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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


(The Maguindanao, southern Philippines, massacre
of some 57 journalists and civilians: victims were brutally gunned down and mutilated, some shown covered with banana leaves in inset photo. The Philippine Government's announcement of its intention to proclaim Martial Law in the region has excited debates particularly centering on human rights which are feared to be the first to perish under such regimes.)

IN LIGHT of human rights violations all over the world, the issue is certainly one of the most pressing concerns of all men who respect their humanity.

In the southern Philippines, in Maguindanao, recent killings of journalists and civilians attributed to political groups have reached a point of brutality and meanness that the country's leadership is considering the imposition of Martial Law purportedly to stem the tide of a "rebellion" that threatens civilian society thereat.

Martial Law regimes, however, have been known to have sponsored the violation of human rights to "correct" another evil. Must another evil be invoked to rectify another evil? Does this qualify as one of those described by quite a number of people (even by the oppresssed themselves) as a case of "grandes malos, grandes remedios" (great wrongs require great remedies)?

How must human rights be regarded? Is it inherent in man to have rights? Why must these rights be defended even unto death? Why should it even be considered heroic to defend that which is man's right in the first place?

A philosophical and theological perspective on the concept of human rights is presented here by Philippine poet and scholar Francisco R. Albano , who runs a seminary for the Catholic priesthood in the Northern Philippines, so that the sturdy underpinnings of human rights may be better understood and defended by all men as the ultimate legacy that comes down from God, and as old as Creation.

Albano's persuasion is felicitously un-parochial; it speaks of universal human rights, and we are the richer for knowing and understanding his position.

As a monitor of human rights, I am proud to publish Albano's essay in this blog of issues "that deserve spending precious lifetime on." --- ALBERT B. CASUGA

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By Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano
Diocese of Ilagan

My task is to share with you some philosophico-theological reflections on human rights. From the point of view of my Catholic faith and what I consider sound humanist philosophical tenets, I would like discuss here the issue of human rights as asserted, promoted, violated or denied.

My philosophical point of departure is Robert M. Pirsig’s metaphysics of value, some of Jacques Maritain’s insights on human rights, and Emmanuel Levinas’ discourse on the Other. My faith reflections are based on the Bible and my personal and ecclesial commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord God and Savior. My reflections focus on values which determine the exercise of human rights and not on particular human rights.

Philosopher Robert M. Pirsig reminds us that we live in a world of values and that these values are graduated from lowest to highest. Thus:

 Inorganic value – the value/worth/quality of inanimate objects such as atoms, molecules, elements, basic compounds, arms, robots and so on, and their relationships
 Biological value – the value/worth/quality of flora and fauna and their relationships
 Social value – the value/worth/quality of human persons and their relationships (including those with the inanimate and biological world) according to law or to custom and other forms of social contract
 Intellectual value – value/worth/quality of ideas and principles based on reason produced by human persons
I think that to these four kinds of values must be added a fifth:
 Spiritual/transcendental – the values/worth/quality of ideas, principles, insights, including relationships, based on faith in a Supreme Being.; and, for Christians, the Good News of revelation. These ideas, principles, insights, truths are derived through personal and/or collective (specially ecclesial) prayer (meditation/ contemplation).

Before inorganic value is chaos.

Value is synonymous with worth and quality, and one can say there are five grades of quality. Christians would perhaps call the highest Quality God, but it is not necessary to do so. The human person knows how to judge “subjects, objects, data, values”, in terms of quality, even if unable to define quality. Everything has quality, worth or value of whatever kind. And when we speak of value we speak of morals/ ethics. The issue of human rights in all its aspects is therefore essentially one of values/ethics.

But why are we concerned with human rights today? We are concerned because human rights is/must be a basis for the establishment of a just social order. In a world where God, King, Pope, the Goddess of Reason, Political Parties are no longer at the center of social life; in a world characterized by differences of all sorts -- economic, political, cultural, ideological and religious – nations have agreed on human rights as practical conclusions for the establishment of a just social order despite respective differences on rational justifications. As Jacques Maritain has pointed out, we agree for different reasons and this is enough for now for joint action and solidarity among peoples. Arguably, by common consensus, human rights today has become the universal judge of the quality of law, power and public opinion in society – these three separate but interrelated essential dynamics of the social order.

