Rights to Food, Education, Health, Work, and Housing Now! Ratify Now!

Wednesday 28 October 2009 by Bernardo D. Larin - PhilRights

On September 24, 2009, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly opened for signing by Member States the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), approved by the said body on December 10, 2008.

Once the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) enters into force as soon as it secures ten (10) ratifications by State Parties, individuals and groups could send communication or complaints of violations of ICESCR-guaranteed rights such as health, housing, food, education, work, social security and other socio-economic and cultural entitlement.

This milestone is a product of years of unwavering advocacy and lobbying of human rights defenders who consistently asserted that indivisibility and interdependence of rights dictate that economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights should be treated at par with civil and political rights. That for human rights to realize and achieve human dignity, both freedoms and well-being should be respected, protected, and fulfilled.

Therefore, it is the primary duty of the government to formulate policies, implement programs, and take definitive steps that will safeguard democratic rights and civil liberties as well as ensure quality living conditions and development for its constituents.

It is also in this spirit that the Philippine NGO-PO Network for ESC Rights, urges our government to sign and ratify the OP-ICESCR at the soonest possible time.

Not only did the Philippine government ratify the ICESCR in 1976 but it also committed itself to other human rights instruments that in summary require States to prioritize its obligations encompassing both civil and political as well as economic, social, and cultural.

The civil society network for ESC rights, composed of teachers, youth and students, urban poor, workers, farmers, religious groups, and human rights workers, believe that the Philippine government is duty-bound to sign and ratify the OP-ICESCR since this is a redress mechanism to which its citizens are entitled to. It should be recalled that one of the major state obligations is to provide venues of redress to victims of rights violations and abuses.

In the Philippines, there is definitely an abundance of cases where informal settlers are forcibly evicted, farmers harassed and killed for fighting for lands they have been tilling for generations, indigenous peoples’ duped into giving their consent to large-scale mining operations, and many more. These victims, most of the time, just accept their fate or are rendered helpless by the inaccessible, defective, and anti-poor justice system in the country.

Lastly, the ESC network is convinced that ratifying the OP-ICESCR is an effective way of strengthening government compliance with its obligations under the ICESCR as it paves the way for more active interaction and partnership between and among the UN Committee on ESC Rights, the government, and civil society.

Under the OP-ICESCR, the Committee will have the power to receive communications from individuals and civil society groups regarding ESC rights infractions and based on these communications conduct investigations, prepare reports, and make recommendations to respondent State Party.

At first, the process seems to be adversarial and contentious because that is the way it should be, after all human rights is about establishing accountability and providing remedy to victims.

However, in strategic terms, the OP-ICESCR should be appreciated as another constructive procedure installed to capacitate both the duty-bearers and claim-holders towards the full recognition and realization of human rights and dignity.

October 22, 2009
Phil. NGO-PO Network for ESC Rights

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