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@ ROLC-U-1 from 01.10.2005

The Asian Charter on the Rule of Law:
Reflections from meetings in the Philippines from October 26th to 28th

The first reaction to the phrase "rule of law" was rather cynical. According to several participants, such responses among Filipinos arise from the extent to which President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo uses the term to justify repression. Apparently, the President uses the military and the police to create tension so that she may remain in power, despite enormous pressure from the opposition for her ousting.

With impeachment proceedings, mass demonstrations and armed conflicts going on in several areas, the President seems to have created an ideal situation, demonstrating that extreme forms of violence are justified in order to maintain the rule of law. These forms of violence include outlawing any meetings, small or large, and killing trade union leaders, farmers' movement leaders and other interest group leaders. Meanwhile, large-scale killings continue in conflict areas. In one area, within a single day just before the start of our meeting, five people were killed. Moreover, journalists have remained a target of killings throughout the country. The Philippines and Bangladesh are two countries in the Asian region where the greatest numbers of journalists have been killed.

Meeting participants also pointed out that the television is used heavily to boost state-sponsored violence. For example, when any person accused of terrorist activities is arrested, the President herself appears on television. The report airs pictures of suspects, in order to congratulate officers who caught the person. In rape cases, the victim is shown together with the alleged suspect in custody, and she is telecast slapping the accused. A lot of coverage is given to so-called crime busting, exposing alleged criminals.

The general value system that this spreads in the country is that alleged criminals and terrorists do not deserve any rights, and that espousal of such rights is anti-social.

In the past the AHRC has covered many rule-of-law issues in Sri Lanka. Apparently, the same phenomenon of strong prejudice against the basic rights of people is emerging in the Philippines. But the Philippine situation is much more magnified. The AHRC campaigns in Sri Lanka were able to counteract such state influence in trying to justify massive repression under the pretext of defending law and order. However, in the Philippines there seems to be no movement to counteract the state's ideological assault using the phrase "rule of law" for abuse. The rule of law has in fact collapsed, and this creates frustration among the people that is so deep that they do not even bother to seek real rule of law.

This situation can give rise to extremely dangerous developments. The frustration over the collapsed rule of law could justify complete alienation between the people and the state. Such alienation could spawn a movement advocating violence and building its own systems of "parallel justice."

A movement for thorough justice reform is important if people are to regain confidence in the rule of law and the institutions of justice. Though this may initially be a difficult task, in these circumstances, if a movement is properly mobilised it is very likely speed up quickly and have strong exponents in the Philippines within a very short time.

These we must consider in pursuing the Asian Charter on the Rule of Law.

Asian Human Rights Commission