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PIA Press Release

PGMA's Speech during the Regional Workshop on the Establishment of National Human Rights Institutions in Asia

Manila, Philippines, 15 October 2007

Thank you, Secretary Romulo.

Chairperson Quisumbing, congratulations for being a model for ASEAN and the whole world and the region; Secretary Ermita; Mr. Magazzeni, representing the United Nations; members of the diplomatic corps; human rights commissioners; Ms. Noble; delegates to this regional workshop on human rights, ladies and gentlemen.

This is a timely consolidation of the three powers of government and the Constitutional Commission on Human Rights, alongside the international community, for a fundamental human cause.

Over half a century ago in 1948, the nations of the world gathered together to declare their commitment to human rights.

Our respective human rights institutions are crucial to the rule of law. And we are proud that the Philippine Commission on Human Rights which has become a beacon for the dignity and well-being of every Filipino, as well as for the community welfare, peace and development.

We respect the commission's independence. We appreciate its human rights advisories and recommendations. We acknowledge its role as a watchdog of government's compliance with human rights treaty obligations.

As we welcome the scrutiny of the U.S., the U.N., the E.U., and other nations to help us move away from this part of our political discourse. We have tried to be as transparent as possible in resolving these historically difficult issues. The U.S. is an especially strong ally. We have worked shoulder to shoulder on a number of difficult issues over the years to our mutual benefit. And we are sure that will continue.

We deplore any and all killings of political activists and journalists. I have met personally with the journalism community and the same with human rights activists. We share their outrage. To stop the killings, we have followed the recommendations of my Melo Commission, to establish separate courts, expedite prosecutions, expand victim assistance and increase funding for more investigators.

We thank the Supreme Court for setting up the special courts to tighten the noose on evil.

We have ordered the national prosecution service of the department of justice to work closely with the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation from the beginning of the criminal investigation until the termination of cases in court.

Seventy six criminal cases on political killings are under trial; 33 others are being prepared for prosecution. Six persons have been convicted, including a former police sergeant and a former soldier.

We have told our military in no uncertain terms that if there are rogue elements, they must be brought to justice. Our nation has an unfortunate history of political violence by those on the left and the right. We hope to break that cycle once and for all. No one should have to die fighting for speaking out for their political beliefs.

Let it also be noted that terrorists like the Abu Sayyaf and armed communists are a threat to the sovereignty of the nation. They must be checked once and for all.

To ensure priority development support for peace initiatives, as Commander-in-Chief, I have ordered this morning the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the Commanding General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines national development service command to submit to the executive secretary a list of areas scheduled for local peace initiatives, and the priority programs and projects due to be sustained, extended and/or launched there in tandem with the peace efforts. The executive secretary shall then disseminate the list to agency heads for priority funding and implementation, based on the office of the adviser of the peace process and the armed forces' schedule of peace initiatives and subject to regular updating based on conditions and requirements of the ground.

The Philippines is the most democratic country in the region. We have championed that human rights be included in our ASEAN charter. We have no tolerance for human rights violations of any kind. But I have advanced the cause of peace in Mindanao to a new level of engagement, focused on interfaith dialogue, economic development and mutual security. We have done so with the largest international involvement possible. Peace there is very much an issue of human rights, just as alleviating poverty is, which is our number one issue.

We must address the spawning ground of terrorist recruitment -- the specter of poverty.

We take pride in the discipline of our administration to focus on the economy and our overall economic health. We are pre-paying our external debt, so that we will balance the budget in 2008, two years ahead of schedule. We are making sure to invest the gains in vital social and economic needs. We will not sacrifice long-term gains for short-term political expediency.

To prioritize the provision of jobs, livelihood and basic services to eradicate extreme poverty, I have ordered also this morning that the china projects oversight panel should earmark an initial 120 million dollars for programs and projects drawn up by local government units and agencies to uplift areas and communities suffering extreme poverty, as identified by the National Anti-Poverty Commission in consultation with the bishops and the NGOs. Top priority are local government units with a high incidence of severe hunger and/or high unemployment. The projects should be proposed by year's end for 2008 launching.

I have also ordered the Cabinet this morning to undertake preparatory work on programs and projects in 2008 as approved by the house of representatives, to ensure speedy implementation next year. Upon consultation with senators, agencies may also publicize those undertakings likely to be passed by the senate without major revisions. The aim is to earmark about five billion pesos worth. Along with china projects to be proposed under my earlier instructions, a total fund of 10 billion pesos would be mobilized to fund extreme poverty.

And to address the issue of terrorism and insurgency in Mindanao, we are hereby forming a panel, including the secretaries of the interior and local government, justice, the Presidential Management Staff and the National Economic and Development Authority, the leaders of the local government units, congress allies, and maybe even pro-federalism opposition leaders to draft a roadmap to federalism by 2012. The measures could include: super region planning and oversight bodies with officials and staff from the regional development councils and national agencies, to draw up programs and projects up to a stipulated amount, for inclusion in the 2009 budget; legislation to affirm and expand executive issuances, and eventually charter changes.

To address worries and difficulties over food prices, fares and overseas Filipino worker remittances, we are issuing the following instructions to relevant agencies:

First, the Departments of Trade and Industry and agriculture to devise measures to moderate the prices of flour and sugar, in consultation with industry and retail associations, producers, distributors and retailers. Among measures to consider are revenue-neutral tariff adjustments similar to those being applied to oil.

Second, the departments of transportation and energy to coordinate assistance measures to public utility vehicles, including more discount gas stations, revenue-neutral adjustments to oil tariffs, as calculated by the Department of Finance, and fast-tracking and/or expansion of social services and benefits for the public transport sector.

And third, the Departments of Labor and Economic Development to assess the impact of the strong peso on the remittances and families of overseas Filipino workers, and devise measures to moderate and cope with difficulties, including lower remittance fees, as the Department of Finance and the Bangko Sentral of the Philippines are working on, and supplemental income-generating activities.

We have to do all of these because the world needs us to be compassionate fighters in the war against poverty and terror, to keep the cause of human rights alive. The world expects us to preserve a universal framework of human decency and social justice. And that is the way we will be able to protect human rights in the best manner possible.

So, I congratulate once again the Philippine Commission on Human Rights for being a model. I thank our ASEAN neighbors also for having their institutional counterparts. And I hope that indeed this will be an integral part of the ASEAN charter that we will hopefully passed this November. And I hope that with all of us working together in the region for human rights, human rights will indeed be something that we can live everyday of our lives.

Thank you and good luck! On this workshop.

Thank you. (OPS) [top]

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