The universality of human rights

Human rights are a hot issue today. For most people, the concept of human rights is centered only on violations with regards to the rights of suspected criminals. For them, the concept is centered only on the right to due process and the right to life.

I remember months ago, at the height of Operation Tokhang where there were heated arguments online regarding the role of the Commission on Human Rights in Philippine politics and law enforcement. Some argue that CHR coddles suspected criminals as it rarely raises public attention for other human rights violations such as heinous crimes committed by drug-fueled criminals and rebel groups. Others argue that per CHR’s mandate, its only role is to protect those who feel that their right to due process is being violated and the ‘outrage’ for victims of violent crimes falls is the work of government law enforcement agencies.

Concern for all dimensions

I found that statement about the CHR’s real mandate very disturbing. My understanding of human rights is that it covers not only the right to due process and the right to due suffrage, but also the right to humane living conditions. I believe that real rights, for it to be universal, should also cover the right to live in a safe environment, the right to be able to go to school, the right to be treated humanely at work and among other things, the right to the necessities of life. Human rights, in my opinion, should not only concern itself with only a few dimensions but on all dimensions.

To forget that human rights must concern itself with all dimensions is to forget the rights of the poor. The poor have the right to healthy bodies, safe homes and humane living conditions just as anyone else.

The right to humane jobs and safety

The residents of Barangay Damayang Lagi, for example, have the right to live free from the fear of flood and fire. They have the right to be able to live in humane spaces and not be exposed to disease every day. I am happy that the local government officials in the barangay act as opposites of the stereotypes of typical Filipino politicians and do their part to ensure that the people in Barangay Damayang Lagi are always safe.

We forget that people like those living in Barangay Damayang Lagi also have rights to humane jobs that pay enough for them to support their families. However, it is sad that these rights are almost always forgotten.

The right to proper representation and participation

I remember that they live cramped in stacked houses. I wonder sometimes if their rights are considered every time the local or the national government decides about budget allocation, taxes or public utility revamps. For example, there may be new laws or coding standards regarding housing. I wonder if when the government decides such, do they consider those living lives the way the people in Damayang Lagi do?

These residents don’t have that much resources as most of us do, so they live off with what they can. Do their rights have proper representations or are they only secondary to the concerns of others?

An issue everyday

Human rights should also consider the lives of people who are continually dragged through the mud due to corruption and our lack of empathy to their plight as a society. Human rights should be an issue every day for all of us and not just when there is political or social capital to be gained when championing for it.

Only when we forego our affiliations and observe the rights of others on the simple basis that they are human can we truly say that the declaration of human rights is truly universal. This is something we can reflect on during this holiest of seasons.

A blessed holy week to all!

The author is an MBA student at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business.  This essay is part of a journal he keeps in fulfillment of the requirements of the course, Lasallian Business Leadership with Corporate Social Responsibility and Ethics.  Visit his blog at

The views expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.  

Topics: The universality of human rights
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.