The better question would be: Is “human rights” still relevant in the Philippines? It is, if you are a Martial Law Crybaby who is throwing a tantrum over the recent declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao.
For “activists” who shriek “Bloody Murder!” at the mere mention of Martial Law, “human rights” is the be-all-end-all argument used to shut down any discussion on the topic. Human rights, after all, is an absolute of the human species these “activists” insist. It is a doctrine that the entire human race ought to enshrine in their respective governments’ charters. Once this unanimous bowing to this modern religion called “human rights” happens, the world, these “activists” say, will enjoy universal peace, prosperity, and harmony.
That’s the theory at least. It sounds good on paper. But can it be applied?
For that question to be answered, we need to dig deeper into the underlying assumptions that prop up the lofty notion of “human rights” that we have long taken for granted.
Here is the single biggest one and its single point of failure…
Human rights is an absolute universal truth about humanity.
If we believe that this assumption is true, then we may as well believe in everything written in the Holy Bible — or for that matter, any body of writing held sacred by any organised hierarchical religion. Our belief in bibles on “human rights” — whether this be one authored by “international bodies” like the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, or one New Age preacher or the other follows the same cognitive model that once upon a time held up the Christian Bible as an indisputable and infallible source of truth.
The trouble with this thinking model is that it traps people into a fatal circular logic — belief in so-called “absolutes” that are propped up by mere appeals to authority. As long as the brand equities of, say, the UN, the Human Rights Watch, or the latest celebrity endorser remain influential to a critical mass of believers, the mythologies propagated by these organisations or individuals are perceived to be gospel truths. It’s no different to how the gods of Mount Olympus were once real to the ancient Greeks, or how medieval peasants once believed that tickets to the Gates of Heaven can be purchased from friars through “indulgences”, or how we once thought that we’d wake up blind if we went to bed while our hair was still wet after a shower.
The reality is, depending on which head of state or tribal chieftain you ask, the notion of “human rights” is relative. Governments giveth human rights and governments taketh away human rights. When a government revokes “human rights”, say when Martial Law is declared because certain liberties are being abused, individuals do not have a higher power to appeal to who will defend their perceived entitlement to their “human rights”.
Entitlement to “human rights” is only as good as a critical mass of popular appeal backing the notion.
In the case of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of Martial Law over the island of Mindanao, that writ is effective on the following bases:
(1) It was declared by a popularly-elected national chief executive;
(2) It is made legal by a clause in a Constitution that was ratified by popular vote in a national plebiscite; and,
(3) It can be upheld (or, perhaps, overruled) by a Congress of popularly-elected representatives.
In short, everything and everyone that makes the current declaration of Martial Law over Mindanao valid is its popular appeal and the popularity of the people who direct it, enforce it, and endorse it. That’s democracy. If there are limits to the application and effectivity of Martial Law in its current form, those limits can be changed or even revoked. No problem at all in a democracy. All that needs to be done is for popular will to be marshalled around such an initiative; say, via legislation authored and passed by Congress’s popularly-elected members, via a constitutional commision convened on the authority of that same Congress of popular folk, or even by a referendum or plebiscite held amongst affected peoples (such as ones that, over years, crystallised Muslim “autonomy” in certain provinces).
It’s all about popularity and popularity is the only true absolute not just in a democracy but in any form of government. After all, even monarchs and dictators rule on the back of a popular consent to be ruled over or, more specifically, to live in fear of the consequences of dissent. In the case of the 1986 people power “revolution”, it was only when the idea of revolting gained popularity that said “revolution” succeeded. You need to be popular to get things done. And you need to make your ideas popular for these to be realised.
So, in this instance following the Marawi City crisis, “human rights” is trumped by popularity — indisputable proof that “human rights” is not an absolute of humanity. This is the reality today’s “activists” and Martial Law Crybabies need to deal with.
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