Makabayan refiles own version of bill protecting human rights defenders
MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives’ Makabayan bloc has filed its own version of the bill that seeks to allow human rights workers and defenders to promote fundamental freedoms while protecting them from potential harassment freely.
According to Makabayan lawmakers in the 19th Congress, there is a need to pass House Bill No. 2484 or the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act of 2022, as several rights workers have fallen victims to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by still unknown assailants.
Makabayan — composed of Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, Alliance of Concerned Teachers Rep. France Castro, and Kabataan party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel — hopes the bill can put a stop to the abuses against human rights defenders.
“This bill will serve as a deterrent to attacks against human rights defenders or activists, especially those sponsored by the government,” Castro said in a statement on Saturday.
“Red tagging, as well as terrorist tagging by government officials against progressive groups, still continue, and this serves as a prelude to attacks, even extra-judicial killings,” she added.
Under House Bill No. 2484, complaints centering on human rights violations will be “dealt with and acted upon with extraordinary diligence by concerned government personnel.”
There are also several provisions safeguarding the rights of human rights workers, like Section 7, which secures their choice to form groups and associations that promote human rights; Section 8, which allows them to solicit funds; Section 11, which grants them the chance to work with international rights bodies; and Section 14, which protects their right to peaceful assembly.
Other sections also provide protection from defamation and vilification, freedom to exercise cultural rights, and the choice to refrain from disclosing confidential sources.
If enacted, the bill would mandate the creation of a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee. The said committee, which is composed of a chairperson and six members, will be tasked to protect human rights workers by investigating and encouraging legal action if abuses were committed.
The proposal says that the committee chair — a member of the Philippine Bar that should have been practicing law for at least seven years — would be selected by Commission on Human Rights (CHR) commissioners during an en banc session.
Then, the six members would be jointly nominated by the following rights groups:
- Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan)
- National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL)
- National Council of Churches of the Philippines
- Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
- Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG)
- National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)
Castro said this could be a chance for President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to show his commitment to human rights — and possibly differentiate himself from his father, former president Ferdinand E. Marcos, who was accused of gross rights violations during his over two-decade stint.
“If President Marcos Jr. wants to prove that he is against human rights violations, then he should support this bill and classify it as urgent to serve as a signal to state forces to stop attacking human rights defenders,” Castro stressed.
“If not, then he will just be a rabid human rights violator like his father,” he added.
Castro is not the first lawmaker to state that the Human Rights Defender Protection Act would be a litmus test for the younger Marcos’ commitment to respecting human rights. Last July 5, after filing House Bill No. 77, Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman said Marcos Jr. can prove how much he would ensure the protection of rights workers.
Lagman’s House Bill No. 77 also seeks to protect human rights defenders (HRDs) and is a refiled version of the proposed measure that was submitted during the 17th and 18th Congress.
Last January 17, the House of Representatives passed on third reading an identical bill, House Bill No. 10576 or the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act, which received 200 affirmative votes and zero negative votes, and no abstentions.
House Bill No. 10576 also featured Lagman as the principal author.
Before he took his oath of office, Marcos Jr. made several pronouncements assuring the public that he would respect human rights, even amid the controversial war against illegal drugs initiated by his predecessor, former president Rodrigo Duterte.
Last June 10, Swedish Ambassador Annika Thunborg said that Marcos Jr. told her that he will continue the drug war but “within the framework of the law and with respect for human rights.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.