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Speech of CHR chairperson Loretta Ann P. Rosales on the occasion of the graduation of new privates of the 8th Infantry Division
Camp Lukban, Catbalogan City
February 25, 2011

 

A pleasant day to all of you. It is my honor and privilege to be with you today on this very historic day.

Exactly 25 years ago, We Filipinos proudly showed the world the principles and aspirations we value as a people. On February 25, 1986, millions of people flooded the streets of EDSA and declared “TAMA NA. SOBRA NA.” We promised ourselves never again should we allow our rights be spat at and trampled upon. Members of the military joined the ranks of the civilians and stood up against the oppressive dictator. Together, the civilians and the military, in a peaceful and bloodless fashion, ended the rule of one man and ushered in the rebirth of Philippine democracy. We commemorate the People Power today, and it is auspicious that we are also celebrating today the graduation of the new Privates of the 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.

If there is one thing that the People Power clearly stands for, it is that we as a people believe in the supremacy of civilian authority over the military. During Martial Law, Marcos used the military to cling to power and to perpetrate his atrocious crimes against the people. But with People Power, we transferred complete control and authority over the state from the militaristic rule of Marcos to the civilian democratic institutions.

People Power is all about people. It can never be overemphasized that the reason we establish the State is for the benefit of the people. In other words, the people is the end all and be all of the State. Thus, we proclaimed in our 1987 Constitution that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. It is also the reason that we clearly defined the mandate of the military: Article II Section 3 of the Constitution states that the “The Armed forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the state.” Note that the “people” comes first before the “State”. This is an affirmation that it is us, the people, who established the Philippine State because we want a people centered society where the rights and freedom of every human being are respected, protected and fulfilled.

With this clear mandate in mind, the Armed Forces of the Philippines should therefore be the foremost human rights advocate for human rights is the very essence of your profession. Simply put, it is the duty of every member of the military to observe and protect the human rights of the people. It is your obligation to serve the people, with utmost competence, professionalism and courtesy. Ika nga ni Pangulong Noynoy Aquino, “kayo, ang publiko, ang boss ko.” Human rights should be at the core of all operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines if you are to faithfully adhere to your constitutional mandate. Conversely, every violation of human rights coming from the military is a violation of your sworn constitutional duty.

To the new graduates: You are the guardians of democracy. We entrust you with our firearms. Your guns are badges of responsibility. Use it for lawful purposes only, Use it to protect the people and do not harass them. Do not be corrupted by the power of the gun.

You may be asking. What is Human Rights anyway? Why should we bother with it? Would human rights be even relevant in the field of armed conflict where soldiers either kill their enemies or get killed by them? Why do soldiers always get blamed for human rights violations, as if soldiers do not have human rights that are also violated by other armed groups?

Human rights are rights that every human being has simply because she or he is a human being. Human rights are what make us human beings; without them, we are not different from other animals. Every human being has intrinsic worth, and every human person, is born with equal and inalienable rights. These rights are universal, meaning all human beings in the world have them regardless of sex, gender, skin color, race, nationality, social status, religion or political belief. These rights are also interdependent, interrelated and indivisible, meaning one human right is necessary for the fulfillment of all other human rights; consequently, the violation of one human right will necessarily violate all the other human rights. No one, neither state nor non-state actors may curtail these rights except only under a small number of clearly defined situations that are strictly applied.

If the military always gets blamed for human rights violations, it is because of the fact that indeed, many human rights violations are committed by the military. Again, we need to be honorable enough to admit this fact. This is not to say that members of the military have no human rights. Every human being has human rights. Thus, unless you don’t consider yourselves human beings, you also have the same human rights as any other human being. If you feel that your human rights are being violated by anyone-by rebels, by civilians, or by your immediate superiors alike-come to the CHR and we will defend your rights.

You may feel it is unfair that every action of the military is rigorously put to the test of human rights. True, the military is under stricter scrutiny, but is not unfair or unjust. The Armed forces of the Philippines must be gauged by the highest standards of honor and dignity, and rightly so, for you are neither the rebels who have no accountability to the people nor are you the scoundrels who use weapons for personal gains. No. You are the Armed forces of the Philippines-the protector of the people and the State- and we expect from our protectors full respect for human rights and nothing less.

I believe that there are many good women and men in the armed forces than there are violators of human rights in its ranks. The challenge for the armed forces is how to regain the trust and confidence of the people. This will be possible if you are able to effect meaningful and lasting change in the way you conduct your operations. To do this, two things are imperative:

1. Correct the mistakes of the past. As you do your mandate to protect the people and the State, you must stand up against those who violate human rights and humanitarian law in the guise of defending freedom and democracy. Do not tolerate nor condone anyone who shall break the rule of law; if you do, you are not only as guilty s him or her, you are also creating an environment of impunity that will only ensure more violations in the future and the continuation of the armed conflict. Every one of you must be accountable. Every complaint for violation of human rights or IHL must be immediately investigated, properly and impartiality, with the end goal of ensuring transparent justice. If you do this, the Armed Forces of the Philippines will only become stronger, more professional and well respected.

2. Prevent the commission of the same mistakes by creating a culture of human rights within your ranks. You need to stop perceiving human rights as a hindrance to the performance of your job, but rather as the essence of your duty. In times of armed conflict, take to heart the principles of distinction, necessity and proportionality. In handling detainees, do not torture them or subject them to other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment. Every one of you must be able to internalize the primacy of the welfare of every human being, develop a sense of justice and fairness, and practice self-discipline and leadership by example. Treat every person with deep regard for and in accordance with her or his human dignity.

These are tall orders and certainly the AFP cannot do all these on its own. You need to cooperate with other stakeholders. I invite you to strengthen your linkages with the CHR. The CHR is not here to find fault in the military; we are here to help you perform and remain true to your duty. I also ask you to extend your linkages to other human rights defenders, for like you, they also fight for democracy and freedom.

The road to winning the peace is not one where war is waged at every step of the way; it is not one where the rule of law is supplanted by the rule of bullets and ammunitions; it is not one where sheer brute force reigns supreme. The way to peace is paved by the utmost respect for human dignity which manifests itself into full observance of human rights and humanitarian law. We are very hopeful about the paradigm shift that is happening in the army; likewise, we are very optimistic about the peace process; darating din ang panahon na matatapos na ang hidwaan at labanan sa ating bansa. At isa kayo sa pinakamahalagang actor para maisakatuparan ito. Igalang natin ang isa’t isa. Igalang natin ang karapatang pantao.  (Running time 0:20:32)