Quezon City – The Philippine Working Group for ASEAN Human Rights mechanism hosted its 17th annual Kapihan on human rights at the Hive Hotel, Quezon City last October 18, with the theme Exploring Spaces for Civil Society Engagement and People’s Participation on National and Local Governance with a Human Rights Lens. The program has put in place civil society organizations at the core to integrate and foster a participatory approach in governance and policymaking. The event was attended by representatives from government agencies, local government units, the academe, and members of civil society organizations.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Marivel C. Sacendocillo started the program by encouraging CSOs to engage with local government units (LGUs) and “make the government work for its communities” in implementing programs and initiatives. When asked how the DILG addresses issues on people’s participation due to Executive Order No. 70, she said: “You [CSOs] should not be discouraged by EO 70.”, since it adopts a national peace framework in civil society engagement.

Another government agency who participated in the event is National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) director Thelma C. Manuel, who outlined the mid-term updates on the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) for the years 2017-2022. Manuel also mentioned the weak involvement of CSOs in the Philippine Procurement System. During the open forum, CSO representatives recommended to NEDA to revisit the Philippine Development Plan with a rights-based and people-centred approach towards inclusive development. With NEDA’s proposed online discussion forum for consultation, CSOs were appalled and suggested to conduct the dialogue on the ground.

Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) Secretary General Ms. Rosemarie Trajano briefly compared NEDA’s Ambisyon 2040 with the UN’s SDG 2030, with the former not explicitly stating the use of a rights-based approach in crafting its policies. She also catalogued the challenges that civil society are encountering in today’s political climate. Chief among them are the shrinking space for civil society and the implementation, revision, and creation of laws that curtail the function of civil society organizations (CSOs).

A session likewise focused on the spaces for civil society Engagement and People’s Participation in Policymaking and Implementation in Local Government. This segment delved on the human rights protection and promotion programs that the representatives of each respective LGU have implemented.

Panel speakers for women’s and gender rights included Ms. Ma. Mikaela Karita S. Mendoza, Board Member of Ilocos Sur as well as Atty. Jocel Garcia from the office of Mayor Joy Belmonte of Quezon City. Ifugao Representative Teodoro “Teddy” Baguilat Jr. and Mr. RechieTugawin of Generation Peace then spoke about participatory governance and its importance in their respective positions. Whereas, Mr. Robert Dominic Echiverri, Chief-of-Staff of the Undersecretary for External and Legislative Affairs (DILG) introduced the Anti-Drug Abuse Council (ADAC) Bill under the holistic protection of human rights sub-topic. Last to speak was Attorney Carolyn S. Farinas, former mayor and now a board member of Zambales, who dwelt on the development of a local action plan on human rights.
To conclude the 17th KAPIHAN, Philippine Commission on Human Rights Commissioner, Hon. Karen Gomez-Dumpit, recognized the efforts of CSOs in promoting people-centered local governance through a human rights-based approach.