By National Economic and Development Authority, December 7, 2020; NEDA TODAY

As weaknesses in the delivery of public services and structural inequalities emerge amid the pandemic, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) stressed the importance of a whole-of-society approach in protecting and promoting human rights.

“In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights issues become even more crucial as government endeavors to respond to the needs of the people while balancing economic concerns,” Policy and Planning Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon said during a forum under the Ugnayang Bayan Series.

“We have seen how COVID-19 exposed deep weaknesses in the delivery of public services and structural inequalities that impede access to them. Thus, we must make sure they are properly addressed in the response,” she added.

The Ugnayang Bayan is a series of forums that will look into the broad range of policies, programs and projects undertaken in adherence to the State’s human rights obligations as defined in the core international human rights treaties it signed in the last 46 years.

NEDA, in partnership with the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat (PHRCS), conducted on November 27 the maiden event of the Ugnayang Bayan Series entitled, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as Anchor of Human Progress, an assessment of targets in the implementation of the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Using the human rights principles as lens, NEDA-Governance Staff Director Thelma C. Manuel presented the targets and accomplishments under the thematic chapter on economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) of the 3rd Philippine Human Rights Plan, as well as ESCR concerns during the pandemic and ways forward to protect human rights.

The online human rights forum was attended by representatives from government agencies, academe, non-government organizations, civil society groups, foreign missions, and international organizations. Prominent speakers include Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Michael P. Ong, International Labour Organization Country Director Khalid Hassan, PHRCS Undersecretary Severo S. Catura and Department of Foreign Affairs Director Nina P. Cainglet.

Commission on Human Rights ESCR Center Officer-in-Charge Atty. Jesus Torres, Ateneo Human Rights Center Executive Director Atty. Ray Paolo Santiago, and The Asia Foundation Senior Program Officer Atty. Christine Antoinette Ramos gave their comments and reactions on the ICESCR presentation. Along providing suggestions to improve the report, the reactors acknowledged the government’s efforts in engaging the civil society and the international community to further advance human rights in the country.

Discussions on mainstreaming human rights in public service were also emphasized during the forum. In addition to capacity building on Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) in development planning, participants agree that assistance of civil society groups, foreign missions, and international organizations is key to mainstream HRBA in the bureaucracy.

“Let us develop and implement plans, policies, and programs with the consciousness of upholding economic, social, and cultural rights; and with the mindset that fulfilling the rights of the Filipino people enhances their capacities as individuals thereby enabling them to become better citizens – citizens empowered to shape decisions that impact their lives and the country,” Usec. Edillon said.