Message of Sec. Teresita Quintos Deles at the Launch of the Facilitator’s Handbook for NCMF Paralegal Training on Basic Human Rights, Responsibilities and Legal Remedies

Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 16:00

At the Launch of the Facilitator’s  Handbook for NCMF Paralegal Training on Basic  
   Human Rights, Responsibilities and Legal Remedies held in Quezon City
By Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
17 December 2015

Assalamu alaikum!

First of all, let me extend OPAPP’s heartfelt congratulations to the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, headed by Secretary Yasmin Busran-Lao, on the publication of this volume, the Facilitator’s Handbook for NCMF Paralegal Training on Basic Human Rights, Responsibilities, and Legal Remedies.  We also recognize and thank the partners of the NCMF in this endeavor – foremost of which are the European Union, through the EU-Philippines Justice Program II, and the Department of Interior and Local Government. 

We further commend the NCMF for again affirming through this publication – already the third volume in the series – the agency and the Aquino administration’s steadfast concern and high regard for the protection of basic human rights, in particular of Muslim Filipinos as full and equal citizens of the Philippines.  I understand that thirty-four (34) volunteer paralegals from eight (8) Muslim Filipino communities trained and worked with NCMF to come up with this book.  We salute them also, and we hope that they continue providing a shining example of how Muslim Filipinos can and are already greatly contributing to nation-building.

We cannot overemphasize the importance of this volume that we are launching here today for raising awareness of our basic human rights, the legal remedies we can have recourse to, and the justice system we must all have equal access to.

First, this set of handbooks – and I believe there is a 4th one coming up – and the continuing hard work behind the publications is important as it seeks to address a specific gap, or gaps, which, when resolved, will definitely lead to better lives for Muslim Filipinos.  We cannot deny that many problems of rights violations stem from either a lack of knowledge or a serious lack of recognition of the basic human rights enshrined in our 1987 Constitution and Philippine laws – rights that extend to all Filipino citizens, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or creed.  Adequate knowledge of one’s basic human rights is not sufficient, however, without corresponding knowledge of – and access to – the legal remedies available when one’s rights are violated.  Finally, even assuming that citizens know both their rights and the legal remedies available when these rights are not upheld, we encounter yet another problem if sufficient infrastructure and mechanisms do not exist to ensure access to the larger judicial system which is tasked to decide and deliver on these remedies.   

Without addressing these gaps, abuse of individual rights may become rampant, as has happened in specific periods of our history, in turn bringing about a sense of resentment and the persistent perception that Muslims are persecuted and abused in this country, and that the government is not concerned with their protection.   On this count, and with these handbooks now available, it becomes possible and it is necessary to undertake educational campaigns and to create mechanisms on the ground, such as the establishment of strong paralegal organizations with the support of local government, citizens’ organizations, and religious leaders, to make sure our people do not suffer abuse, that they are cared for and protected, and that their rights are safeguarded.

Furthermore, the launching of this volume today is especially timely and important as it raises awareness and understanding of what appears to be poised to become a major, if not a central, issue in the upcoming national elections in 2016: the issue of human rights, especially in relation to the requirements of law and order and uninterrupted development which our people are hankering for.  Right now, it seems that we are being asked to choose between peace and security, on the one hand, and our basic human rights, on the other.  But this is a false choice: I have been working for peace long enough to know that the juxtaposition of issues of security against the requisite respect for human rights is wrong; it cannot  and will never be right.  

There is no need to sacrifice human rights to achieve peace and security.  In fact, the truth is – one cannot be achieved without the other.  Insisting otherwise shows only a poor understanding of both.  And so we hope this volume, and all efforts that have led to and will now spring from it, will help to raise the level of political discourse and steer it away from the simplistic, lazy, and false premise being foisted on the public which posits the curtailment of human rights on the same side of, if not a necessary precondition for, continuing progress and security.  In this increasingly troubled and toxic political season, we hope your work embodied in this volume will serve to highlight the sanctity of our basic human rights.

It bears repeating that it is false to say that we have to sacrifice human rights to attain peace and human security.  The truth is one cannot be achieved without the other.  Here, then, we emphasize the importance of this particular endeavor to the peace process and the broader aims espoused by this process, which the Aquino Administration has been pushing under the Daang Matuwid.  The protection and defense of basic human rights have always been at the core of our peace process, as we recognized early on that the wanton violation of these rights often spark the fiercest of conflicts.  And so every step we have made in the peace process – and every step we will take towards its successful conclusion – has taken and will continue to take into account the precious goal of safeguarding basic human rights, most especially for those most affected by conflict.

While we push forward the implementation and await - Insha’Allah – the successful conclusion of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, it is necessary for efforts such as these to continue and be strengthened in order for Muslim Filipinos to feel truly a part of the interwoven fabric of Philippine society, without losing sight and a firm hold of their own distinct history, identity, and, yes their destiny – thus, fostering harmony and beneficial reciprocity between and among the many cultures of our country.  Ensuring access to our country’s legal system – which is after all a plural legal system, incorporating the regular courts, customary law, and the Shariah, and is meant to serve the rights of all without discrimination or bias – is an indispensable feature of this shared vision.  Through this undertaking, we assure the Filipino ummah  in Mindanao and in the rest of the Philippines that they are truly part of this country; that they are being taken care of by our government; that the Philippines is indeed large enough to accommodate, accept, and embrace them, along with their hopes, their dreams, and their aspirations.

The efforts of the NCMF to strengthen its legal assistance program and further operationalize and institutionalize it through the production of these legal handbooks are truly laudable.  These efforts, in concert with the work of other agencies of government such as OPAPP under the Daang Matuwid, will serve to empower our Muslim Filipino community so that, all together, we can build a nation that holds human rights sacred, that is peaceful, that is progressive – a country that we can with pride and with great hopes bequeath to all generations of Filipinos yet to come.

To Secretary Yasmin Busran-Lao and the whole NCMF Family, again our heartfelt  congratulations!   Shukran and Wassalam!