The quote was attributed to a German Pastor, Martin Niemoller, who resisted the terror of Hitler's Fascist regime in Germany in the l940s. This was the quote:
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me –
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
There would be attempts to paraphrase the words to fit the distinct situation of the Philippines under martial law, vis-a-vis who were being arrested by the military e.g. student leaders, farmer organizers, church workers and the like.
The quote is on my mind these days as December 10 is upon us, the day that is celebrated as International Human Rights Day to commemorate the United Nation's declaration of the importance of people's human rights following the gross abuses committed throughout the period covering World War II. The terror unleashed by The Holocaust in Europe was the prime example of the horror that gripped humanity when the violation of human rights victimized multitudes.
Unfortunately, despite the continuing commitment of the United Nations to promote human rights all across the world, the work done by Amnesty International and local groups such as the Task Force Detainees and Karapatan, there are still scores of people who find themselves being deprived of their basic human rights. Many nation-states all over the world, despite having signed the UN's Human Rights Charter, have not honored such a commitment.
Up until today, global media continue to report such violations. Even countries that claim to have reached a level of political maturity and sophisticated democratic practices – such as the United States of America – are not immune from resorting to arresting people without the benefit of a warrant and torturing them when no one is looking or when the circumstances can be used to legitimize such abominable behavior. Even recent Hollywood films have attested to this.
These days in this country where Presidents from the late Ferdinand Marcos to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had been claiming to champion the people's human rights while in office – despite proofs to the contrary – there are very curious news stories dealing with the presence or absence of the State's commitment to not only respect but protect the citizenry's human rights.
Last week, Philip Alston, a rapporteur from the United Nations tasked to check on reported human rights violations in the Philippines issued a report pinpointing the military as having committed the most violations especially in regard to extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.
However, long before Mr. Alston issued the damning report, local human rights groups like the Karapatan had been calling the public's attention to such shocking phenomenon. They cited these figures: 185 killings and 93 disappearances in 2006, 68 killings and 26 disappearances so far in 2007. Long before these, we had the death squads in Davao summarily killing alleged drug pushers and users which went on for years.
Fortunately for us Filipinos, the State has not totally given up on the gains that we had made in terms of a commitment to human rights that followed the ouster of the late dictator. Responding to the desperate call of civil society to stop the abuses of GMA and the military loyal to her (or should it be the top military echelon with the backing of GMA?), someone at the top of the judiciary branch took her to task.
Chief Justice Renato Puno heeded the call of civil society and showed there was someone in government who cared about defending the Constitution's integrity in the face of the executive branch's utter disregard for the provisions enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Under Chief Justice Puno's leadership, the writ of amparo was made effective last October 24 by the Supreme Court in a bid to stop the twin evils of disappearances and extra-judicial killings.
Immediately in Davao City, victims of human rights violations, their families and lawyers tested the effectivity of the writ.
When Mr. Alston's report came out, Chief Justice Puno, refused to comment on the findings as he maintained a non-partisan take on the issue. He did say that if evidence is presented to him as to the culpable suspects, whether they are government soldiers or private citizens, he would file charges.
Even as citizens interested in monitoring the impact of the UN Report and the Supreme Court's initiatives on GMA's regime waited for more positive concrete results, they woke up one day this week to face a farce reported by media: the one person who has singlehandedly brought our country's human rights record back to the scenario of the Marcos years was being awarded a Medalla de Oro for championing human rights.
Human rights advocates were shocked and outraged when Spain's Alcala de Henares handed such an award to GMA during her visit to that country. The University Rector Virgilio Zapatero praised her for abolishing the capital punishment as well as in ending extra-judicial killings.
Immediately – for those old enough to remember – it was a case of history repeating itself. Remember when George W. Bush's father, the older Bush came for visit to the Philippines while still representing Washington? This was at the height of the Marcos dictatorship and most of the world knew already what he was doing with the people's civil liberties and human rights. George's father toasted Bongbong's dad for Marcos' commitment to democratic processes. Shortly after that, the elder Bush was to lose face as his pal in Malacanang lost his throne and had to be exiled to Hawaii.
GMA a champion of human rights. Que horror! Que barbaridad! It would be so easy to say these words to Senor Zapatero and his companeros who made the decision to give such an award. Is it possible that like the elder Bush, Senor Zapatero will – shortly? – also lose his face?
Now comes the Higaonon farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon who had marched 1,700 kilometers since October 10 to call the government's (specifically GMA and the Department of Agrarian Reform) attention to their rightful claim to a 144-hectare property. If there is any validity to the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral domain, now enshrined in 1997's (Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act passed by Congress, there is no question that this small piece of land has always been the property of the Higaonons.
As the drama of their lives would unfold, the Higaonons lost most of their ancestral domain to more powerful migrants coming from the north. For the Sumilao farmers in Barangay San Vicente (which would have had another name long before the migrants reached this place), it was the Quisumbing family who managed to take over parts of their ancestral domain.
With CARP, the farmers were able to reclaim this property as the estate was awarded to them and the DAR issued a Certificate of Land Ownership Award to 137 farmers. Unfortunately, there was no happy ending to this story as the Quisumbing family were able to reclaim the land and sold part of the property to San Miguel Foods, Inc. (SMFI), a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation.
In the last decade, the Sumilao farmers have done everything they could to have ownership and control over this property. Finally, they decided to go on this march dubbed "Walk for Sumilao Land, Walk for Justice." Beginning on October 10 from their village, they aimed to reach the center of power in Manila just before December 10, the day when the State would – once again as it does every year – give praise to human rights!
In fact, the farmers had arrived in Manila a few days ago. Fortunately, there had been some considerable coverage of media. They've met with people in Congress and faced Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman. Despite a lot of support mobilized by the Sumilao farmers' support groups from various groups and agencies in government and civil society, theirs remain an impossible dream.
There is no question that what the Higaonons from Sumilao are demanding are their basic human rights. Their rights to their ancestral domain. Their rights to this 144 hectares of land. Their rights to be recognized as indigenous peoples with rights that precede all other rights that came with the setting up of this Republic.
When one comes down to it, what kind of a Republic is ours where our government leaders can just squander millions of dollars and pesos – the list of corrupt deals that have been reported in media has become endless, not to mention the P482 million travel expenses of GMA and her hakot crowd junketing to places like Spain and the rest of Europe – and can't help the poorest of the poor secure what is rightly theirs?
If Jean-Jacque Rosseau were with us today, he would face up to the authorities and speak a mantra to them just as he wrote the words as an opening line for his book – The Social Contract: "Man is born free, and is everywhere in chains."
Hundreds of people during the Marcos years proved they were beyond chains as they made the State realize their sense of freedom. They organized the oppressed, they marched the streets, they defied those who would subject them to enslavement. Many of them are no longer with us. Their heritage is in the People Power that ended that dictatorship.
That patriotic fervor seems like a distant memory. There is no such fervor in the streets today; only a few dare to manifest their stance. Some of them will pay the price for such a commitment despite the writ of the amparo, while GMA is in power.
It is time we make popular the words of Pastor Martin. It is time we speak up otherwise we run the risk of waking up to a day when no one is left… (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” and “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw])