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Group: As Asean chair for 2017, PH must tackle rights issue

/ 10:45 PM January 13, 2017
Jeren Paclarin, Ana Maria Nemenzo, and Eduardo Tadem

At the news conference of the Asean Civil Society Conference and Forum, from left: Jeren Paclarin, Ana Maria Nemenzo, and Eduardo Tadem. (Photo from the Asia Europe People’s Form)

A network of civil society organizations said on Friday that it remains a challenge for the Philippines to place the discussion of human rights on the table, as it will serve as the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) for 2017.

In a news conference in Quezon City, led by the national organizing committee of the Asean Civil Society Conference and People’s Forum, leaders of people’s organizations said hosting the upcoming Asean summits provides an opportunity to tackle human rights not only in the country but in the whole region.

Eduardo Tadem, co-convenor of the committee, noted that the Asean takes a “very relativist concept” of human rights. He stressed that the association tends to be nonconfrontational and works often on consensus, even on heated issues.

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“The problem is not only in the Philippines… The track record of the Asean on human rights is not good,” he said. “[So] Asean as a whole must confront and correct the issues related to human rights in the region.”

Tadem noted that, of the Asean’s 10 member countries, he considered eight states as having an authoritarian or a semi-authoritarian leadership, or with a weakening democracy.

The Asian studies professor also noted that only Indonesia and the Philippines had remained vibrant democracies, despite threats.

As the Asean celebrates its 50th founding year, co-convenor Jelen Paclarin said hosting the summits here in the Philippines would be a “litmus test” of leadership for President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The challenge to the Philippine government is to show that we are serious in addressing human rights issues, as the country is looked up to as a human rights champion,” she said.

“We should use this opportunity to talk about the human rights situation in the region,” Paclarin added.

In his first six months in office, Duterte hit human rights defenders, including the independent body Commission on Human Rights. He had once threatened to kill human rights activists.

He has also shown an adversary attitude toward Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. A known human rights expert, Callamard canceled her visit to the country, citing unreasonable conditions set by the Duterte administration.

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Padem said it was too early to conclusively say that the democracy of the Philippines is under threat, even with the present climate under the government’s all-out war on drugs.

The government will launch the commemoration of the Asean’s 50th founding anniversary on Sunday in Davao City.

Meanwhile, the Asean Civil Society Conference and People’s Forum will hold separate events throughout the year, eyeing as many as 3,000 delegates from people’s organizations from the member states flying in to attend. /ATM

Check out our Asean 2017 special site for important information and latest news on the 31st Asean Summit to be held in Manila on Nov. 13-15, 2017. Visit http://inquirer.net/asean-2017.

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TAGS: ASEAN, Asean Civil Society Conference and People’s Forum, Eduardo Tadem, Human Rights, Rodrigo Duterte
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