“Karapatang Pantao, Karapatan ng Bawat Pilipino”: Philippine Jesuits Host Human Rights Festival

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In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Society of Jesus Social Apostolate (SJSA) together with Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB) and the Ateneo Office of the VP for Mission Integration, organized a Human Rights Festival entitled, “Karapatang Pantao, Karapatan ng Bawat Pilipino.” The whole-day event took place on December 6th at the Institute of Social Order (ISO) building of the Ateneo de Manila University.

The festival drew diverse participants, including members of the academe, parish groups, religious and faith-based communities, and NGOs. Aiming to reignite the commitment to human rights, the event unfolded as an essential platform for reflection, discussion, and renewed dedication.

The opening remarks by Dr. Benjie Tolosa, Ateneo de Manila University’s Vice President of Mission Integration, set the tone by reminding participants of their gathering as one Filipino and Christian community. Dr. Tolosa emphasized the enduring hope in the face of global challenges, invoking Pope Francis’s call for unity in “Fratelli Tutti.”

Insights into the State of Human Rights in the Philippines

The day began with a detailed analysis of the state of human rights in the Philippines by Atty. Melchor Cayabyab, Supervising Training Specialist at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Atty. Cayabyab shed light on the dark legacy of impunity left by the Duterte administration, underscoring the urgent need to address the culture of impunity in the country. He warned of continued challenges of disinformation and fake news under the new Marcos administration, emphasizing the importance of concrete actions to demonstrate a genuine commitment to human rights.

Heartfelt Stories and Visual Narratives

The morning continued with Silingan Coffee employees sharing firsthand accounts of their family members falling victim to extrajudicial killings. The Cubao-based coffee shop, an initiative of Redemptorist Brother Jun Santiago, in collaboration with Respond and Break the Silence Against the Killings (RESBAK), provides jobs and a platform for families affected by EJKs to share their stories.

Renowned photojournalist Raffy Lerma then voiced his concern for the children and youth affected by EJKs, emphasizing the need for concrete assistance in rehabilitation, education, and poverty alleviation. A photo exhibition curated by Fr. Jason Dy, SJ, showcased Lerma’s works around the Social Development Complex, juxtaposing them with texts from the Eight Beatitudes based on the Gospel of Matthew.

Championing Human Rights Advocacy

In the afternoon, Dr. Nimya Pimentel-Simbulan shared her 40-year journey as a human rights defender, offering insights from her experiences as a campus activist during Martial Law. She encouraged advocates to maintain an analytical mind amid the rise of disinformation and emphasized the importance of bravery and optimism.

Through a workshop, the pair of Gail Ann Diola and Georgiavi Irah Talamayan, legal officers from the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) addressed FAQs on legal remedies for human rights violations, as well as relayed the importance of documenting abuses.

Candlelit Prayer and Musical Tribute

As the event drew to a close, Fr. Nono Alfonso, SJ, JesCom Executive Director and Chair of the Province Commission on the Social Apostolate, led participants in a candlelit prayer, expressing gratitude for the gained wisdom and newfound hope. Meanwhile, OPM artist and JesCom Board Member Noel Cabangon’s rousing performance of songs themed around patriotism, and brotherhood resonated deeply, concluding with his classic hit “Kanlungan.”

At the end of “Karapatang Pantao, Karapatan ng Bawat Pilipino,” participants left with a renewed commitment to champion human rights, armed with insights gained from powerful stories, expert perspectives, and collective prayers- underscoring the pivotal role each individual plays in upholding and promoting the dignity of all.


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