Manila, Philippines - For a lot of people rain is a symbol of wealth, but for Filipinos living in the streets, it only means cold, wet, and hungry sleepless nights. Armed with umbrellas and ready for downpour, anti-poverty group, Global Call to Action against (GCAP) - Philippines, asks President Benigno Aquino, if Filipinos having no homes is what he meant when he said in his Independence Day message last June 12 that Filipinos are now free from poverty.
One out of four Filipinos are poor. Seven out of ten Filipinos eat below the required dietary requirement. One out of three Filipino children is not in school, and more than 3.7 million families need decent homes.
"Walang kalayaan kung alipin ng kahirapan (there is no freedom if you are enslaved by poverty)," explains Erning Ofracio, urban poor leader and Executive Committee member of GCAP-Philippines during the Philippine launch of the global campaign on the Ratification of the Optional Protocol for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), "habang tayo’y nabubuhay sa kahirapan, patuloy ang paglabag sa ating mga karapatan (for as long as we live in poverty, our rights are violated)."
"Official data already show a bleak picture, but the reality is much worse," adds May-i Fabros, Project Coordinator of GCAP-Philippines, "because current official statistics do not reflect the invisible sectors- those living on the streets, the transient and ambulant poor, internally displaced persons, and indigenous peoples, whose rights are systematically being violated."
The Philippine government signed the United Nations treaty,the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, thirty-five years ago, which obligates them to respect, fulfill, and protect the Filipinos basic right to food, housing, education, health, decent work, self-determination, among others. However, it has yet to ratify the Optional Protocol, which is an international accountability mechanism that will enable Filipinos to air their grievances to an independent, international panel of experts, after exhausting all legal measures in the country, and yet still do not agree with the legal decision of the judicial system. The Optional Protocol provides another arena for individuals or groups to seek legal redress on human rights violations at the international level.
"Poverty is both the cause and effect of human rights violations, but the worsening poverty and inequality scenario could be reversed if there is a genuine anti-poverty agenda that targets the structural causes of poverty, and not just band-aid solutions such as the conditional cash transfer program which nurtures mendicancy, benefits a few, and does not trickle down to the invisible sectors," continues Fabros.
"Gayunpaman, sumasang-ayon kami kay President Aquino na kailangang ipaglaban ang kalayaan, kaya’t iginigiit namin ang karapatan naming mabuhay ng malaya sa kahirapan at sinisingil namin ang kanyang pangakong ipaglalaban niya kami, na kasama namin siya sa laban (Nevertheless, we agree with President Aquino that Filipinos have to fight for freedom, so we claim our right to be free from poverty and demand him to stick true to his promise that he will fight for us, along with us)," says Ka Erning, "PNoy, sign the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, implement structural changes through a genuine anti-poverty agenda that is beyond dole-outs that will free us from poverty - invest in jobs and social services."
"If President Aquino is true to his words that he will create the conditions to combat poverty and hunger, then he should not be afraid of the Optional Protocol, by signing, he is actually leading the way to his matuwid na daan (the right, corrupt-free, accountable and transparent governance path)." ends Fabros.
For the urban gypsies who live in the streets of Manila, rain also creates a lot of possibilities. If the Philippine government ratifies the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the invisible voices can finally be heard.
The GCAP-Philippines Campaign on the Ratification of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will hold educational discussions, media events, and policy dialogue with government. The educational discussions aptly titled, Kuwentuhang Karapatan (Conversations on Rights) on various human rights and issues began with an overview of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the ratification process last June 10 with Professor Virginia Dandan, former member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from 1990-2010, and Bernie Larin of Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights). The next discussion is on right to housing on June 29. Other topics will be on right to food, health, education, decent work, sexual and reproductive health, and other poverty-related issues. The GCAP-Philippines campaign on the ratification of the Optional Protocol is conducted in partnership with PhilRights and Amnesty International Pilipinas (AIPh). #END#