I say outright that human rights conclusions as enunciated by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966/76) as well as the UN Universal Declaration of Women’s Rights as Human rights (1991) are of high social, intellectual and spiritual value. However, they are not of the quality of principles. They are, says Maritain, practical formulations and may be considered the collective highest achievement of nations to date. National constitutional formulations or particularizations of human rights are also practical conclusions themselves and are in the main judged in relation to the UN statements. For the Christian, however, this is not enough. A fuller richer understanding of human rights must take into consideration rational and faith dimensions that make it different from lower modes of understanding.

The issue with regard to human rights as practical conclusions has to do with praxis -- the exercise of human rights. Even as big business, government, civil society celebrate the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Women’s Rights, they differ on how human rights are respected, promoted, violated or even denied. The differences are determined and explained by the predominant value/s or value systems permeating the praxis, or the point of view of value from which one regards human rights. Let us look at the value patterns of big business, government and civil society of present day social (dis)order.

By big business I mean big monopoly capitalist business (and its allies of big merchants and landlords) determining contemporary globalization and regionalization. Have you ever heard of big business denouncing human rights violations by the government, the military establishment and by big business itself? It would of course denounce alleged human rights violations by civil society, specially by radical movements for social change. Does it view trade liberalization, deregulation, privatization and de-nationalization of industries as human rights violations responsible for so much human suffering? No, it would use these as arguments that it upholds human rights.

Its justifications aside, big business engages in this nefarious quaternity of evils because in truth it views human rights from the point of view of chaos-inorganic values of technology and economic profit. Inorganic values are the center of gravity of all other values. Higher values are brought down and humiliated. And so we understand that, for big business, peasants and workers are mere cogs of machines. Or if the toiling masses are considered alive, they are regarded as purely biological specimens deserving not living family wages but only minimum wages for biological survival and preservation of labor power. Perhaps the middle classes are treated a little better?

Government with its bodyguard of armed forces and police share the chaos-inorganic values of big business. Many of the human rights violations hurled by civil society against government and its military arm are politico-military aggressions against the people. They are an abuse of power entrusted by the people where people can be maltreated, tortured, maimed, harassed or killed to preserve the power structures of government, the military and big business. People are regarded not as human beings but as mere biological cells or tissues that can be excised if judged cancerous to established power. The dominant inorganic-biological value patterns of government are the center of gravity pulling down higher values and humiliating these.

The military has a low regard for even biological life. For the military the inorganic value of gun and bullet is supreme. Its favorite programs are “total war”, militarization of the countryside, and violent dispersal of mass actions and peaceful assemblies. It deems it impossible that the “enemy” can be made to surrender without firing a single shot, and that peace can be forged at the negotiating table and not in the battlefield. For it there is no such thing as “reasonable force’, only sheer violent inorganic force.

However, when they become the targets of legitimate legal and paralegal protest by the people, by civil society, big business, the government and the military are quick to shout that their human rights are being violated. Their technocrats would manipulate interpretations of law and UN protocols to serve their vested interests.

The value patterns of civil society in general are different from that of big business, the government cum military establishment. The dominant value patterns of civil society since the 18th century or since the French formulated the “Rights of Man and the Citizen” in 1789, are of high social-intellectual quality. The UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are today a center of gravity that pulls up lower values, including that of ethnocentricity, to higher levels of integrative human quality life. The Bill of Rights of national constitutions participate in the quality of the UN Declaration even if the Bill is not respected in social practice and, ironically, constitutional provisions contradict it.

Certainly different in value patterns from present day conventional establishment are civil society’s NGOs at the forefront of the human rights movement in the Philippines: Karapatan, the Promotion of Church People’s Response, the Ecumenical Bishops’ Conference, and of course the Isabela Ecumenical Conference.

The philosophical foundation of the high patterns of value of civil society (comprising free and voluntary associations including non-government organizations, people’s organizations and Church groups) and its formulations of human rights is unwritten Natural Law, the basic premise of which is “do good and avoid evil”, intuited by human beings as their law and applicable to them. There is of course in the universe natural law for other things, and which may be defined, according to Maritain, as the “normality of functioning.” Men and women do not know Natural Law in the same way and in the same degree, but the basic premise is common to all. They know it through “the inclinations of human nature,” as Thomas Aquinas would put it. It is the Natural Law of human dignity; of people as human and civic persons. It is for all. Natural human rights grounded on the normal functioning of human nature are inalienable.

