The Philippines are very famous for their extraordinary landscapes, their rare and rich fauna and Manny Pacquiao commonly regarded as the world’s best boxer. Yet though non-governmental organizations have continuously pointed to problems of inequality, corruption and violations of human rights throughout the past decade, there’s little knowledge about social issues among Western societies. Being aware of a problem marks the first step to tackling it and thus, two Philippine Human Rights Defenders visited Germany to share their experience, to discuss with people, and to encourage them to take actions.
On the 12th April 2012, Jessielyn Colegado and Danilo T. Gaban arrived in Frankfurt. They brought along a plan for the two-week speaking tour through Germany. The International Peace Observers Network (IPON) organized meetings, interviews and panel discussions in the cities of Leipzig, Berlin, Luneburg, Hamburg, Marburg, Bonn, Essen and Mainz. It was the first time for the two Filipino activists to travel abroad and to speak on behalf of their organizations in front of an international audience.
Colegado is the vice president of PADATA. She lives in Panalsalan, a small village belonging to the province of Bukidnon in central Mindanao. The 49-year old married mother of five children lives mainly on the earnings of her corn and sugarcane cultivation. She is a founding member and an elected representative of PADATA.
Gaban is the regional coordinator of TFM for Negros and an organizer for nationwide protest actions. He supports farmers in administrative matters and advises them in the process of applying for land titles within the government-led land reform. He regularly meets farmer leaders to discuss recent developments and future strategies .
When they left their home country, both activists shared high expectations regarding the speaking tour. While Colegado hoped to improve the security situation of PADATA and its members by sharing the issue with an interested audience, Gaban said: “We want to broaden our network and introduce TFM not only to interested NGOs, but also to politicians and state institutions”. Both activists were not to be disappointed. They had constructive talks with NGOs such as the Society for International Development, the Forum Civil Peace Service, the Philippinenbuero, and Amnesty International Germany with agreements on closer cooperation and continuous exchange of information. Moreover, the two activists took the opportunity to address their issues at the German Federal Foreign Office.
IPON also tried to encourage the critical audience to support civil society initiatives and organizations and to motivate more people to get further involved in dealing with critical social issues, especially human rights. “How can I effect a change?”, and “How does my signature make a difference?” these were the questions to be answered. Many people belief to be powerless in tackling human rights violations and global injustice. IPON sought to reduce doubts and to show ways to make a difference, to play a part in civil society and to improve the situation of human rights defenders. Together with PADATA and TFM, the human rights organization drafted a letter to Undersecretary Catura of the Philippine Presidential Human Rights Committee. The letter referred to international covenants on human rights and reminded the Philippine government of their obligation to uphold and guarantee human rights to all Philippine citizens. As of now, more than 100 people have signed the letter (signing the letter).
Furthermore, panel discussions with German politicians on the national and the Federal state level gave the audience and the panelists the chance to explicitly address German politics. In this context, IPON emphasized on the need to strengthen civil society initiatives and to stronger focus on the situation of human rights defenders in the Philippines. And some successes could be noticed. During the panel discussion in Berlin, Christoph Strässer, member of the German parliament for the Social Democratic Party (SPD), promised to bring the issue to the parliamentary board for human rights and humanitarian aid. The same commitment was expressed by Jürgen Klimke, member of the German parliament for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Even at the Federal state level, vice chairwoman of the German Green Party, Anne Spiegel, seemed willing to become active and promised to exchange information with Volker Beck and Barbara Lochbihler, her fellow party members on the national and European level. As Ms. Lochbihler was chairwoman of the board for human rights in the European Parliament, Spiegel said that a delegation trip of the Green Party to the Philippines could be considered.
Nevertheless, the Philippines demonstrate that merely showing solidarity and goodwill will not change the situation. The island state ratified important international covenants on human rights, such as the ICCPR or the ICESCR. However, by referring to torture, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, international human rights organizations annually issue alarming human rights records.
Both activists have already returned to the Philippines, but the work and the engagement for the promotion of human rights will continue in Germany. There is hope that the speaking tour will encourage some people to reflect and promote human rights in Germany and that the involved politicians will effectively engage on human rights bases. The voice of the discontent in Germany shall eventually be heard by Philippine decision-makers and lead to adequate actions.