Press Release
February 26, 2015

Translating international human rights commitments into national realities: The contribution of parliaments to the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Mr. Mian Raza Rabbani of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Executive Committee, Ms. Shahrzad Tadjbahksh, chief of the UPR Branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel, Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao, honorable members of the parliaments, officers of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, representatives and friends from the civic society sector, ladies and gentlemen, a pleasant good morning to all of you.

Yesterday we commemorated a significant event in Philippine contemporary history. Twenty-nine years ago in February 25, millions of Filipinos marched in a main avenue of this city and launched what we then called the "People Power Revolution." The EDSA People Power Revolution was sparked by a great extent by the assassination of the father our president, then Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., who was assassinated in the tarmac of our national airport, in gross violation of his human rights.

Today we are here to address an issue that remains at the core of any civilized society - the protection and as well as the promotion of human rights of individuals. As members of parliament, we hope to find new meaning to our mandate as representatives of the people and therefore, vanguards of constitutional rights.

I would like to commend the Inter-Parliamentary Union in shaping these regional seminars. I understand that as early as last year, it has held similar undertakings in several countries at Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa. We in the Philippine Congress are proud to partner with the IPU and the United Nations in hosting this seminar for countries in the Asia Pacific region.

Your presence today speaks of your shared commitment to the human rights realities in our respective countries. I therefore thank all of you for your participation. We all know that human rights are inherent to all peoples, regardless of their race, nationality, ethnic origin, sex and creed. They are not subject to abstract laws, because they are both quantifiable and enforceable. The beauty of human rights lies in their universality.

Such effort includes the first Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted in 1948 and which, since then, has been integrated into various international human rights conventions, declarations and resolutions. Human rights consist of various obligations under the international law. States are obligated to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. On the other hand, individuals, in the exercise of their human rights, must not infringe on the rights of others.

But for human rights promotion to be effective, we see the need for a representative body to look into the human rights situation in countries all over the world and its global implications. Today this role is performed by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

I wish to thank the Inter-Parliamentary Union for citing my country as an example of strong parliamentary involvement in the protection of human rights, including in the context of the Universal Periodic Review. Our Philippine Congress, a bicameral legislature composed of two houses, has permanent standing committees on human rights. The Chair of this conference we are holding today, Senator Koko Pimentel, is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We consider all matters directly related to the protection and promotion of human rights, as well as preventing violations thereof.

In reports the Philippine government submitted to the UN Human Rights Council for the past two cycles, the Philippines took note of the Council's recommendations and made significant strides in advancing them, as my good friend, Deputy Speaker Aggabao has said earlier. We shall continue taking into considerations the recommendations of the Council so as to further promote the human rights environment in the country.

My dear parliamentarians, we pass laws and with our oversight powers, we hold the government, especially the executive branch, to account for its actions. Our parliaments are crucial in ensuring that the recommendations in the Universal Periodic Review are considered and implemented.

Why do we work to promote human rights among our constituencies? Allow me to stress the increasing need to protect the human rights as well of our parliamentarians. The records are fraught with tales of killings, tortures and disappearances of parliamentarians, especially in countries still under authoritarian rule. In this note, I wish to emphasize the very crucial role of the IPU's Committee on Human Rights of Parliamentarians play in addressing the human rights of our fellow legislators.

My friends, we can be proud that in recent years our region has made significant advances in the area of promoting human rights. However, we must admit that there are still hardships to be faced, and more work to be done, more laws to be passed, more policies to be implemented in order to protect our more vulnerable citizens and sectors.

I hope that these next two days will provide us new avenues to explore, even as we share our best practices among countries in protecting and promoting human rights. Expert resource persons from the United Nations and other stakeholder groups are also here to help broaden our perspective and our appreciation for the promotion of human rights of all.

Let us make full use of this unique opportunity to reflect as members of parliament on the real meaning of human rights as a basic tool of true democracy, on how to ensure order in our society, and most importantly, on the power of the people. I quote South African leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela when he said, "To deny their human rights is to challenge their very humanity." Let these words resound loudly in each of our great halls of parliament, and let us reflect on his wisdom as we go through the next two days of this seminar.

Thank you all very much and let me welcome you all once more to our country.

News Latest News Feed