PRESIDENTIAL candidate Miriam Defensor Santiago, an elected judge of the International Criminal Court, on Monday challenged her rivals to include human rights concerns in their list of priorities.
She said three of her four rivals for the presidency had failed to respond to the questionnaire sent by the group Human Rights Watch.
HRW has said only Santiago and Liberal Party bet Manuel Roxas II shared its views on human rights.
Santiago said Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Grace Poe and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte did not answer HRW’s questionnaire.
“Human rights should be at the forefront of the agenda of any person running for public office. A rights-based approach in public policy has historically proven to be most effective,” Santiago said.
As early as March 22 HRW quizzed the candidates on the issues of impunity, violence against indigenous groups, the Reproductive Health Law, the killing of journalists, summary executions, the Anti-Torture Law, people displaced due to conflicts, and the HIV/AIDS situation.
“The Philippines has made broad strides in human rights policy in the past decade,” Santiago said, citing the passage of important laws that she either authored or supported in the Senate.
She also considered as gains the Philippine commitment to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, and its accession to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, both in 2011.
But Santiago said the “policies aimed at promoting human rights are meaningless unless fully and wholeheartedly implemented.”
She cited as challenges the failure to convict a perpetrator of torture despite the passage of the Anti-Torture Act, and hurdles in the implementation of the RH Law amid a hold order on contraceptive implants and congressional budget cuts.
She said the culture of impunity threatened to perpetuate human rights abuses.
She said the cases that needed to be immediately resolved included the continuing disappearance of activists working in the countryside allegedly because of military operations, the deaths of some 50 media workers in Maguindanao and the recent deadly skirmish between policemen and Moro rebels in Mamasapano.
The senator also tagged as urgent the need to protect the rights of vulnerable members of society including children, women and indigenous groups especially in times of disaster and conflict.
“Child labor remains rampant, with underage workers reported even in the most dangerous of sectors such as small-scale mining. Children are also being recruited by rebels, terrorist and paramilitary groups,” Santiago said.
She said in the aftermath of disasters, stories of abuse against children and women abounded.
“The Philippines must address with urgency the militarization of indigenous communities,” she said.