MANILA, Nov 22 2022 (PNA) — United States Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday said that the fight for human rights begins with the recognition that violations of such rights exist.

(PNA photo)

At the same time, she reminded human rights defenders to remain enduring as they are not alone in the battle.

In a town hall meeting with human rights defenders and Filipina civil society leaders Monday, the visiting top US official was asked for her message for those who are fighting for human rights.

In response, the Vice President said that she spoke with leading Filipino human rights activists backstage prior to the event wherein she told them that they have to remember that they are not alone in their fight as it “takes a lot of endurance to stick with it.”

“Don’t give up. There is so much about the fight for human rights that requires us to remember that we are not alone because it is a very…it requires movements, it requires working against systems that have been designed in many situations to neglect, if not be more affirmative, in overlooking or even attacking human rights,” she said.

“Fighting for human rights means one, obviously starting with a recognition where there are violations for human rights. That means seeing the worst of human behaviors. That means understanding and seeing what suffering looks like, what pain looks like, what unfairness looks like,” she added.

Harris pointed out the universal principles of human rights grounded on the understanding of equality and of the freedom individuals should be able to exercise themselves.

“It’s important to start from a perspective of knowing, not just believing, that you’re born with rights. You’re born with these rights. You’re not asking someone to do you the favor through the benevolence of their existence to grant you these rights. They are your rights—God-given,” she said.

Aside from these, the Vice President also discussed the importance of labor rights, media freedom, democratic institutions and efforts to combat trafficking in persons.

During the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a peer-review mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council, member-nations urged the Philippines to take action to protect and promote human rights, including addressing killings of the war on drugs and ensuring access to justice for victims.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, who took part in the process representing the government, told the body that impunity was not tolerated and that the government provided a democratic space for rights activists in the country.

Notable women leaders

Harris highlighted the kind of leadership that former president Corazon “Cory” Aquino, and other Filipina women, portrayed during their time that may set the standards for young leaders.

Harris, who is the first woman and first woman of color to become US Vice President, was also asked for advice for emerging leaders to sustain their motivation and passion.

She emphasized that one has to “stand on the shoulders of the people who came before you, who have charted the course to do what you are doing as young leaders.”

Harris then mentioned the names of three women: Aquino, Girl Scout of the Philippines founder Josefa Llanes Escoda, and feminist Concepcion Calderon.

Aquino was elected President in the aftermath of the People Power Revolution in February 1986.

“[They] were all in their 20s when they started becoming known in their role of leadership,” she said.

“Part of what you must remember is that they are people who came before you, who charted a course for you then to pick up the mantle,” she continued, describing life as a relay race where “heroes, whichever gender they are, run their part of the race and pass us the baton.”

Harris arrived in the Philippines on Sunday night for a three-day visit. On Monday, Harris met with Marcos and her Philippine counterpart, Sara Duterte.

On Tuesday, she is scheduled to go to Palawan, a “historic visit that would involve meetings with local fishermen, community leaders and Philippine Coast Guard,” according to US officials.

Human rights alliance Karapatan, however, slammed her visit, saying that it will further drive the US government’s complicity in the worsening violations of human rights in the country.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that foremost on Harris’ agenda is further strengthening security arrangements under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which allows the US to preposition more troops, weapons and logistics in Philippine military facilities that function as quasi-bases for the US.

“The US cannot evade accountability for the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines,” she said in a statement. (PNA)