Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno has challenged today’s youth to share the burden of safeguarding the country’s national security and the obligation of protecting human rights.

Speaking at the commencement exercises of the University of the East, where he was conferred a Doctor of Laws degree, honoris causa, at the University Theatre, UE Campus in C.M. Recto Avenue, Manila, Chief Justice Puno on Wednesday told the UE graduates that a country’s security interest “is a collective interest where everybody has a significant stake.”

“The business of safeguarding our national security and the obligation of protecting human rights is a burden shared by all of us. It is not only the military that should tackle our problem of security for it is our security that is at stake, not their security,” he said. He added that “the apathy of those who can make a difference is the reason why violations of human rights continue to prosper. The worst enemy of human rights is not its nonbelievers but the fence sitters who will not lift a finger despite their violations.”

Chief Justice Puno stressed that the fight against terrorism and the battle to preserve human rights have high impact on the right of young people to live with dignity. He cautioned that there is massive displacement of young people as they migrate to areas where the fight against terrorism tramples on human rights, saying that “these young people are compelled to migrate to seek greener pastures in hostile environments and worse, where they find their human rights subjected to new abuses with near impunity.”

According to him, the problem of displacement will get worse in the coming years because of the galloping growth of the youth population. He noted that “the United Nations predicts that some 138 countries will have growing ‘youth bulge’; its calamitous consequence is that youth unemployment will skyrocket to record levels with the highest rate in the Middle East and North Africa.” Furthermore, the UN findings showed that at least 60 million people aged 15-20 will not be able to find work and about 130 million “cannot lift their families out of poverty.”

In fighting terrorism, Chief Justice Puno said that people should not overlook the non-military aspects of our national security and their impact on human rights. He said that in a poor country, terrorism is synonymous to poverty. “It is poverty that truly terrorizes people for they are terrorized by the thought that they will die because of empty stomachs and not that they will lose their lives due to some invisible suicide bombers. In poor countries, it is also poverty that renders the poor vulnerable to violation of their rights, for the poor will not vindicate their rights in a justice system that moves in slow motion and whose wheels have to be greased with money,” he said.

He added that “our national security and our human rights are more threatened by the fear that we face an environmental collapse if we do not take immediate steps to save our seas and our forests from the despoliation to satisfy the economic greed of the few.”

The Chief Justice further stressed that threats to our national security and human rights will be aggravated if we have a state weakened internally by a government hobbled by corruption, struggling with credibility, battling the endless insurgence, and weakened externally by pressure exerted by creditor countries that control our trade and supply our military and police armaments.

“A weak state cannot fully protect the rights of its citizens within its borders, just as a state without economic independence cannot protect the rights of its citizens who are abroad from the exploitation of more powerful countries,” he said.

The chief magistrate also warned of the escalation of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, which has already reached the attention of international advocates of human rights. The High Court has already designated about a hundred Regional Trial Courts nationwide to hear, try, and decide cases of extrajudicial killings in order to address this pressing problem. — Jay B. Rempillo, SC PIO

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