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Bangsamoro Human Rights Network rallies support for BHRC

SINCE April 2019, the Regional Human Rights Commission (RHRC) has been consulting various civil society groups all over the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to engage and strengthen civil society players as frontliners to Bangsamoro human rights awareness and protection.

The possibility of a vacuum in Human Rights services is a concern among stakeholders as the regional government transitions from the former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the BARMM prompting the transition of the RHRC into the Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission (BHRC).

Consultations continue with Eid’lAdha serendipitously just around the corner underscoring RHRC’s work of living out and protecting the rights of the Bangsamoro, as an act of sacrifice and obedience.

With majority of the Bangsamoro belonging to the Islamic faith, the “Festival of Sacrifice” which falls on the 12th of August is a momentous time marking the need to respond to the call made by Bangsamoro Grand Mufti Abu HurairaUdasan of the Regional Darul Ifta at the recently concluded Bangsamoro Human Rights Network (BHRN) Summit held July 16th in Cotabato City: “Islam preserves human rights; peace is the norm; war is exception; life is a basic human rights; and Human Rights must be preserved and provided with standard.”

While the RHRC has historically strengthened its capacities, it is limited in terms of resources to truly reach the farthest sitios in the BARMM.

Its kapehan with CSOs has reached some 50,000 Bangsamoros, a little over 1% of the total Bangsamoro population in the Philippines estimated to be 3.78 million strong across the country (PSA, 2015).

Mid-July, the RHRC served as host and convenor to the BHRN Summit – a milestone gathering of 192 participants including leaders of the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority (BTA), specifically, representatives from the Office of the Chief Minister, the legislature, the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Regional Planning and Development Office, among others.

Friends from the military, the PNP, local and international NGOs and CSOs were present and expressed their support as witnesses to the BHRN’s efforts to institutionalize a system for human rights advocacy, monitoring and reporting in the BARMM.

A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) among the BHRN-CSO member-partners was signed at the summit as a “living document” with each network member committing to monitor, report incidents of human rights violations, and expanding the reach of human rights education, awareness and protection in their respective communities. CSOs present at the forum represented the five BARMM chapters: Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The summit was graced by Atty. Badr Salendab, representative of the BTA Office of the Chief Minister and the BTA Majority Floor Leader Lanang Ali, Jr.

Both asserted the constitution of the BHRC as a way to implement the Bangsamoro Organic Law – the law having been ratified following a plebiscite just six months ago on 25 January 2019.

Delivering a message on behalf of the BTA Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, Salendab shared that “with transitional justice as an overarching framework,” the BTA looks forward to the “possibility that the BHRC law will be enacted by Parliament for [the] BTA to strengthen the functions, duties and responsibilities of the Commission.”

Ebrahim recognized the Network as a key influencer in ensuring that the “BHRC will be more active, promotive and protective of the fundamental human rights of the Bangsamoro people.”

Also, RHRC Chairman Abdulnasser Badrudin called for media support to help CSOs be force multipliers forBangsamoro Human Rights.

“We want the communities to know of their rights and to ask their government for these rights. Ipapapmana namin ito sa kanila (we will leave this as our legacy). RHRC will continue this while we wait for BHRN-CSO [to fully operationalize and expand] we need constant engagement with the media, specifcally for the BHRC Bill.”

Membership to the BHRN is regulated through accreditation and advocates the vital role of CSOs in public participation and policy-decision-making to deliver basic services and governance.

The Network provides a space for “CSOs (to) retain their independence and autonomy” in terms of choice of action service area, and expanding the same while remaining “free to act along the BHRN plans.”

CSOs may choose to be part of any or all of the following action service areas: Human Rights monitoring; investigation assistance, documentation and reporting; education and promotion; jail visit assistance; legal assistance; and victim assistance.

The BHRC is seen as an integral component of governance as Atty. Salendab echoed the message of Chairman Ebrahim saying: “BARMM is traceable to human rights…the struggle against historical injustice, Human Rights violations, marginalization through disposession of our lives…the RHRC is the BHRC. The BTA must strengthen the functions and duties of the BHRC.”

As a way to close the BHRN Summit, RHRC Executive Director Nurwahid Lakim expressed gratitude for the past and present teams and partners of the Commission for the past seven years and called to “sustain these gain, be inclusive, continue this momentum” emphasizing that every public servant has “responsibilities as [Human Rights] duty-bearers and officially services the Bangsamoro, the rights-owners.”

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