Completing the Circle of Human Rights Protection

Manila Bulletin, February 11, 2008 | Go to article overview

Completing the Circle of Human Rights Protection


Byline: Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno

Last July 2006, the Supreme Court called for a Summit to search for solutions to the escalating extralegal killings and enforced disappearances bedeviling our people.

The disturbing problem has caught the eye of civilized countries and the judiciary had no option but to step forward to discharge its constitutional role as protector of the human rights of our people. The Summit, by all reckoning, achieved its purpose. It was enthusiastically supported by the three branches of our government, by the different stakeholders of the justice system, by the discriminating minds of scholars from the academic groves, and by advocates of human rights from Asia-Pacific, the United States, Europe and the UN itself. The 2-day Summit did not turn out to be a mere talkfest which featured the most eloquent tongue. The unprecedented Summit produced two great writs of liberty: The writ of amparo and the writ of habeas data, all enacted by the Supreme Court within a few months after the Summit rung down its curtains. These two writs are now being examined by human rights advocates all over the world and more importantly, studies are also underway in other countries on how the judiciary, as an institution, can be transformed from impotence to a potent instrument of the rule of law. In any event, human rights advocate cite two positive developments since the enactment of the rule on the writ of amparo: (1) courts appear to have won back the trust of our people as evidenced by the widespread use of the writ (2) the decline in the number of extra-legal killings and involuntary disappearances show the deterrent effect of the writ and (3) there is now a more serious and sincere effort to solve these killings and disappearances on the part of the authorities, especially officials on the field level. We are elated by these healthy developments but again, I reiterate the caution that the writs of amparo and habeas data are not the ultimate panacea to violations of human rights; they may be helpful remedies but they will not have the effect of a kryptonite that will take away the strength of the giants that continue to trample on the sanctity of human rights. Lest I forget, I take this opportunity to thank the PHILCONSA, especially its guiding lights, Chairman Conrado Estrella, President Lolong Lazaro, and Ambassador A. Yuchengco for supporting the Judiciary in its unending quest for the enduring solutions to the problems of human rights violations in our jurisdiction. At his age, Chairman Estrella continues to be relentless in the fight for human rights. I think he has given us the key to win the war against violations of human right - the key is to repel those who will take our lives by refusing to die. Be that as it may, Chairman Estrella should not forget the 11th commandment according to the Lost Gospel of Judas which says "those who outlast all others have the duty to populate the earth."

Today, allow me to discuss another specie of our human rights - the socioe-conomic rights of our people. Let me start with the concept of rights. The concept and protection of rights have taken on various permutations and undergone many changes throughout history. Prior to 1945, the international community was generally not concerned with how States treated individuals within their borders as these matters were regarded as within domestic jurisdiction of each State, although there were a few exceptions such as in the cases of slavery, humanitarian intervention and laws of war. In reaction to the atrocities of the Second World War, however, the international human rights movement saw its nascence. The international community came to the belief that the establishment of the new world order should be founded on a commitment to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Accordingly, the United Nations (UN) was created with the protection of human rights as one of its declared purposes, thus its charter imposed obligations upon its members to this end.

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