Chief Justice Puno: Consecrate Lives to Protect Human Rights
Like Gat Jose Rizal, when Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the University’s recipient of Doctor of Laws Degree, honoris causa, delivered his one-hour speech before the University of the East’s “walking intellectuals” on April 18, 2007 at the UE Theater the country’s top jurist saw hope.
CHIEF JUSTICE REYNATO S. PUNO FOR 2010 PRESIDENT!!! We need a leader who is not only knowledgeable of the law but a leader who has a great respect for the law and the human rights of the people…
The Chief Justice started his speech by recounting how our national hero died. He said that when Rizal died, the martyr hero saw hope when he “stared at tomorrow in the eye,” his face turned “towards the rising sun in the east.”
From cradle to grave, Puno said, “Rizal consecrated his life to fight for the human rights of our people.”
A living defender of human rights, the University’s 23rd honoris causa recipient said that “there is no human without a right.” He pointed out that the promotion of human rights is also the indispensable predicate of peace and progress.
He mentioned an interesting question: “What has happened to human rights in this new millennium?” Terrible and shocking, he said, that after the September 11 bombing, which altered the face of international law, the United States’ unilateral war on terrorism had been made “one means of violating our human rights.”
He described the global battle against terror as “mindless” and “knee jerk,” and that it is terrible enough to cause discomfort.
“The quickie solution is to unfurl the flag, sing the national anthem and issue the high pitched call to arms for the military and the police to use their weapons of destruction under the theme victory at all cost.”
He said that to put constitutional cosmetics to the military-police muscular efforts, “lawmakers usually enact laws using security of the state to justify the diminution of human rights by allowing arrests without warrants; surveillance of suspects; interception and recording of communications; seizure or freezing of bank deposits, assets and records of suspects.”
The redefinition of terrorism as a crime against humanity, according to him, “is broadly drawn to constrict and shrink further the zone of individual rights.”
“The war on terrorism has inevitable spilled over effects on human rights all over the world, especially in countries suspected as being used as havens of terrorists.”
He said that one visible result of the scramble to end terrorism is to take legal shortcuts and “legal shortcuts always shrink the scope of human rights.” He added, “These shortcuts have scarred the landscape of rights in the Philippines,” and this situation has “a attracted the harsh eye of advocates of human rights.”
“As young graduates, you may be asking yourself the relevance of these ongoing violations of human rights to your life, especially as you embark on your journey to improve the economic aspects of your life.”
Speaking before fresh graduates, Puno said that the fight against terror and the battle to preserve human rights have high impact on the right of the youth to live with dignity. He lamented that the displacement of young people in war zones is one of the ill-effects of the war on terrorism.
“These young people are compelled to migrate to seek greener pastures in hostile environments and, worse where they find their human rights subjected to new abuses with near impunity.”
On April 18, newspaper reports shocked the world about the “barbaric” and “ruthless” beheadings of seven road construction workers in Southern province of Sulu by the Abu Sayyaf bandits. Two of the victims were teenagers; one worked for a summer job in order to send himself to school while the other would like to earn money for the schooling of his brother.
Outraged by the beheading, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the armed forces to obliterate the Abu Sayyaf. Said group remains at large.
The Chief Justice said that the United Nations forecast that some 138 countries will have growing “youth bulge,” which has a “calamitous consequence” of youth unemployment. UN records also reveal that at least 60 million people aged 15-20 will not be able to find work and about 13 million cannot hoist their families out of poverty.
He said: “It will not take a prophet to predict that countries that cannot give decent life to their young people will serve as incubators of extremism that may end up in terrorism.”
“And this leads me to the proposition that we need to give a broader, innovative view on our efforts to protect the human rights of our people which should consider our distinct social, economic and political context.”
Puno also quoted a World Bank report saying about 15 million or 19% of Filipinos survive on less than $1 a day. However, this was quickly disputed by the Malacañang Palace through the National Anti Poverty Commission by claiming that only 10.5 million Filipinos live on $1 a day.
Without batting an eyelash, Puno said that we have a weak state run by a government “hobbled by corruption, struggling with credibility, battling the endless insurgence of the left and the right.” Aside from that, he said that our country is being weakened by “pressure exerted by creditor countries, by countries where our trade comes from, by countries that supply our military and police armaments.”
“A weak state cannot fully protect the rights of its citizens within its borders just as a state without economic independence cannot protect the rights of its citizens who are abroad from the exploitation of more powerful countries.”
Furthermore, he said that “our work of protecting human rights is not yet finished.”
“With the incursions and threats of incursion to our human rights at this crucial moment in our history, the clarion call to each one of us is to consecrate our lives to the great cause of upholding our human rights.”
The Chief Justice ended his speech by saying there is hope, because when Rizal faced the rising sun, “he saw hope in a heroic people carrying on the fight.”
“Let us not allow the shadow of ignorance, indifference or indolence eclipse this hope so that we may continue to see a tomorrow begin in the East.”