Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region


Philippines: Failure to investigate killings demands UN action

A statement by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), urging the UN Human Rights Council to take action on the reported human rights violations in the Philippines
July 3, 2019

The ICJ today joined other NGOs in urging the UN Human Rights Council to take action on the Philippines.

The joint oral statement was delivered by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) on behalf of OMCT, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Franciscans International, Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), FORUM-Asia. It read as follows:

“In March 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that several sources “estimate that up to 27,000 people may have been killed in the context of the campaign against illegal drugs since mid-2016.”

Unlawful killings, including of children, carry on, and President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration continue to explicitly encourage these acts. In June 2019, the scale and seriousness of the reported human rights violations prompted 11 UN human rights experts to call on the Council to establish an independent investigation into such violations.

Intimidations by government officials at the highest levels against politicians, human rights defenders, journalists, and several Special Procedures mandate holders have also been rising.

At the 35th, 36th, and 38th sessions of the Council, Iceland, on behalf of a group of States, explicitly called on the government “to take all necessary measures to bring killings associated with the campaign against illegal drugs to an end and cooperate with the international community to investigate all related deaths and hold perpetrators accountable.”

In light of the failure of the government to effectively investigate and bring to justice those responsible, we urge all States to support the adoption of a resolution on the Philippines at this session, mandating the OHCHR to monitor and provide regular updates on the human rights situation to the Council, as the first step toward establishing an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations committed in the government’s ‘war on drugs.’.

Such a response is all the more important given the Philippines obligations to uphold the highest standards in human rights as a member of the Council.”





Abolish the priesthood?

June 28, 2019

SOMEONE sent me an article that was proposing for the abolition of the priesthood. The reason behind are the many clerical scandals that have been plaguing the Church for years now, mostly in the US and other countries but also – at least a few cases – in the local scene.

Of course, my immediate reaction was that while it is unfortunate to hear about these scandals, abolishing the priesthood is not the solution at all to the problem. Rather, it will make things worse.

And that is because abolishing the priesthood is practically like abolishing the Church, or worse, abolishing Christ in our life, since the priest, in spite of his unworthiness, is the sacramental representation of Christ, head of the Church.

Abolishing the priesthood is like throwing the baby together with the bath water. Yes, we have to do something about what is wrong in these scandals. It may be a long, painful process, but it is all worthwhile. But what we cannot do is to abolish the priesthood.

The priest, of course, should be constantly aware of his sacramental identity and try his best to live up to that dignity. He should be keenly aware that with his ordination he is conformed to Christ as head of the Church, and not just a member of the Church capable of participating in the one sacrifice of Christ to his Father for our salvation.

His priesthood, which is called ministerial or hierarchical, is different from the common priesthood of the lay faithful of the Church that is based on his baptismal status, not only in degree but in essence. The priest acts “in persona Christi capitis,” in the person of Christ as head of the Church.

As such, he renews in the whole course of time till the end the very sacrifice of Christ, and everything else that is oriented to that sacrifice of Christ. He makes present the whole redemptive work of Christ.

The lay faithful who have the common priesthood do not have the power to renew this sacrifice. What their priesthood empowers them is to offer their whole life as a sacrifice to God, doing so by uniting their sacrifice with the sacrifice of Christ as renewed in the Mass that is celebrated by the priest.

Of course, human as we are, the priest will always have his own share of shortcomings, weaknesses, and yes, sin. This should not surprise anyone. Even Christ was not spared of Judas, one of his original apostles. But like anybody else, and in a sense, even more than anybody else, the priest should really take extreme care of his spiritual life.

The priest should be keenly aware that the lay faithful depend on them. How he is somehow determines how the lay faithful will be. If he is faithful to his identity as another Christ head of the Church, then the lay faithful will also most likely be like Christ as they should.

But such state of affairs should not make the priest feel superior to the lay faithful, but rather should keenly feel the duty to serve them, as Christ loved and served all of us by offering his life on the cross. Like Christ, he should have the attitude of wanting to serve and not to be served. (cfr. Mt 20,28)

He should never feel privileged, assuming the mentality of entitlement or falling into the anomaly called clericalism. Rather he has to assume the mind of Christ, a servant and a willing sacrificial lamb for all of us.

