GOJUST Human Rights Project throws lifeline to most vulnerable amid a pandemic

GOJUST Human Rights Project supports humanitarian assistance of partner CSOs. Photo: JASAC

The social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are not the same across society. Daily wage earners, informal workers, the unemployed, small-scale farmers and fisherfolk – these are some of the groups getting hit hardest by the pandemic. 

 

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), through the Governance in Justice (GOJUST) Human Rights Project, has lent a hand to some of the poorest and most vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic. The Project is supported by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and the European Union (EU). 

 

Immediately after quarantine protocols were declared in the country in March this year, human rights desks and referral hubs were activated with the help of the Project. These desks and hubs serve a two-fold purpose: delivering human rights information to citizens and providing aid and support services to victims of human rights violations under the quarantine. 

 

For example, CSO (civil society organization) partner AJ Kalinga coordinated donations for 443 homeless persons, who were eventually housed in various shelters maintained by a staff of people, including volunteer doctors and teachers. Prior to this, with support from the Project, AJ Kalinga established care centers for extrajudicial killing (EJK) victims that provided sanctuary and shelter, on top of other needs. Two more human rights desks, under the Justice and Peace program of the Diocese of Novaliches and the Vincentians Help Foundation, organized food distribution and other emergency livelihood activities. 

Human rights desks that had been set up prior to the COVID-19 crisis were activated to respond to human rights concerns of communities under quarantine. In Iloilo, the Jaro Archdiocesan Social Action Center (JASAC) gave out relief goods to more than 400 families, 100 orphaned or abandoned children, and more than 500 persons, which included leprosy patients and indigents. 

A resident receives a food pack from JASAC. Photo: JASAC

Meanwhile, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) assisted more than 300 families from Ozamis City, Misamis Occidental and twenty-five families from Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur. IFI’s Human Rights Victim Assistance Program also provided legal assistance to five persons. 


The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – National Secretariat for Social Action (CBCP-NASSA) is now preparing to assist seven dioceses across the country. CBCP-NASSA will assist farming and fishing communities with food packs and vegetable seeds, and with accessing sustainable livelihoods. Through its radio shows, it will disseminate information on government assistance programs and human rights under the quarantine.  


Livelihood and welfare assistance hubs supported by the GOJUST Human Rights Project also catered to the needs of families of victims of human rights violations. 

A resident receives food aid from IFI. Photo: IFI

Often family breadwinners, victims had left survivors in an economic limbo even before the pandemic. CSO partner Institute for Popular Democracy provided food packs to least 56 beneficiary families, including 26 women-headed households in Caloocan, Navotas, and Payatas in the National Capital Region (NCR). In the Visayas, the Outreach Program on Trainings Integral Organizing and Networking for Solidarity, Inc. (OPTIONS) facilitated an emergency livelihood project by survivors of EJKs to raise funds for the purchase of rice for frontliners.

 

The GOJUST Human Rights Project has also backed the setting up of victim support and referral hubs for securing the psycho-social, spiritual, health, care, and sanctuary needs of victims of human rights violations. 

 

In  the Visayas, a partner CSO is preparing to provide relief assistance to and help open care centers as sanctuaries for families of EJK victims.

 

Legal assistance hubs supported by the Project became busy amid human rights violations under community quarantine.  These hubs fielded requests from Metro Manila, Bulacan, and CARAGA, which mostly revolved around arrests from violating quarantine protocols, discrimination against COVID-19 patients, and abusive behavior of officials. Originally on-site, the hubs had to migrate virtually. 

 

In NCR, CSO partner Ateneo Human Rights Center, together with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the National Legal Aid Center, attended to close to 400 cases. Another 97 cases were shepherded by the Luzon Virtual Legal Hub, working out of the CHR Region III Office, with support from the Bulacan State University Legal Aid Clinic, International Pro Bono Alliance, IBP Bulacan Chapter, and others. In Mindanao, the CARAGA legal hub helped with 11 cases. Through CSO partner BALAOD Mindanaw, learning sessions and virtual legal consultations were conducted via Facebook live streaming. 

The GOJUST Human Rights Project also rolled out a number of information, education, and communication (IEC) materials to help communities navigate quarantine restrictions. This included a flyer on right to health, and social media cards on upholding human rights under quarantine protocols. The Project also supported the production of materials which were eventually used for CHR’s webinar series on observing human rights in implementing lockdown restrictions. These materials can be used for virtual classes when schools open in the future.


Critically, the Project-supported training for gender focal persons at the regional level a year ago had equipped them to monitor, document, and handle gender-based violence (GBV) cases under the lockdown, of which 66 were reported from April to June 2020. The conduct of a regional mapping of GBV mechanisms and a gender audit of the capacities of regional offices had laid the foundation for a strong response to what would have been largely hidden cases of violence against women and children. // 


*** This document was produced with the assistance of the European Union (EU) and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) through the GOJUST Human Rights Project. The views reflected herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union or the AECID.

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