Violence, Humanity and Humility

[Welcome Address: Multi-Stakeholders’ Summit on the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), ADDU, Finster Auditorium, March 25, 2014.]

It is my privilege to welcome you to ADDU for this Multi-Stakeholder’s Summit on the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).  Thank you for responding positively to to the invitation that we issued jointly with His Excellency Archbishop Fernando R. Capalla, DD, Archbishop Emeritus of Davao, Dr. Gail Ilagan, Convenor of Bantay Bayanihan Davao, Mr. Vicente T. Lao, President of the Mindanao Business Council, Mr. Mariano Alquiza, Presidnet of the Association of Regional Executives of National Agencies XI, and Mr. Alfredo Lubang, National Coordinator of the Philipine Campaign to Ban Landmines.

We welcome especially  Hon. Silvestre Bello III, One Barangay Aming Paglingkuran Partylist Representativ; Major Gen. Ariel Bernardo, Commander, 10th Infantry Division, Philippine Army; Major General Domingo Tutaan, Spokesperson and Internal Auditor of the AFP; Brig. General Lisandro Suerte, Asst. Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Civil Military Operations, AFP; Hon. Claude Bautista, Governor of the Province of Davao del Sur; Atty. Nitoy Robillo, President of Rizal Memorial Colleges; Mr. Ednar Dayanghirang, member of the Peace Panel representing the GPH in the GPH – CPP/NDF/NPA Peace Talks; Mr. Angie Anglionto, Former Chairperson, Mindanao Economic Development Council, Ms. Kathlene Tolosa, National Chairperson of Bantay Bayanihan, and Police Superintendent Filmore Escobal, Chief, Regional PNP Community Relations Service.

The importance of the CARHRIHL cannot be gainsaid.  That will be presented, discussed and advocated in the course of this Summit.

Allow me however to speak to the matter at hand from a different perspective. It may seem like in our national situation the antagonists are the on the one hand, People the Philippines, represented by the Government of  Philippines and its Armed Forces of the Philippines, and on the other hand, the People’s Democratic Government represented by its National Democratic Front of the Philippines and its New People’s Army.  It is after all these two antagonists who despite their antagonism laudably forged the CARHRIHL.

From another view, it may also seem like the antagonists are, on the one hand, the Western democratic powers, that in many divergent shades of governance speak of free trade, free economies, and international monetary systems, global in nature, and on the other hand, socialist or communist powers inspired by the thought of Karl Marx and the protracted struggle of Mao Zedong, where private property is overcome by social property and private interest overcome ultimately by a communist order.

These two antagonist poles have had their representatives, sometimes passionate, sometimes rabid, always idealistic and cause-oriented, who even within our shores have not balked at pronouncing anathemas and condemnations at their opponents, and on them declaring war.  Damn the capitalist imperialists whose so-called “God” permits so much social injustice and human suffering; to hell with the godless communists who sacrifice individuals ruthlessly for the sake of a utopian society their centralized planning can never bring about!  The use of molotov cocktails, bullets, bombs, landmines, and the willingness to shed blood, one’s own, or an other’s, the cold cold measure of “deeper commitment.” The result has not been pretty. We have declared war on one another, unleashed all the violence we could muster, hating, killing, weeping, taking umbrage in that we have not succeeded in conquest, taking offence in that the opponent’s strength is not extinguished.  And so we fight on and on, every now and then shocked at how brutal we in our advocacy for humane humanity can be, righteous in our torture, righteous in our massacres, righteous in our landmines which kill and maim even the innocent.  Yet, at other times, no longer shocked in our violence, no longer capable of shock. Instead, numbed, no longer sensing what is too painful to feel.  And now, so often, we don’t really even understand anymore why it is we fight. To live on from day to day, we guess. To kill or be killed. Once, for humanity, now, for money that keeps body and soul together for another day of killing. Or, for the secret money that from some deep throat allows me to cough out information for thirty pieces of deceit.

I think, with all due respect, it is somewhat in this context that we come together.  CARHRIHL, it strikes me, has three important components.

The first is respect for human rights.  Perhaps this is so because despite the antagonism of the opposed parties there are shared roots of unity and harmony in recognition of the dignity of the human being and of that which necessarily belongs to him or her in that dignity.  Like the right to life, especially against summary executions, involuntary disappearances, massacres, and indiscriminate bombardments of communities (4). Or, the right not to be held in involuntary servitude or to perform forced or compulsory labor (7). Or, the right to information on matters of public concern and access to records, documents and papers pertaining to acts, transactions or decision of persons in authority (17).

The second is respect for international humanitarian law. This is the law which governs warfare. This is an incredibly ironic law, isn’t it?  For, it is a law which says, if we must go to war, then let us seek to conquer one another without losing the rudiments of our humanity.  And so, even for conditions of war, we agree to prohibit:  violence to life and person, particularly killing and causing injury, being subjected to physical or mental torture, mutilation, corporal punishment, cruel or degrading treatment and all acts of violence and reprisals, including hostage taking, and acts against the physical well-being, dignity, political convictions, and other rights.

The third is it is an agreement.  Both sides, in touch with their humanity, have freely agreed to this. CAHRHIL was signed in The Hague, Netherlands, on March 19, 1998.  It was signed because antagonists appreciated that they were human.

Today we come together to revisit it.  We come to revisit our respect for human rights, our respect of humanitarian law, and our agreement.  We come together in truth, honor and humility, recalling perhaps that the enemy may not necessarily be the opponent antagonist against whom we point our guns, but the original flaw in our humanity which is a condition of our being human together – and which no amount of warring on another may ever remove.

Let me end by sharing with you that recently I was at a meeting of educators. We talked about transformative education.  We asked, “How we can teach peace?”  One distinguished peace educator, Dr. Loreto Corpus, said, “We must make non-violence part of our curriculum for peace.”  I said, “Non violence is not realistic. People are not ready for it. People must be able to defend themselves against violent aggression.  Look at what is happening in the Crimea.  Look at what is happening in the West Philippine Sea.”  She said, “But we must be able to begin somewhere. People must learn to solve their problems without violence.”  I said, “We can propose non violence, but we cannot impose it.”

On reflection, however, not being able to impose non-violence, often means we must impose violence even against human rights and against international humanitarian law.  We always are able to justify why we must do what we just must do! I suppose that is why we are here this morning.  Perhaps, we want to rediscover what is it in our humanity that makes us want to kill one another in the name of humanity, and – in humility – what it is in our humanity that compels us to stop.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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