He has to continually wage a personal spiritual struggle to keep his priestly identity intact. For this, he has to continually purify himself and renew his dedication frequently.

Of course, it would be most helpful if the lay faithful will also help in making the priest a priest through and through, totally living out his sacramental identity as Christ head of the Church.





How can I look after my children during a divorce?

One of the biggest worries that couples who are considering or going through a divorce have is the worry about the impact it will have on their children. Divorce can be a stressful process for all involved, especially if you don’t agree on certain aspects. You’ll want to do all you can to minimise the impact on your children, so these issues have to be dealt with carefully and sensitively. Above all, you must remember to put the children first.

In this article, we’re going to go over some of the biggest questions about divorce and children.

How will my children cope with divorce?

A relationship breakdown can have a big emotional impact on children, even if it doesn’t initially seem like they’re affected. It can lead to feelings of sadness, anger, bewilderment, anxiety, loneliness and more. Children can also feel like they are the cause of the issues between their parents.

Children can also become confused, wondering if the separation is temporary. Younger children may even cling on to the hope that their parents will suddenly get back together, even after long periods of separation.

It’s important to be aware that children may try to hide their feelings or may even tell each parent something different, depending on what they think that parent wants to hear. Parents can sometimes believe that it’s not having much impact on their children when, in reality, the situation is far worse than they think.

How can I help my children through a divorce?

Always try to give your children as much reassurance as possible and try to clearly explain what is happening in a way that they can understand. Try to avoid changing the family routine and encourage them to still have a relationship with both of you. Make them aware that it’s ok to talk about their feelings with you and how they feel about the other parent so that they don’t feel like they have divided loyalties.

What you should never do is be critical of the other parent in front of the child, or do anything that will undermine their relationship with said parent. Never ignore your children’s feelings, and even ask older children for their advice on the situation. Above all, never involve the children in your battles with the other parent or try to use your children against your partner.

How do I ensure my children’s interests are put first?

The simple answer is to remember that, regardless of what has happened between you and your partner, you will still need to work together as parents in the future. It does children no good to see their parents constantly fighting. So your first responsibility will be to minimise conflict with your partner and support each other in the future.

It may be useful to discuss a parenting plan with your partner.

What if we don’t agree about our children?

With such an emotionally charged situation, it’s unsurprising that parents may not agree with arrangements regarding children. As mentioned earlier, ensuring that putting children first is always on your mind, is the key to maintaining a friendly and civil relationship with your partner. This will allow the practicalities of childcare to be discussed freely. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go that smoothly.

If you can’t come to an agreement over your children, mediation or collaborative law (in which each parent hires a solicitor who will sit in with you on a series of ‘four-way meetings’ between you, your solicitor, your partner and their solicitor) may be introduced. It may also help if you attend counselling sessions or family therapy. Going to court should always be a last resort.

Even if you already agree with how you will handle the arrangements around children, it’s still important for parents to get expert legal advice from a family law solicitor, to help understand their position and consider all the options available to them.





The Philippines: Conduct an investigation into the killings of activists, and take genuine steps towards addressing the violence

A joint press statement by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and Front Line Defenders
Bangkok, June 21, 2019

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and Front Line Defenders strongly condemn the unabated killings and violence against activists, human rights defenders, and civil society organisations in the Philippines, particularly those of Leonides ‘Dennis’ Suquena, Ryan Hubilla, Nelly Bagasa, Nonoy Palma, and Neptali Morada earlier this month. FORUM-ASIA and Front Line Defenders urge the Government of the Philippines to immediately conduct a transparent investigation into these killings, to take genuine steps towards addressing the continuous violence, and to provide justice for all victims.

On 2 June, labour union organiser Leonides ‘Dennis’ Sequena was gunned down by unidentified men in the province of Cavite. Ryan Hubilla and Nelly Bagasa, members of the human rights network Karapatan, were killed on 15 June. Hubilla, along with other Karapatan members had earlier raised concerns about being subjected to state surveillance. On the same day, Nonoy Palma, a member of a farmers' group was killed in Bukidnon province. Two days later on 17 June, the former campaign leader of the leftist group Bayan, Neptali Morada, was gunned down in the Bicol region, also by unidentified individuals.

