They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:14, NRSV)

Statement of the Obispo Maximo, His Eminence The Most Revd Rhee M. Timbang on the Occasion of the 71st Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR], December 10, 2019 Human Rights Day Celebration

The leadership of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) joins with the international community to observe the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and calls on the Filipino people and the world to raise grave concerns on the alarming reality of human rights violations in the country nowadays and seek ways to arrest the situation.

On December 10, 1948 Philippines was among the sublime nations in the world to vote and sign for the adoption of the UDHR at the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) held in Paris. At present, the UDHR continues to serve as a milestone document in the history of human rights as it lays down the fundamental human rights to be universally protected. These include the four basic rights: the right to asylum, the right to freedom from torture, the right to free speech and the right to education. It also includes civil and political rights, like the right to life, liberty, free speech and privacy. It further includes economic, social and cultural rights, like the right to social security, health and education.

The UDHR has served as the foundation for many international covenants and treatises promoting the respect and defence of human rights. It is the basis for the formulation of the International Bill of Human Rights that was completed in 1966 and came into force in 1976 after being ratified by sufficient number of countries in the world including the Philippines. The 1968 United Nations International Conference on Human Rights advised that the UDHR would constitute an obligation for the members of the international community to serve to their constituents. The UDHR has thus become the common standard for global agreements that values human persons and places human well-being as the heart of the matter.

Today, as we mark the UDHR’s 71st Anniversary, we see the stark reality of the declining observance of the respect and defence of human rights and there is the need to revisit the principles upon which these universal, basic and fundamental rights of human persons were established. These principles, as embodied in UDHR Preamble, include among others the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family which is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world; the anticipation that peoples of the world shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want which are the highest aspiration of the common people; and the essentiality to rebellion as a last resort in times when persons would have no more recourse to protect their human rights by the rule of law.

Today, there are indeed compelling reasons to refresh our minds on the value and nobility of UDHR as our national situation has become greatly worrisome due to increasing incidences of human rights violations committed by the present government and the state security officers against the Filipino people through the varied forms of extra-judicial killings, involuntary disappearances, harassment and repression, illegal arrests and detention, and trumped-up cases targeting largely the struggling poor among our workers, farmers, urban poor, women, lumad communities and Moro people. Likewise included as among the targets are also the teachers, lawyers, medical professionals and church people, the middle force of our society that speaks and advocates for the rights and causes of our struggling brothers and sisters. It is obvious that the Duterte government has exploited the weak judicial system of the country to resort to use the law as weapon against those who exercise democratic dissent against his anti-poor, anti-people, anti-Filipino, and anti-peace policies. He has the propensity to short-cut democratic and judicial processes and has the temerity to use the military and police to advance his tyrannical rule as martial law is imposed over the whole of Mindanao, as the entire Negros Islands, Samar and Bicol are placed under emergency situation with the military and police taking control by virtue of Memoradum Order #32, and as the whole country reels the effect of Executive Order #70 that institutionalizes the “One Nation Approach” in combatting the insurgency with the military taking the lead at the expense of the civilian government which according to the Constitution of the Land is supreme at all times. All these resulted to multiple cases of killings, displacements, red-tagging and persecution and closure of lumad schools. Meanwhile poverty continues to be massive as there is high rate of joblessness and unemployment, and escalating prices of basic commodities. Political and economic policies follow the dictates of foreign financial institutions, multinational corporations and favoured national oligarchs which control public utilities and plunder natural resources.

All these render our nation apart, make our people wounded. Ironically, all these are intensely pursued by this government for the interest of progress, in the name of peace, as agenda for national dignity.

We in the IFI take primordial importance on the human dignity of every person. We uphold human dignity as sacred gift of the creator God who created us in his image and as constitutive of social justice and human rights. Our Lord Jesus heralds and inaugurates a state of life that presupposes enjoyment of human dignity as he proclaims fullness of life for every human person under God’s reign. As a Church that strives to be faithful to the Lord Jesus and to be consistent to his teachings, and as fired up by the Holy Spirit, we take the task of promoting human dignity as an imperative of our faith, an inherent task of our mission, and as call for ministry. Promoting human dignity is therefore incumbent for us as IFI by virtue of our baptism, thus making the work to defend human rights and to pursue social justice as ordinarily natural in us. This is rooted in our radical obedience to follow the Lord Jesus and to walk according to the ways of the apostles and martyrs and to the witnesses of Apo Aglipay and Don Belong and of other heroes of faith in the nationalist and revolutionary tradition of our people.

We understand human dignity to thrive and flourish only within the environment of genuine peace which constitutes human life and living enjoying full rights and justice. Prophet Isaiah captures it in his words:

“No longer will babies die when only a few days old. No longer will adults die before they have lived a full life. No longer will people be considered old at one hundred! Only the cursed will die that young! In those days people will live in the houses they build and eat the fruit of their own vineyards. Unlike the past, invaders will not take their houses and confiscate their vineyards. For my people will live as long as trees, and my chosen ones will have time to enjoy their hard-won gains. (Isaiah 65:20-22 NLT)

Encouraged by this prophetic vision, we in the leadership of the IFI call on the Duterte government and the state security officers to uphold human rights and obligate themselves to adhere to the spirit and intent of UDHR. We ask his government to promote justice and dignity of all people. We urge our people to assert their fundamental and constitutional rights as citizens and human persons, to be vigilant in all times against state-sponsored attacks on their basic and sacred rights, and to be militant always by solidly organizing, educating and consolidating themselves. We ask the international community, and churches and faith-communities all over the world to raise concerns over the human rights situation in the country, support the Iceland-sponsored UN resolution that calls for investigation of these human rights abuses and violations, and join in high-level delegation to conduct international and ecumenical pastoral visits to areas and communities affected in these abuses and violations.

We strongly call for the resumption of peace talks to end the armed conflict that besieged the country for half a century already and resolve the basic root-causes that spawned social injustice and insurgency in our society. We believe that the peace process is the most viable route to attain a negotiated, just and lasting peace in our land – the peace that our people long deserved, the peace that promotes human dignity to all Filipinos.

++ RHEE

Obispo Maximo10 December 2019

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