UN rapporteur urges House to prioritize these 3 bills | Inquirer News

UN rapporteur urges House to prioritize these 3 bills

/ 05:32 AM February 03, 2024

Irene Khan

Irene Khan —LYN RILLON

Leaders of the House of Representatives assured visiting United Nations Special Rapporteur Irene Khan of the passage of key legislation promoting freedom of opinion and expression.

In a meeting with Khan on Jan. 31, they informed her that a total of 14 bills of this nature are currently pending before the chamber at the committee level.


Of the 14 bills, Khan particularly appealed to the lawmakers to prioritize three, according to a House statement issued Thursday night.


These are the human rights defenders (HRD) bill (or House Bill No. 77), which seeks more protections for human rights workers; the media welfare bill (House Bill No. 454), which calls for “humane conditions at work” for the press; and the bill decriminalizing libel.

‘Impactful legislation’

Representatives Juliet Marie Ferrer and Glona Labadlabad, chair of the House committee on justice and on interparliamentary relations and diplomacy, respectively, said they had assured the UN expert of the passage of measures further upholding human rights in the country.

“Congress has enacted and will continue to discuss and enact timely and impactful legislation to uphold the Filipinos’ constitutional right of access to information, freedom of expression and press freedom,” Labadlabad said, recalling her remarks to Khan during the meeting.

The 14 measures, which include bills related to freedom of information, media workers’ welfare and the protection of news sources, are currently pending at the committee level, Labadlabad said.

The lawmakers also informed Khan that the House was still studying draft measures to decriminalize libel.

Media groups in the country—and the United Nations itself—have long been clamoring for the decriminalization of libel, saying the law was being abused or “weaponized” to silence journalists and suppress legitimate, critical reporting. Under the 19th Congress, Sen. Risa Hontiveros has filed a bill amending the law on libel.


As to the three bills Khan hoped to be prioritized, the House statement quoted her as saying: “These three would be absolutely critical to make sure you are on set to mainstream human rights in the country.”


In an Inquirer interview, one of the primary authors of the HRD bill said Khan’s statement should lend urgency to the measure’s passage.

Kabayan Rep. Ron Salo, who was also present in the Jan. 31 meeting, quoted Khan as saying that should the bill become law, “the country will be one of the few that has such a measure.”

Salo acknowledged the difficulty of having the HRD bill passed, noting the strong opposition from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) which see the bill as a shield for communist insurgents who pose as human rights workers.

Still, the House committee on human rights approved the bill in February 2023, but no further action on the measure had been taken since.

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“We will really make that particular effort to have this scheduled again (for deliberations),” Salo said.

TAGS: bills, House of Representatives, UN

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