only then that the idea of writ of amparo was seen as an alternative to writ of habeas corpus. Mainly used in the totalitarian states, the writ of amparo compels state agents to look for the missing person. In case they are not able to do so, the Court will hold them to account.

Although not yet enforced in the Philippines, writ of amparo may serve as the Court’s alternative, given its Constitutionally-granted power to promulgate rules to protect constitutional rights.

Writ of amparo sheds more light to find the disappeared despite the seemingly insurmountable odds. Likewise, that feeds into the perseverance of the victims’ families to go out on a limb and hold the State accountable.

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Bad iPhone

The hot hype this year about Apple’s iPhone, a revolutionary mobile phone that’s an answer to the popular 3G phones, will have to be doused by’s campaign against it. The reason: The phone locks a customer into AT&T, which has tied with the National Security Agency (NSA) in an alleged “massive, illegal program to wiretap and data mine Americans’ communications.”

Digg – iPhone – Defective By Design

For a long while, I’ve been wishing that iPhone hit the Philippine market and become an alternative to the current 3G phones having captivated many phone users. Smitten by its cool features and brand-new style, I wished to have that gadget (along with a Mac book, of course).

Now, since mainstains that iPhone is as bad as Vista, what with its DRM and anti-privacy features, my wish would have to be like a bubble just burst. So, if you’re living in the US using or wanting to have that gadget, think again and join the campaign against it. And if you’re living in the Philippines drooling at the thought of having one, wipe that off. In the meantime, make do with what you have, so long as it keeps you connected to your work colleagues, friends and loved ones.

And here’s wishing for open-source phones to finally capture the global market.

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Ka Eric, the slain peasant leader, remembered

Last April 24, just as I was attending the second and last day of the International Conference on ICT, colleagues and friends of Enrico Cabanit, a farmworker leader slain last year in Davao del Norte, flocked to the entrance gate of the Department of Agrarian Reform to commemorate his one year of death since April 24, 2006. A mass was said and a program ensued afterwards.

So sad I could not make a way to attend that activity. But I’m sure Ka Eric is happy in company with the Creator. I’m also sure that the attendees have kept the fire burning just as when they did the commemoration.Ka Eric death anniversary

When I was outside the DAR premises yesterday (coming from the seminar on Church social teachings), I saw the streamer mounted by UNORKA on the DAR’s main signage. It was meant to commemorate Ka Eric’s death anniversary. The red shawl below the streamer is our symbol for Ka Eric and other farmers slain in line of their struggle for land. It stands at Ka Eric’s symbolic tomb.

Read my blog tribute to Ka Eric last year and another piece on killing of peasants.

Learnings from A2K Workshop Day 1

This is my first post about my participation in the Access to Knowledge, Technology and Information Workshop (March 12-14, 2007) held in Suan Dusit Hotel, Bangkok.

I admire Al Alegre of FMA for his ability to organize the first day without a predefined programme at the outset. What he did was to evoke from the participants (from various Asian countries) their ideas on how to run the three days. I think that methodology is within the realm of open space technology.

The process:

  1. Ask the participants to write on a piece of card (often called metacard) the thing they would like to share and another piece of card the thing they would like to learn in the entire duration of the workshop. One idea, one card.
  2. Post the accomplished cards on separate walls (the share cards on one wall and the learn cards on another).
  3. Organize the share cards according to themes (facilitator’s task or may be subjected to metaplan approach). Discuss, discuss, discuss.
  4. Match the learn cards with the themes (based on share cards). In case there are cards with no themes yet, either there will be more resource persons to tackle the learn cards or the ‘orphaned’ learn cards will be abandoned all the way.
  5. Decide on the agenda of the meeting and the schedule for tackling it.