Now, where does the faith of the Christian believer as part of civil society come in? It must come in, be part of the pattern of values of the human person. The faith foundation of patterns of value of the Christian believer is of course the Word of God in the Bible and as incarnated as Jesus Christ. Spiritual transcendental values of faith are value added to the social-intellectual values discerned by philosophy and the other human sciences and raise all values to the level of the human person as “unto God’s image”; the human person as, in Trinitarian language, created by the Father, redeemed by the Son and sanctified and blessed by the Holy Spirit. Human rights conclusions are therefore imaged differently from the point of value of the Christian believer. The center of gravity is faith. His anger, unleashed because of human rights violations, is called prophetic according to the normality of his functioning as Child of God.

My faith reflection takes off from Genesis 1:26-27.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Here is faith justification of human rights: man and woman are unto the image not only of God but also of the whole of creation. Male and female contain all values including participatory divine value. They are precious in the sight of God; they are good. The divine value beyond intellectual values and beyond natural law is the center of gravity of man and woman’s pattern of values. Man and woman are of high value because they are capable of producing ideas and, above all, because they reflect supreme divinity. Therefore are they empowered to rule over creation. Therefore man and woman are value judgments against all perpetrators of human rights violations. Therefore the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Women’s Rights are of great value and are basis for sound social order because to a great extent they are in accord with man and woman of the first creation.

If the fact that man and woman in the image of creation and of God is not enough, then one must view human rights in the light of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). The first three govern our duties to reverence God, while the last seven command respect for others and oneself in social relationships. Jesus gestalts all into two. The first and greatest commandment, he says, is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And another like it is: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37-39). One is commanded to love neighbor as himself; and to love others as the Lord Jesus loves. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 16:12). Man and woman are lovable and must be loved because the Lord loves them. Loves us. Are not love of God and love of neighbor then faith justifications of human rights? And it is love that must take many forms – economic, political, cultural, and social. Love imaged as light, leaven, salt. Love as living and life-giving bread and wine for all; as Jesus Christ himself. Again it is divine value that is crucial.

It is interesting to note that Jesus uses the word “neighbor” in the singular. It would seem that he wants to inculcate in us all the fact that not only must each person in himself or herself be loved but also the fact that all persons must be loved in each one. Each one carries the world; this enables us to say that the martial law regime of President Marcos, the total war campaign of President Aquino, the low intensity conflict of President Ramos and the war against terrorism of President Arroyo did not kill thousands of Filipinos but killed a Filipino a thousand and more times; just as the great Emmanuel Levinas could say that Hitler did not kill six million Jews but killed a Jew six million times.

The neighbor who is himself and all of us philosophy calls the “Other”, with a capital “O”. He/she is not abstract, Levinas reminds us, but pure signification. The Jewish philosopher explains that the “Other” is “Face” present, undefined by shape of nose, thickness of lips or color of eyes; naked, vulnerable, commanding you, me: “Thou shalt not kill.” To which in the normality of my functions, through the inclinations of my human nature I respond, must respond: “I am answerable, I am responsible for you! I shall not violate your rights but shall uphold, protect and promote them.” With Levinas I acknowledge that “the rights of Man are the rights of the Other.” They are the rights of neighbor.

A concrete sign of one’s responsibility for the Other, for neighbor, God’s beloved, is respect for and promotion and defense human rights. Another sign, Levinas and the compassionate Jesus would surely point out, is acknowledgement of “guilt without fault and without debt” by survivors (the “nakaligtas”) if human rights of people, of the Other, are violated by oppressors and exploiters and criminals whether these be persons or institutions which, of course, would have a totally different kind of guilt. I take responsibility for what is not my deed; for human rights violations anywhere, not of my making!

A conclusion must be made at this point. It is immoral for big business and government and the military establishment determined and dominated by chaos-inorganic-biological values to dominate civil society possessed of higher social-intellectual-spiritual / transcendental values. It is moral for such civil society to subdue the unholy trinity.

Levinas does not say so, but I’d like to believe that the face of the Other is my face before I was born; what God saw and knew before I was conceived, when he looked at the goodness of himself. (Jeremiah 1.5) If this is so, then indeed the whole issue of human rights is about holiness; about being holy “for I, Yahweh, your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19.2)

Be holy, uphold human rights. #

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