To give the poor a more “effective tool” to fight poverty, the Consultative Committee (Concom) reviewing the 1987 Constitution will propose the inclusion of socioeconomic rights in the Bill of Rights of the new Charter it is drafting.
Socioeconomic rights, which are classified under the second generation of rights, include adequate housing, food health care, education, social security and water, the panel said Wednesday.
Concom chair and former Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the inclusion of socioeconomic rights in the Bill of Rights will make these rights at par with the first generation of rights, namely civil and political rights.
This means the rights become guaranteed by and demandable from the state, and that citizens may seek refuge in the courts anytime for their protection and for the enforcement of such rights.
“We have studied the evolution of human rights, and it should be very evident to the eye that the protection that our Constitution gives to the entirety of human rights is insufficient as of now,” Puno said in a press conference at the Philippine International Convention Center.
Puno explained that in the current setup, only civil and political rights are being “comprehensively” protected, while socioeconomic rights are left behind.
He pointed out that socioeconomic rights are only enumerated in a section in the Constitution that is separate from the Bill of Rights.
“What we have is a mere declaration of principles and state policies with respect to these socioeconomic rights,” Puno said.
He explained that the decision to include socioeconomic rights in the Bill of Rights is aligned with developments in international humanitarian law.
The body is looking at some models, including those of South Africa and India, to fit the Philippines, he added.
The provisions to be proposed to the ConCom include the right to education, right to health, and right to decent housing.
Puno said these were “the most urgent rights” in the poor sector.
“That would help the poor people in their fight for better life. If we do that then [we] are giving them a more effective tool to fight poverty,” he said.
“Poor people can make the proper demand. They can go to court to enforce these demandable rights. Now, they cannot go to court because the government does not have that duty to enforce these socioeconomic rights,” the former top magistrate added.
Puno cited an example of a citizen who is evicted from his home. “For instance, you have that kind of citizen, he is evicted, and the government has done absolutely nothing to improve his situation in life, then depending on the wording of the grant of that right, depending on how that will be incorporated in the bill of rights, he can use that as a handle to compel the government to do something.”
However, Puno explained that Congress would have to look at the entirety of resources and see what can be given progressively to the people when they demand the enforcement of socioeconomic rights.
“In case of civil and political rights, they are granted in the Bill of Rights without any conditionality. You don’t find these conditionality in any democratic country. In the case of socioeconomic rights, you must have a different approach. It would depend on certain conditions and standards such as the resources of the government,” Puno said.
This is so that citizens do not get “false hopes” and the grant of the right does not become an “illusion,” he added.
He expressed confidence that incorporating socioeconomic rights in the Bill of Rights would prompt Congress to make the proper appropriations to satisfy their needs.
“The grant of these socioeconomic rights starting from basic ones will be calibrated in accordance with the resources of the state,” Puno said.
“These rights will be granted. We are sure that these basic socioeconomic rights will be realized,” he added.
Con-com Senior Technical Assistant and spokesperson Ding Generoso said that previously, Congress passed two laws, namely the Magna Carta of the Poor and Internally Displaced Person Act of 2013.
However, both were vetoed by then-President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, claiming the socioeconomic rights sought under the two laws were not guaranteed by the Constitution and government did not have the resources to fulfill them.
“If we put these rights now then Congress can make the appropriate legislation to make sure these rights are progressively realized,” Generoso said.
These socioeconomic rights provisions will be proposed to the en banc next week, he added.
The proposal for socioeconomic rights comes after Puno announced last March 26 that the Concom wanted to include environmental rights, which falls under the third generation of rights, in the Bill of Rights.