Raul Gonzalez called him a “sonamagun” (sic) and “just a rapporteur and a hired man (sic) from the UN in certain specific projects.” He also said he had been “brainwashed by the leftists.”

But Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur who concluded last Wednesday a ten-day visit to the Philippines to look into extra-judicial killings (known in the sad country of our perdition as salvaging), is not someone the UN just picked up off the streets of New York.

Born in Australia, and educated in that country as well as the United States where he obtained his doctorate, Alston is a Professor of Law and the Faculty Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice of the New York University School of Law. He was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions in 2004. He is also the Special Adviser to the UN Commissioner on Human Rights.

Alston has taught at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Harvard Law School, the Australian National University’s Centre for International and Public Law (of which he was founding Director). He is still Editor-in-Chief of the prestigious European Journal of International Law. He has also been Professor of International Law and Head of Department at the European University Institute of Florence, Italy, as well as co-Director of its Academy of European Law.

He has served the UN in various capacities, among them as consultant of its various agencies, and as the first Rapporteur of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, chairing the Committee from 1990 to 1998. He was central to the drafting of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by a record 192 countries.

Alston has also been involved in non-government organizations. He was an adviser to the International Commission of Jurists in the 1980s, and was the only lawyer member of the Board of Physicians for Human Rights. He is still the President of the Board of the Center for Economic and Social Rights. He directed the European Commission project for a European Union Human Rights Agenda, which basically underpins EU human rights policies.

No matter. Alston’s range of experience, knowledge and understanding of human rights is incomprehensible to the pre-modern minds with which the Arroyo regime is particularly cursed. The conclusions Alston’s February 21 press statement contained about the political killings were premised on the basics of international law, but, perhaps more importantly, were based on the libertarian premises of political discourse and democratic involvement in modern societies.

Alston’s advocacy of broad political participation to include leftist groups was within these premises. Among the “challenges for the future” he presented was “acceptance of the need to provide legitimate political space for leftist groups.” This need–he did not say it was a luxury or a privilege–assumes that democracy is best served by pluralism rather than the exclusivist view, basically merely anti-communist, favored by the Arroyo regime.

The participation of leftist groups in the political and electoral system is thus NOT conditional to their disowning the path of armed struggle advocated by the New People’s Army. Alston thus alluded to “the Sinn Fein strategy,” in which an opening for participation by Sinn Fein as a political entity in the parliamentary process was created while it continued to be sympathetic to the Irish Republican Army.

“The goal,” said Alston, “is (or should be) to provide incentive for such groups to enter mainstream politics and to see that path as their best option.” By implication, Alston is saying that Malacanang and the military must cease circumventing the spirit of the party list system and the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Law by impeding the work of party list groups, which “at the local level, (has) spilled over into decisions to extrajudicially execute (“salvage”) those who cannot be reached (or penalized) by legal process.”

As basic as these assumptions are, they are beyond the comprehension of the hired guns (literally and figuratively) of the Arroyo regime, whose conception of democracy is limited to respecting only the rights of those who agree with it, and whose grand counter-insurgency strategy is to exacerbate mass discontent through the use of force even against non-combatants.

The human rights groups, which noted that a student activist was killed right in the middle of Alston’s visit, may be right. Alston’s visit may have been for naught. He is, after all, “only a UN rapporteur” who may have far more than the credentials, but who doesn’t have the power, of the likes of Gonzalez.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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