Why the Philippines must accept the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendation to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (OPICESCR)?

Phil NGO-PO Network on ESC Rights position paper submitted to various government agencies

Wednesday 8 August 2012

We, members of civil society groups affiliated with the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and the NGO-PO Network on ESC Rights implore President Benigno Aquino III through the UPR delegation led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to accept and concur with recommendation 131.6 of the draft UN Human Rights Council Working Group Report which request the Philippines to “consider the possibility of ratifying the OP-ICESCR (Palestine); Sign the OP-ICESCR (Portugal); Ratify OP-ICESCR (Germany).”

We believe that signing the OPICESCR will further manifest President Aquino’s commitment to his Social Contract with the Filipino People because this will signify that his administration recognizes that food, education, health, housing, and employment are not mere needs but basic rights of our people. This will demonstrate that the Aquino government is intent on urgently fulfilling these entitlements in terms of policies, budgetary allocations and actual programs on the ground.

The Philippine government ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on June 7, 1974 and if we want to show to the international community that we are seriously implementing our obligations under this treaty, then we should not have any doubt in ratifying its Optional Protocol. The OPICESCR is a communication procedure and does not impose additional obligations related to economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights.

No less than the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) opined that ratifying the OPICESCR would clarify the provisions of the ICESCR and lead to enactment of needed legislation or amendment of existing laws to enhance our ESC rights performance and address poverty, hunger, and illiteracy, among others. Translating the ESC Covenant in our domestic legal system is a continuing process even though it is one of our urgent duties when we ratified the ICESCR in 1974 and as pointed out by NEDA, the OPICESCR could be instrumental in this process.

The hesitation to sign and ratify a UN communication procedure is understandable because of the belief that this can be used to discredit the government but this should not be seen this way but from a constructive framework which end goal is to assist a state party enhance its compliance with human rights standards. We already acceded to the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also a communication procedure on August 22, 1989 and yet we have not heard of a situation where this was taken advantage of to put the Philippine government in bad light.

Lastly, for civil society, more than anything else the OPICESCR is an affirmation of ESC rights as an equal of civil and political rights in terms of stature and accountability. It will also pave the way for the establishment and strengthening of local redress mechanisms for victims of forced evictions, land grabbing, denial of access to education, illegal extractive activities like large-scale mining and other ESC rights abuses.

At the end of the day, the government has to ratify the OPICESCR because it has to respect and protect the dignity of its people which we believe is at the core of President Aquino’s Social Contract.

July 17, 2012

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