The formal session started in the afternoon, where two great resource persons, Lawrence Liang and Michel Bauwens, talked about Intellectual Property and the Asia Commons and Web 2.0 and peer production.  Here are the points I’ve learned from their pieces and the forum that ensued:

  1. Web 2.0 has changed the content production landscape. With minimal influence from capitalism and nation-states, content producers, e.g., bloggers, have redefined what democracy, where production is not merely top-down or bottom-up but laterally nor done by a single large organization claiming authority over content but by small groups capable of globalizing their stuff.
  2. Within the framework of real people empowerment, it’s challenge for Web 2.0 to be implemented at the grassroots level. Thus far, it is the intermediary entities (student activists, professionals and NGOs) that are able to maximize the technology. How the infrastructure is set up at a rural village where it is the farmers or their children who make use of it is indeed a challenge.
  3. Of course, capitalism has always been capable of adjusting. FOSS, for example has been as profitable to corporate firms much as it has been beneficial to non-profit groups. Social networking outfits have also proliferated, earning from online ads while providing (almost) free services to bloggers.
  4. There should be no rush for Asian intellectual-property activists to get recognized. They need to slow down a bit and apply the dialectical and historical materialism (note: this phrase did not come from Lawrence but from me) in analyzing the IP and access to knowledge and culture pattern in the world. A look at the history of violence and dispossession is needed to better appreciate the present and strategize for the future.

Negros farmers on hunger strike

dsc00608.jpgTask Force Mapalad’s member farmers have hailed from La Castellana, Negros Occidental to Manila to pressure the DAR leadership to mandate their physical installation right in the 144-hectare landholding for which they had been awarded with Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs).

Their coming to Manila must have served another purpose: Flee from the threat sowed by landowner Roberto J. Cuenca, known to be connected to Igi Arroyo, brother-in-law of President Gloria Arroyo. The leader of the La Castellana farmers, Pepito Santillan, was brutally murdered last January 25 right after the self-installation that was done by the agrarian reform beneficiaries. The initiative occurred in the wake of the ‘sellout’ that they inferred from the Memorandum of Agreement between Cuenca and DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman which provided, among others, that the legitimate farmers occupying about 10 hectares in the former Cuenca landholding be evicted. (What business does Cuenca have negotiating with the DAR when he is no longer the owner of the 144-hectare landholding? The farmers already do.)

Starting February 22, almost all farmers camping out at the DAR Central Office went on hunger strike. It’s the only option they could think of to pressure the seemingly callous Secretary. He said that the DAR will finally be installed “next week” either upon peaceful negotiation with the previous landowner (who has no business at all to be heard) or by force (if the negotiation fails).

The hunger strikers (even after 17 of them were already hospitalized due to dehydration) remain steadfast with their protest. Let’s offer them our best to pressure government as well as our prayers. May the installation push through as scheduled before one or two of the hunger strikers cave in and die.

Arroyo’s checklist after Melo probe

President Gloria Arroyo said this barely two months after the Melo Commission submitted its report on the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines:

“I have made it a top priority to resolve the killings of political and agrarian activists and of members of the media and to prevent further killings. And I am confident that we are on the right course.”

OK, Madame President. Thanks for that much-awaited statement. So what do you actually do to make convince us that the resolution of the problem is in the front burner?

Arroyo has taken the following orders (based on’s and Malacanang’s news reports):

  1. Appointing Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol to monitor the progress of her directives.
  2. Directing the Department of Justice to enhance the Witness Protection Program (WPP).
  3. Directing the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to delve deeper into the killings. She has already approved the release of P25 million for the Commission to apply to its general mandate under the Constitution which includes monitoring, investigating, education and training.
  4. Directing the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of National Defense to come up with an updated document on command responsibility.
  5. Directing Apostol to officially request the Supreme Court to set up special courts to prosecute the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings.
  6. Directing the Department of Foreign Affairs to request technical assistance from the European Union for the investigation of extrajudicial killings.

The human rights community must be happy about this news. Putting the CHR in the limelight is a plus. Let’s just hope and pray that the people whom Arroyo ordered to carry out her directives won’t goof up.

Malacañang’s counter to Melo Commission report: Incomplete and accusatory

So the reason why it took long before the Melo Commission Report would be made available to the public is now obvious: The report is incomplete and accusatory of government. Palace’s Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye indicated this on’s news story.

If I’m not mistaken, Bunye implies that the report’s being incomplete pushed government to invite the UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston to do an inquiry on the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, to complement the report. And thanks to Alston’s push, government has made the Melo report accessible to the media and the international community.

In trying to make himself to be much-quoted by the press, Bunye reacted to the report by saying: “Accusations do not solve the problem; actions do.” Inviting Alston already passes as an action, all right. But what else? If Bunye claims that government has condemned the extrajudicial killings “from the beginning”, does it mean that government will continue to condemn it “until the end”—when all activists in the country have died?