Amnesty International Philippines re-launched its national campaign ‘Sagot Mo Ba Ako?’ for the May 2022 elections with an open letter asking 52 candidates running for the top positions to address pressing human rights issues in the country.
“Amnesty International Philippines continues to emphasize that candidates should have clear and comprehensive plans of action on important human rights issues. We ask them once more – ‘Sagot Mo Ba Ako?’ on the war on drugs for instance, how do they plan to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted? Are they willing to cooperate with the International Criminal Court? We expect these plans written and signed because we will hold them to account when they win in the elections,” said Philippine Section Director, Butch Olano.
Amnesty International Philippines continues to emphasize that candidates should have clear and comprehensive plans of action on important human rights issues. We ask them once more – ‘Sagot Mo Ba Ako?’Butch Olano, Section Director
The open letter included guide questions for the candidates based on social issues affecting peoples’ right to security of person, health, education, labor and social security, and freedom of expression.
“These issues reflect how the human rights situation in the country took a turn for the worse from one administration to another. We first launched SMBA in 2010, before Former President Benigno Aquino’s term, where we focused on civil and political rights. Amnesty saw little progress as PNoy turned the government over to President Rodrigo Duterte. But our situation further deteriorated under Duterte’s administration. It is very unfortunate that our human rights agenda now includes prioritizing the most basic rights, guaranteed by the constitution, and that the Filipino people still need to ask for better health care, decent work or freedom from fear and want – these are the bare minimum. After two presidents, we are left scraping the bottom of the barrel,” Olano added.
These issues reflect how the human rights situation in the country took a turn for the worse from one administration to another.
HR agenda for the people, by the people
The five key issues included in Amnesty International Philippines’ open letter were the result of three focus group discussions conducted in 2021 with members of the organization representing 12 regions. The discussions were segmented in three parts – participation in the National Elections, understanding needs of the communities and building a human rights criteria for candidates.
“The process Amnesty conducted with the membership is part of a larger work on impunity and the push back against repressive governments. We recognize how elections shape the future of a nation not just in the Philippines but in a number of countries around the world most specially in South East Asia. Other Amnesty Sections undergo the same processes, and the trend shows that the world will not see an end to the politics of demonization anytime soon. This is the reality we are facing everywhere. Truth seeking, accountability and justice, more recently, have become a challenge to achieve. Human rights is in its darkest days. These are reflected in peoples’ lived experiences, so we listened to the conversations happening in the communities, and we aim to bring peoples’ voices into the election debate,” Olano explained.
Trend shows that the world will not see an end to the politics of demonization anytime soon. This is the reality we are facing everywhere. Truth seeking, accountability and justice, more recently, have become a challenge to achieve. Human rights is in its darkest days.
According to Amnesty International Philippines, the Sagot Mo Ba Ako Project also draws on the power of youth voices as a strong force in the coming elections comprising more than 50% of newly registered voters. Participants of the consultation process were also 75% youth members.
“SMBA aims to contribute to developing an electorate that is informed of the impact of their vote, discerning of election narratives, and upholds a human rights criteria in casting their vote. This objective goes beyond administrations or political colors. SMBA brings to light all the issues affecting peoples’ lives. We expect people who will be elected in May 2022 to address these concerns. Their response to our open letter is crucial in painting a picture of the human rights future they envision for the Philippines,” Olano said.
Concerns raised by members of Amnesty International Philippines are also documented in the organization’s State of the World’s Human Rights report which gives an overview of the human rights situation in the Philippines under different administration. This year’s annual report will be released in late March following a comprehensive Human Rights Legislative Agenda for the next Congress outlining its recommendations.
SMBA aims to contribute to developing an electorate that is informed of the impact of their vote, discerning of election narratives, and upholds a human rights criteria in casting their vote .
Administration, Campaigning and Outcome
While the launch of SMBA on 18 February centered around the candidates’ plan of action, Amnesty said that this project as whole aims to contribute in shaping a safe, fair and honest environment for the May 2022 elections.
“Intentional misinformation seems to have fueled peoples’ conversations online, its polarizing effect were felt moreso after the filing of certificates of candidacy. Instead of talking about their candidates’ platform, Filipinos talk about whether or not a meme is fake, the voting public are being swayed away from discussing matters affecting their lives. The massive impact of fake news became the white noise dominating different online and offline spaces. The important issue that no one seems to be talking about, because all political parties benefit from it, is the fact that social media companies involved in facilitating and moderating online content do not uphold their human rights responsibilities, making profit by giving powerful users a free rein to harass, make false claims, and incite violence in their online platforms. Amnesty will provide a space where these concerns are discussed through SMBA, ” said Olano.
The organization is also calling on both Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and political parties to step up their efforts to disseminate reliable, accessible, evidence-based and trustworthy information, including on the measures that are being taken to protect the integrity of the elections, and staying within COVID-19 protocols.
“Our shared duty is to make sure that we emerge from this election with hope to start anew. So together, we need to stay on watch as early as the campaigning period, not just of each other or only our preferred candidates, but COMELEC and other line agencies as well, to make sure they’re keeping up with their obligations in ensuring fair elections which is guaranteed under our constitution, the Omnibus Election Code and the Fair Elections Act,” Olano explained.
“It is crucial that the next leaders share the same values of justice, equality and non-discrimination, which were almost non-existent in Duterte’s administration.
“It is crucial that the next leaders share the same values of justice, equality and non-discrimination, which were almost non-existent in Duterte’s administration. We want a leader who has integrity, who abides by the principles of democracy and good governance. Filipinos are all aware of the horrors of martial law, Philippine presidents who served after Marcos’ regime failed at pulling the country out from the rut the dictator left us in, Duterte sank us even deeper. Our children will suffer its effects, though it seems it becomes more difficult to surface the root of everything that is plaguing the country because of fake news and misinformation, another leader who disregards human rights will further bring us to our knees. We have the power to prevent that in May,” Olano said.
According to Amnesty International, several candidates running for President, Vice-President, and Senator have expressly committed to sending their plan of action and responses—written or through interviews. The organization continues to monitor the responses and release updates publicly.
To ensure wider reach, Amnesty has also partnered with Edukasyon.Ph, the leading education technology platform in the Philippines empowering more than 20 million Filipino Gen Z youth; and with different advocacy groups on the Bantay Karapatan sa Halalan Project, supported by the Commission on Human Rights, for safeguarding and promoting election participation and raising public awareness around voters’ rights.
Spokespersons are available will be available for interview, email [email protected].