CHR pushes for passage of bill protecting human-rights workers
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has called for the passage of a bill that seeks to protect human-rights workers in view of recent attacks on activists and members of progressive organizations.
According to CHR, House Bill No. 9199 or the Human Rights Defenders (HRD) Protection Bill should be considered a high-priority legislation especially in light of various reports that rights workers and other activists are either being harassed or targeted.
“The bill’s enactment into law should be a high priority considering the unceasing attacks, threats, and the general climate of hostility faced by human rights defenders and advocates,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.
“We echo the recent statement of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Mary Lawlor, stressing that the bill shall concretely show our country’s commitment to human rights obligations. Passing the bill will demonstrate our government’s recognition of the essential work of the human rights defenders,” she added.
HB No. 9199 was passed on the third and final reading at the House of Representatives last June 2019, when the 17th Congress was still in session. At the Senate, the counterpart proposal labeled as Senate Bill No. 178 has been pending in the committee level.
The House bill was authored by members of the 17th Congress’ Makabayan bloc and other opposition stalwarts like Albay 1st Distict Rep. Edcel Lagman and Caloocan 2nd District Rep. Edgar Erice.
The Senate version on the other hand was authored by opposition Senators Leila de Lima and Risa Hontiveros.
According to De Guia, mechanisms should be placed to protect human rights workers and for them to continue their work, as they often represent vulnerable sectors of society.
“Concrete legal protection and mechanisms will enable the important work of the human rights community as they continue to be steadfast amid the relentless challenges on many fronts,” De Guia said.
“Further, upholding the welfare and rights of human rights defenders will redound to the promotion of the rights of all especially the vulnerable sectors, which they serve,” she explained.
The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has been highly popular for his tough stance against crime and drugs, but the government has been criticized for allegedly disregarding human rights in the conduct of police and military operations.
Several observers have claimed that the alleged human rights abuses have spilled into activists, as shown in recent police operations in Calabarzon region where nine members of progressive organizations were killed.
A recent report from independent international initiative Investigate PH also showed that the rights situation in the Philippines worsened, especially with the lockdown protocols due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, police officers and other government officials have insisted that they have nothing to do with the attacks, and activists in legitimate police operations either fought back or resisted arrest. They also claim that some activists are directly linked to the communist armed movement, which the government seeks to end.
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