By Victoria “NIKE” De Dios
As one of the frontrunners in Europe that spouses human rights which is also a part of France’s founding values, the French government has recognized two Filipinas for their exceptional efforts in safeguarding the rights of persons deprived of liberty (PDL).
The momentous event will be held on December 10 at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 25th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, organized by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice. The event will be attended by the French President, His Excellency Emmanuel Macron.
The two Filipinas, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte and Maica Teves, the Executive Director of SPARK! Philippines, a non-profit organization will be the recipient of this award.
A standout initiative of this collaboration is the “No Woman Left Behind” project, which has ingeniously repurposed eighty-five tons of tarpaulins previously used for electoral campaigning into reusable and stylish tote bags. These bags, designed by the renowned Zarah Juan and skillfully crafted by PDLs in the Female Dormitory using donated machines, not only contribute to environmental sustainability by reducing tarpaulin waste but also provide economic opportunities for the women involved.
Highlighting the importance of this project, Maica Teves remarked, “Our female PDLs are among the most marginalized sectors of our society, and we must ensure that they are not forgotten and that their dignity, interests, and rights are protected.” SPARK Philippines envisions creating an inclusive environment where women PDLs are empowered to become productive members of society, free from discrimination and stigma.
As part of the numerous collaborations, supported by the French Embassy in the Philippines, the women were also allowed to express their hopes and dreams by painting the facility’s walls alongside French artists. This event coincided with the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and France and was aligned with International Human Rights Day.
Under Mayor Joy Belmonte’s tutelage, the local government has implemented various upskilling programs for women PDLs. Collaborating with the Technical Education And Skills Development Authority (TESDA), initiatives such as basic baking and bread making, meat processing, and candle making have been introduced. Additionally, women have the option to enroll in the Alternative Learning System Program, receive free medical assistance, and access a child-friendly visitation area inside the dormitory.
Mayor Joy Belmonte emphasized the holistic approach of the government, stating, “We look after their welfare not only while in detention but also upon their release into the community. We provide them access to comprehensive healthcare, secondary and tertiary education, and a diversity of livelihoods so they are not deprived of the opportunity to reach their full potential, even when confined inside a facility.” The Mayor added, “Many are also given capital assistance or a small business to start afresh when they are no longer behind bars. We believe that even as they serve their sentence or await trial, their human dignity must be respected and preserved at all times.” This commitment underscores the city’s dedication to ensuring the rehabilitation and successful reintegration of PDLs into society.