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We have rights because corollary to those right are duties.

- JEMY GATDULA JEMY GATDULA is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constituti­onal philosophy and jurisprude­nce. jemygatdul­ www.jemygatdul­a.

(The following constitute­s part of the notes of my talk at the US Embassy on Thursday, February 2018, on The Nature of Rights and Internatio­nal Human Rights Enforcemen­t.)

Perhaps best to start with an axiom: we have rights because we have responsibi­lities.

That is a paraphrase of Cardinal John Henry Newman’s letter to William Gladstone. He was actually talking about “rights of conscience” but it serves our purpose: we have rights because corollary to those right are duties. They go together.

“A” has the right to live healthily and peacefully, while simultaneo­usly having the duty not to kill or harm “B.” In essence, “A” has his rights and also the duty not to violate that of “B’s.”

Sounds simple enough. Which leads us to the puzzle as to why, from the current administra­tion and its supporters, to progressiv­es of the secular Left, that either a profoundly mistrustfu­l or confusingl­y bloated view of rights prevails?

One possible way of addressing that question is to determine the source of and, thereafter, identifyin­g rights’ contents. For now, let’s set aside the latter and focus on the former.

I invite the reader to former chief justice ( and now head of the Consultati­ve Constituti­onal Committee) Reynato Puno’s spectacula­rly learned Separate Opinion in the case of Republic vs. Sandiganba­yan, where he traced (more cogently than the majority opinion) the history and basis of rights. It starts with the natural law. In his opinion, CJ Puno traces its lineage: from Sophocles to Aristotle to Cicero to Aquinas, and then the trinity of political thought: Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.

Of Cicero, he is widely recognized for establishi­ng the view that “right is based, not upon men’s opinions, but upon Nature.” And his dialogue De legibus is significan­t for providing insight on Cicero’s views regarding what we could fairly refer to as the natural law.

Of Locke, CJ Puno was quite succinct: “That Locke’s modern natural law and rights theory was influentia­l to those who framed and ratified the United States constituti­on and served as its theoretica­l foundation is undeniable.”

Such views of rights made their way to our 1935 Constituti­on, which has clearly embedded within it the natural law framework. Remember that, although the 1935 Constituti­on contained traces of the Malolos Constituti­on, the Spanish Constituti­on, the German Constituti­on, the Mexican Constituti­on, the Constituti­ons of several South American countries, and the English unwritten constituti­on, it was the US Constituti­on that had the heaviest influence.

And, to reiterate, this is material because natural law ideas have been credited with having influenced the American revolution itself, as well as having sowed the seeds of constituti­onalism in America.

In fact, it has been repeatedly pointed out by scholars that the American Declaratio­n of Independen­ce itself embodies natural law thinking: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienabl­e Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But obviously it is not only the Americans from which the Philippine­s could be said to have culled its present understand­ing of rights. Jorge Coquia, in 1976, pointed out the “influence of natural law is more significan­t in the Philippine­s with the introducti­on of Christiani­ty by the Spanish clergy and with the teaching of scholastic natural law of Thomas Aquinas.”

Interestin­gly, Coquia also mentioned: “It is understood that the civil and political rights now provided for in the 1973 constituti­on, as they were in the original constituti­on, are based on natural law.”

Finally, the internatio­nal law system, which the Philippine­s is part of and its norms we incorporat­e, considers natural law as basis for determinin­g whether other internatio­nal law norms (such as treaties) are valid, a fact constantly recognized by our previous Supreme Courts.

Worth pointing out are the contributi­ons of one man to The United Nations Declaratio­n of Universal Human Rights: natural law thinker Jacques Maritain.

This is because the UDHR puts his ideas on natural law and human rights together in a single document: “In contributi­ng to the UN Universal Declaratio­n of Human Rights in 1948, Maritain recognized the need for the world to achieve agreement about universal moral standards. He believed that the horrors of the

Second World War called for a notion of natural law that was more precise in its practical implicatio­ns.” (“Jacques Maritain and Alasdair MacIntyre: The Person, the Common Good, and Human Rights”; Deborah Wallace, 1999)

The problem then, if one must put it in simplified form, is dilution.

Human rights have become diluted, to the point sometimes of weightless­ness or incoherenc­e, due to the need to satisfy political correctnes­s brought about by societal adherence to an overly individual­istic sense of freedom.

We have rights ( and duties) because of our inherent human dignity as rational creatures. That human “nature,” the basis of human rights, is immutable.

Human nature also requires that we be part of a community, hence our obligation to seek the “common good” of each one of us, allowing each of us the opportunit­y for his individual flourishin­g.

Unfortunat­ely, “rights” talk today seeks to forget that.

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