Notes from the Field

From the Philippines: Recognizing Innovation in Human Rights

December 16, 2009

The November 23 massacre in Maguindanao, on Mindanao in the southern Philippines that killed over nearly 60 people, has catapulted the dire human rights situation in the Philippines to the global stage. Unfortunately, communities in this region have a long history of such conflict and human rights abuses.

In October, an initiative called “KaSaMa” (Filipino for “together”) was born to explore alternative approaches to addressing such pressing human rights challenges in the Philippines. The initiative is comprised of five embassies and the European Union, with support from The Asia Foundation.

On the occasion of Human Rights Day last week, an awards ceremony was held at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City to recognize winning proposals submitted from civil society groups and human rights organizations that presented innovative ways to address perennial human rights concerns in the Philippines. KaSaMa generated 210 proposals covering a range of human rights concerns that a panel rated according to four criteria: innovation/creativity (40 percent), potential impact/added value (35 percent), organizational capacity (15 percent), and cost-effectiveness (10 percent). Twelve organizations were chosen to receive grants. Among the winning proposals were:

  • Redemption of mortgaged lands under a local mortgage system for farmers in Dipolog City and surrounding communities in Zamboanga del Norte, submitted by the Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development Foundation;
  • Development of a community-based human rights watch in the provinces Maguindanao and North Cotabato in Mindanao, submitted by the Bangsamoro Center for Just Peace and Development;
  • The development of a culturally-sensitive home school curriculum for children belonging to Menuvu and Mehindanew indigenous communities in Cotabato, submitted by the Developmental Legal Assistance Center; and
  • Caring for human rights and aid workers through biography work and art therapy, submitted by the Antroposophia Wellness Foundation.

An actor performes a routine at the ceremony depicting human rights issues facing women in the Philippines.

An actor performes a routine at the ceremony depicting human rights issues facing women in the Philippines.

At the ceremony, a local theatre ensemble performed dances, songs, and excerpts from works of Filipino playwrights that reflected contemporary human rights conditions in the country. The event was highlighted by a keynote speech by guest of honor Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno. In his speech, Chief Justice Puno challenged everyone to partake in defending and preserving human rights and commended KaSaMa, stating that “it compels us to ponder ways to halt the deterioration of the human rights situation of our people … and to realize that we ourselves must affect change to put a bridle to this tragedy.”

Guest of honor at the KaSaMa awards ceremony Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno delivers the keynote address.

Guest of honor at the KaSaMa awards ceremony Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno delivers the keynote address.

With the success of this pilot run of KaSaMa, The Asia Foundation and its donor partners hope to make the KaSaMa grant competition an annual affair, in order to make a deeper impact on a wider audience and to further strengthen collaboration between the government and civil society to protect and uphold human rights in the Philippines.

Lian Ramos is KaSaMa’s Program Coordinator and a former Assistant Program Officer for The Asia Foundation in the Philippines.

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