By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The technical working group (TWG) of the House Committee on Human Rights will start consolidating measures seeking to safeguard the rights and interests of human rights defenders.
The TWG, chaired by Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte, is set to meet on Tuesday to consolidate and scrutinize House Bills 1617 and 8128, authored by the Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, respectively.
The creation of the TWG was directed by Zambales Rep. Cheryl Deloso Montalla, who leads the House Committee on Human Rights before Congress’s adjournment of sessions last month.
Lagman and Gabriela partylist Rep. Emmi de Jesus, who co-authored HB 1617, cited the need for Congress to urgently create a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee to protect human rights defenders from intimidation and reprisals, and to hold accountable human rights violators.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Department of Justice (DoJ), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Humanitarian and Human Rights Division, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) rallied behind the passage of the bills.
CHR chairperson Chito Gascon said the passage of the human rights defenders protection law has long been overdue.
He said the CHR “fully supports” the bill, citing the “global movement” to safeguard the rights of the human rights defenders.
However, Police Chief Superintendent Dennis Siervo, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Human Rights Affairs Office, said the PNP has reservations on some provisions of the bills. He said the PNP would submit its position paper on the measures.
Representatives of various civil society organizations such as Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and Karapatan pushed for the passage of the measures.
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina “Tinay” Palabay laments the continuing vilification and red-tagging of the human rights defenders. “We have been tagged as terrorists and protectors of terrorists,” she laments.
She said the killings of human rights advocates and defenders continue under the Duterte administration, citing that 169 human rights defenders have been killed.
“Since 2001, more than 800 human rights defenders have been killed. This situation is a spiraling (issue)that should be addressed,” Palabay said.
Zarate’s House Bill 1617 defines certain rights of human rights defenders and providing penalties for violations thereof relative to the implementation of the 1998 United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally-Recognized Human Rights, otherwise known as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Lagman’s HB 8128 defines the rights and fundamental freedoms of human rights defenders, declaring the state’s responsibilities and instituting effective mechanisms for the protection and promotion of these rights and freedoms.