Through 'Ka Pepe,' Sereno reflects on human rights in PH

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno raises the challenges confronting human rights today, as a monument of the late Jose 'Ka Pepe' Diokno is unveiled on the 45th anniversary of Martial Law

Bea Cupin

Published: 3:30 PM September 21, 2017

Updated: 3:30 AM September 21, 2017

REMEMBERING KA PEPE. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Vice President Leni Robredo, CHR Chairman Chito Gascon, and former president Benigno Aquino III lead the unveiling of the Jose Diokno monument inside the CHR compound. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Vice President

MANILA, Philippines – Amid the threat of impeachment and a bloody but popular drug war in the country, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno turned to the late statesman Jose "Ka Pepe" Diokno to express condemnation of extrajudicial killings.

Diokno is considered among the "founders" of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). (READ: No cause more worthy: Ka Pepe Diokno's fight for human rights)

Speaking at the unveiling of Diokno's monument inside the CHR compound in Quezon City on Thursday, September 21, Sereno made a barely veiled criticism of the spate of killings in the drug war. September 21 is the anniversary of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos' declaration of martial law.

Sereno, in her speech, narrated how a conversation with Diokno would be like if he were alive today. (READ: Diokno's vision for PH as 'nation for our children' not yet realized)

On the period after Marcos' ouster, Sereno said: "Inasahan ng lahat na uunlad nang mapayapa at tuloy-tuloy ang ating bansa. Sa halip, patuloy pa ring naghihikahos ang karamihan sa ating kababayan. Laganap pa rin ang mga dati na nating problema. Matindi ang pangamba ng mga ina at ama tuwing lumalalim ang gabi. Ibinubulong nila: Sana naman, huwag ang anak namin, huwag ang binatilyo naming pinakamamahal."

(We all expected that the country would progress peacefully. Instead, most of our countrymen continue to suffer. The problems of the past continue. Fathers and mothers fear the darkness of the night. They whisper: I hope they don't touch our child, not our beloved son.)

Last August, there were two high-profile deaths of male teenagers at the hands of police – that of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos on August 16, and two days later, 19-year-old Carl Arnaiz. Their deaths sparked outrage and renewed calls for an end to extrajudicial killings.

In various events and protests around the country on Thursday, tens of thousands of Filipinos both remembered the dark days of Martial Law and raised alarm over the spate of killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war. (READ: 'Enough of the slaughter of mostly poor' – Diokno clan)

Sereno continued:

Ipagpapatuloy pa ni Ka Pepe: "Ipaliwanag mo, na kung buhay at bubuhayin lamang ang Konstitusyon sa puso ng bawat mamamayan at lingkod ng batas, wala sanang pangamba. Sabihin mo sa mga inang OFW, na kung susunod sa patakaran ang mga awtoridad, matutugunan ang kalagayan ng kabataang napagbintangan ng paglabag sa batas. Na lahat ng ina at ama, hindi sana natatakot pagsapit ng dilim.

“Sabihin mo na rin sa kabataan, na paalalahanan ang sambayanan: Ang paggalang sa karapatang pantao ay haligi ng Saligang Batas, ito ang tinutukoy ng Pambungad ng Konstitusyon na magdudulot ng tunay na katarungan at kapayapaan.

“Ang Konstitusyon ay banal na kasunduan ng taumbayan sa isa’t isa, at ng taumbayan sa gobyerno. Ang bawat pagsuway dito ay malaking kasalanan sa taumbayan.

Sereno is the subject of an impeachment complaint before the House of Representatives. Critics of the Duterte administration have said the case is politically motivated, a claim which Sereno's spokespersons have repeatedly declined to comment on.

"My dear young people, Ka Pepe Diokno had served with all patriotism and courage. In the place and time that was given him, in a particular period in history, he had kept faith with the Filipino. The Commission on Human Rights is but one of his many legacies. A simple bust is not enough to remind people of the honor with which he waged his campaign for the return of democracy to our country. We must continue to relive his struggles, and articulate his thoughts," the Chief Justice said.

Diokno was among Marcos' fiercest critics. He was jailed along with fellow senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr during Martial Law. (READ: Diokno defined courage for the Martial Law generation)

After he was released from prison, Diokno created the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), which provided pro-bono legal advice to political prisoners and other victims of Marcos' reign. The group expanded its coverage to help indigenous peoples threatened by military presence, peasants, and other social workers.

In 1986, after Marcos was ousted, Diokno became the founding chairman of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, which Corazon Aquino, the late Ninoy's widow, formed to spearhead efforts to bring rebels back to the mainstream.

The Presidential Committee on Human Rights, noted incumbent CHR Chairman Chito Gascon, was the immediate predecessor of the CHR. (READ: Hate human rights? They protect the freedoms you enjoy–