The ongoing ‘war on drugs’, which has resulted in an estimated 27,000 extrajudicial killings, has further exacerbated the culture of violence in the country. Human rights groups have long expressed concern that tactics used in the ‘war on drugs’ are now being used to target political activists, human rights defenders and other critics of the Government, in efforts to instil fear and stifle dissent.

These killings continue to occur within an environment of impunity, where both police officers and civilians overwhelmingly escape accountability for extrajudicial killings. The normalisation of the violence has gone so far that even the former police chief responsible for the operationalisation of the ‘war on drugs’, Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa, will take his seat as an elected Senator in July 2019. Of the killings against activists and ordinary individuals within recent years, only a few have led to criminal prosecutions or convictions.

Civil society organisations have also raised concerns over the heightened use of red-tagging and terrorist-tagging. In such cases, individuals appear, with their name and organisational affiliation, on lists drawn up by the security sector. Having your name appear on such a list basically declares you to be a legitimate target for harassment and violence from both state and non-state actors. Many of these killings have been conducted under the cover of the country’s counter-insurgency programme, with very little transparency. Security sector officials behind these actions continue to face little to no accountability for their actions.

FORUM-ASIA and Front Line Defenders call on the Government of the Philippines to address the rise in the killings, including through acknowledging its role in the continuous violence, taking steps to provide protection, and ensuring accountability. Ahead of the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council, FORUM-ASIA and Front Line Defenders reiterate their call to States to actively support a resolution establishing an independent, international investigation into the extrajudicial killings in the ‘war on drugs’, and mandating the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the situation in the country, including the targeting of activists, human rights defenders and civil society.





Battling fears, worries, sadness

June 5, 2019

IT’S really a matter of faith, of how strong our faith is. With faith, we know that whatever be our condition and situation in life, God is always there and will never abandon us. He is there to help us. He actually takes care of everything.

It’s this faith that springs and strengthens our hope and charity, which is the essence, purpose and fullness of our life. With faith, we can manage to be at peace all the time, to experience joy and awe even in the midst of our unavoidable earthly suffering, and to go on and move on despite whatever.

To battle our fears, worries and sadness, we need to strengthen our faith and live it to the hilt. And let us allow it to educate all our human powers and faculties – our intelligence and will, our emotions and passions, our memory and imagination, etc. Let us take time and learn the relevant skills to achieve this ideal.

Let us remember that we are a composite of body and soul. And since our soul is spiritual, it has its life and origin in the Spirit of God himself. We need to develop our life following the ways that would reinforce the unity of the composite parts of our life in their proper order. We have to realize that our life is mainly spiritual and supernatural, not simply material and natural.

That way, we remove ourselves from being entirely dependent on merely human, earthly and temporal factors. We allow ourselves to be governed by a much powerful agency that can effectively cruise us through our life’s ocean of mysteries. Faith enables us to cope with the reality of our life that includes the spiritual and the supernatural.

With faith we will never feel alone. We will always feel accompanied by God, by his angels and saints, all helping and interceding for us. With faith, we know that everything that happens to us, good or bad, has a reason and a purpose, and all of them working for our own good. (cfr. Rom 8,28)

We really have no reason to fear, nor to wallow in worries, anxieties and sadness. Let’s remember that these unfortunate states are fertile ground for the enemies of our soul, especially the devil, to take advantage of us.

About the only reason to fear, worry and be sad is when we lose our faith, when we lose touch with God. We have to pray and pray so that our doubts and fears would not undermine our faith.

What also helps is to develop a sporting attitude in life, because, to be realistic about it, we will always have frustrations, disappointments, mistakes, failures, sins and defeats in our life. But we just have to learn how to move on, just like a good sportsman.

We should always be cheerful in life, and strive to show it even externally with smiles and happy, warm and encouraging dispositions. Even in our grief and mourning, we should manage to learn how to be serene, knowing that suffering and death have already been redeemed by Christ and are now endowed with redemptive power.

