Misguided censure

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Commission on Human Rights (CHR) spokesman, lawyer Jacqueline de Guia, slammed President Duterte’s warning the police and the military would shoot groups that would make fresh attempts at illegal takeover of private property.

De Guia said it seemed to suggest he has ordered the military and the police to arrest or shoot groups who occupy lands.

“It is reprehensible that the President made another remark that seems to condone and encourage state forces to illegally arrest and kill those who are asserting their land rights,” De Guia said in a statement.

Duterte’s warning was directed against the urban poor group Kadamay that gained notoriety for taking over housing projects for policemen and soldiers, as well as that of National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) who occupied private lands to claim ownership of the property.

But a closer look at Duterte’s directive reveals there is nothing fundamentally wrong with it.
“My orders to the police and the soldiers, shoot them. If they resist violently, shoot them. If they die, I do not care,” the President said.

A sensible interpretation of the order, given the standard operating procedure observed by the police and the military, is for the authorities first to exhaust all peaceful means to prevent such groups from unlawful occupation of private property.

CHR’s knee-jerk reaction to Duterte’s statement is bordering on melodramatic and an apparent attempt to jump at an opportunity to justify the necessity for the agency whose existence had been under intense challenge in the recent past.

Contrary to CHR’s assertion, the President’s order was meant to avert any further bloodshed.
It stands to reason that any legitimate home owner or land owner would do everything to defend his property if, for any reason, somebody would attempt to wrest ownership of such assets from him by force or intimidation.

Allowing Kadamay and peasant groups to persist in their unlawful occupation of private homes and land-grabbing is a recipe for disaster. History is replete with similar incidents that led to bloody confrontations. And this is exactly what President Duterte sought to avoid in issuing the directive.

The killing of nine farmers in Sagay reportedly happened hours after the victims — members of NFSW — forcibly occupied the 77-hectare Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon.

NFSW claimed it occupies idle lands and lands covered by agrarian reform but remain not planted to vegetables, banana, corn and other crops to feed their families.

However, DAR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Meinrado Pangulayan said the land occupied by the slain farmers is exempt from coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Its former owner donated it in 1988 to her 25 farm workers and employees who received three hectares each.

It turned out that the victims of the attempted land-grabbing were not rich landlords but ordinary farmers like the NFSW members.

President Duterte would be guilty of dereliction of duty if he allows the illegal practices of Kadamay and NFSW. Parenthetically, it should be noted that both left-leaning organizations were linked to the failed “Red October” ouster plot against the President.

Under its chairman Chito Gascon, former director general of the Liberal Party, the CHR morphed into a partisan agency that took closer scrutiny of alleged human rights violations against political foes but looked the other way when it involved the LP.

On the human rights record of the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, Gascon said “it was doing good things on a macro level.”

That simply runs counter to the 2016 World Report of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), saying “Aquino’s record on human rights has been disappointing due to his failure to address impunity for the government’s rights violations.”

HRW said that in 2015 at least 13 tribal leaders and tribal community members were killed in the first eight months of the year. Likewise, nearly 300 leftist activists, human rights defenders and other alleged New People’s Army supporters have been killed since Aquino took office in 2010, with 65 killed in the first 10 months of 2015.

Given the political leanings of CHR, it’s hardline stance against government agents becomes suspect.

It would do well for the CHR to desist from imprudent criticisms of President Duterte’s directive without a careful scrutiny of the facts on the ground and the rationale for such order.

Otherwise, the stalled move to abolish the agency might just gain new momentum and succeed this time.

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