The VisayasPrimary Health Care Services, Inc. has completed its project, “Defending human rights, promoting justice, and preserving life in northern Cebu, Philippines.
The six month project which started last December is funded by the Unitarian Universalist Committee (UUSC). The project was implemented in the following areas, namely: Barangays Patao, Lipayran, and Kampinganon in the Municipality of Bantayan, and Barangay San Agustin in the Municipality of Madridejos,
The project aims to capacitate the communities to respond to human rights violations, defend human rights and promote justice.
A training for VPHCS staff and volunteers was conducted on January 19 – 21, 2017. The topics included the following, namely: a. bill of rights in the Philippine Constitution, b. arrests, detention and extrajudicial killings, c.investigation and documentation of human rights violations, making fact sheets and affidavits, d. presentation of the cases of human rights violations to human rights groups in government and non-government sectors for resolution.
The same training was conducted for leaders of people’s organizations, community health workers and members of disaster preparedness committees. The trainings were held in Lipayran, ,Patao and San Agustinon March 1-3, 2017 andKampinganon on April 8-11, 2017.
As a result of the trainings, the leaders, community health workerswere able toidentifyhuman rights violations and have documented some cases of human rights violations especially related with the government’s campaign on drugs. These cases included open announcement of the names of surrenderees in public, public display of empty coffins, and house-to-house visit of police not wearing uniforms and looking for drug addicts and others. These are considered as threats/harassments/intimidations by public officers, persons in authority, and regular state security forces which are violations of civil and political rights embodied in the Lexicon of Human Rights.
Consequently, they submitted their documents to the national human rights organization KARAPATAN which monitors human rights violations cases in the Philippines. These cases were not brought to government authorities yet because the involved people are not ready to file these cases in the barangay court or the higher court.
In barangay San Agustin, the people’s organization partnered with the barangay councilors to ensure that the human rights of their barangay surrenderees were protected. Because of this partnership, the barangay councilors assured that they will not hurt those the surrenderees but enroll them in the rehabilitation program. Subsequently, there has been no more house to house visits of the police looking for drug pushers and suspects. Instead, the barangay councilors have simply encouraged drug users to submit themselves for rehabilitation.
Public gatherings were held in the four barangays that discussed the effects of the government’s anti-drug campaign on their lives. They were held in San Agustin on May 7, 2017, Kampinganon on May 13, 2017, Lipayran andPatao on May 20, 2017. They were participated in by members and non members of the people’s organizations, including San Agustin, 65, Kampinganon, 56, Lipayran, 52, and Patao, 48.
The resource persons discussed the Bill of Rights which was the first time the participants heard about. The speakers also discussed about the current human rights situation in the Philippines. They asked several questions to the resource persons such as, “why is the public announcement of names a human rights violation?” “What are the steps they should do if they are harassed by government officers?” “ Will they be imprisoned because of failure of debts,” “ Is a warrant of arrest needed to arrest a a rape suspect?” “What shall a senior citizen do if he is deprived of financial assistance due him from the barangay?””What is the difference between a barangay blotter and a police blotter?”
In the four barangays, the leaders of the people’s organizations continued to identify and document human rights violations. Any human right violations would be reported in the barangay blotters or police blotters . Furthermore, the leaders have remained in contact with the VPHCS and KARAPATAN to ask for advice. They also planned to network with other non-government agencies that promote human rights and to continue educating their members on human rights. rights.
The project helped the communities to be empowered in terms of exercising and asserting their human rights. With the knowledge that they acquired, they can continue to document cases of human right violations so that they can be brought to the government and non-government agencies for investigation and justice. With the recent situation in the country, especially if the threat that the imposition of martial law nationwide will happen, there will be more human rights violations by state elements, so that our people should be assertive of their rights and protect themselves. With the knowledge and skills that they got on human rights, the four barangays in the project will be capable of defending themselves in times of crisis. This may happen over the next coming months.