Let’s not waste time and energy by falling into the grips of fears, worries and sadness. When we notice that we are having some languid moments, it can be a sign that our faith is not working, and that we are succumbing to the laws of the flesh and the world, if not, to the tricks of the devil.

We have to extricate ourselves as quickly as possible from that predicament. The ideal to have is to be always cheerful and eager to do things, no matter what the cost involved.

We should be doing a lot of good, constructive work, rather than stuck in the mode of ruing and brooding, sinking in self-pity, etc.





Statement of ICRC President Peter Maurer following visit to the Philippines
4 June 2019

ICRC President Peter Maurer visit to the Philippines
In his visit to Bualan spring, ICRC President Peter Maurer met community leader Datu Caloy Amer, who let the organization improve the water and sanitation facility on the land his family owns. (ICRC/Alecs Ongcal)

The remarkable resilience of the Filipino people became clear to me when I first visited after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. I returned this week to listen, to discuss, to offer support and encourage action as the country again embraces challenges and assists those in need.

This second visit affirms my view that the suffering people endure in natural and manmade disasters is universal. People lose loved ones. People lose their homes. Individuals and whole communities face an uncertain future.

In my interactions with conflict-affected people around the globe, their questions are strikingly similar: When are we going to be safe from fighting? When can I rebuild my house? How can I earn a more stable income? Where can I get clean water today? When can I be reunited with my loved one?

The 2017 devastation of Marawi City brought the Philippines’ armed conflicts to the global forefront. But for decades, many more communities in Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and portions of eastern Mindanao have been forced to flee their homes multiple times. Sporadic clashes deeply affect these families’ livelihoods, their ability to put food on the table, and their ability to send their children to school. It is a life of instability and uncertainty, and many people are living it daily, often long after the news headlines move on to another crisis or emergency.

In my visit to Marawi City this week, I saw a community dealing with the physical and psychological impact of conflict. I met a family of a missing person that hasn’t lost hope that news about their relative will arrive soon. I also saw how people we are assisting are making the most of that support, for instance a mother that has opened a small business selling food. I observed firsthand a people that will not let the conflict of 2017 defeat their spirit. Local Red Cross volunteers I met have been unrelenting in their support to the displaced people.

In my discussions with high-ranking officials, I felt a commitment and resolve to find effective, long-term solutions to humanitarian issues of concern, despite considerable constraints they deal with. The people need to be able to count on the authorities to be responsive to their needs.

I see indicators of hope, fortitude, and of shared determination to rise from the ravages of the conflict in Marawi and other areas in Mindanao still affected by sporadic armed fighting.

Nevertheless, in talking to victims, responders and authorities, I can see that the work is not yet done. Though responding to humanitarian needs due to conflict is the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, I believe equally that all members of society have a shared responsibility to provide reprieve to those affected by fighting.

We all need to do more in our respective roles. We need to do better at addressing the consequences of conflict, but also, we need to do better in preventing or reducing those consequences.

The ICRC has long experience in dealing with conflict situations, as an impartial and neutral organization. We offer our varied expertise and support. Together with our partners in the Red Cross, we will strive to reach and assist those affected by conflict, no matter who or how far they are.

The ICRC will continue to promote principles of humanity and maintain our positive collaboration with the Philippine authorities at national and local levels, as they have the primary responsibility to address humanitarian concerns of their people.

If our common aspiration is that no person suffering the consequences of conflict is left behind, then let’s all get to work.





NAMFREL to COMELEC: Heed the President’s advice to junk Smartmatic

A press statement by the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL)
May 31, 2019

The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) calls on the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to heed President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s advise to “dispose” of Smartmatic.

NAMFREL has taken note that the conduct of the automated elections since 2010 is not without the participation of Smartmatic, a foreign company. The conduct of Philippine elections, automated or not, should be left at the hands of Filipinos.

The President’s pronouncement opens up the opportunity to look for other election technologies. It should be noted, however, that Republic Act No. 9369 (RA9369) or the Automated Election Law prescribes that the automated election system “x x x must have demonstrated capability and been successfully used in a prior electoral exercise here or abroad.” This provision effectively prevents local systems developers from participating in the development and supply of an automated election system. RA9369 needs to be revisited and amended to open up opportunities for local technology providers to supply locally developed election solutions that protects the secrecy of the ballot and ensures transparency of the vote count.

NAMFREL has proposed going back to manual voting and counting. NAMFREL clarifies that it does not mean going back to the old manual vote counting process. The proposed process involves the following:

1) Manual voting using ballots with blank spaces per contest where the voter writes the names of this choices and the ballot to be dropped in a ballot box,

2) Computer assisted vote counting using laptops and LCD projectors to publicly display the progress of the vote tally, thereby doing away with the tally boards pasted on all four walls of school classrooms that served as voting precincts.

3) Electronic generation of the election return based on the computer assisted vote count followed by printing of the election returns. The contents of the printed copy of the election returns may be compared with its electronic counterpart displayed via LCD projector,

4) Electronic transmission of election returns to the corresponding city/municipal canvassing server, and

5) Automated canvassing and consolidation of election results through the ladderized canvassing hierarchy.

It is high time that the Philippines’ IT talents are harnessed for our elections. While our IT community works on the appropriate responsive technology, interested stakeholders should push for the law to be amended.

NAMFREL calls on election lawyers, IT experts, election reform organizations, and other interested groups to come together and work with the COMELEC to look for the appropriate responsive, election technology solution.





We are not God’s puppets

May 28, 2019

WE are children of God, and not his puppets or robots. The freedom he gives us is real freedom because it can even enable us to go against the true nature, source, meaning and purpose of freedom itself. We can use it – or better said, misuse or abuse it – to go against God himself.

While it is true that God is always on top of things, he allows us to use our freedom the way we want it. Remember those famous lines in the Book of Ecclesiastes that articulate this truth: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” (3,1)

Even if he is on top of everything, he does not treat us as his puppets or robots whom he controls. He treats us as his children, for that is how he has created and designed us. We are supposed to be his image and likeness.

As such, his dominion over us is a dominion of love. It is a dominion that is akin to that of the parents over their children, but much, much better than that. In fact, it is infinitely better.

There is some forcefulness involved there, but one that is not coercive. There is obedience and docility involved also, but one that does not compromise freedom. When we obey God and follow his will and ways, we do it because we want it and we know that it is good for us. Yes, there is some fear involved, but not of the servile kind, but rather of the filial type.

This dominion of love comes as a result of the abundant and gratuitous outpouring of God’s goodness over us – his grace, his blessings, his inspirations, etc. He is full of compassion, slow to anger, quick to forgive.

He provides us with everything that we need, especially the things that we most need in our quest for true happiness, our ultimate salvation, our fulfillment as image and likeness of God, children of his.

It is because God loves us first that we learn to love him and others in return. It is this love that enables us to live and use our freedom properly. And this love-inspired freedom leads us to our true joy where truth, beauty and everything that is good for us are integrated.

This love-inspired freedom makes us realistic with the realities of our earthly life where there will always be mixture of good and evil, successes and failures, joy and sorrows, health and sickness. It’s not afraid of suffering. In fact, it welcomes suffering. Neither does it spoil us when we happen to have good things in life.

We understand that freedom as the freedom of the children of God, where we are willing to unite our will with the will of God. We would never feel that we are enslaved or tied down by God.

The unavoidable conditionings that our earthly life entails will never be regarded as limitations. They would be assumed willingly and lovingly. They would be regarded as means and occasions to further our development as a person and a child of God, despite the cost, inconveniences and sacrifices that they may involve. In short, they are seen as what would enhance our freedom, not what would deter it.

To be sure, God does not want us to be mere puppets and robots of his. He wants us to be like him, full of love and goodness. We just have to understand that for our freedom to be true freedom, we have to live and exercise it always with God’s will and ways in mind.

That is why we need to develop a close relationship with him who actually initiated an intimate relationship with us. It was he who started that relationship. We just have to try our best to correspond to that relationship, in spite of our weaknesses and mistakes.



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