House panel endorses enactment of Human Rights Defenders' Act

Published November 15, 2021, 7:58 PM

by Ben Rosario

The House Committee on Human Rights approved Monday, Nov. 15 the proposed Human Rights Defenders Act that guarantees specific rights for them and enumerates government’s various responsibilities to protect them.

Rep. Bayani Fernando 2

Chaired by Marikina City Rep. Bayani Fernando, the House panel consolidated three bills filed by progressive members of the chamber.

Among the authors are Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna), together with Reps. Edcel Lagman (1st District Albay); Sarah Jane Elago (Kabataan Partylist); Jose Christopher Belmonte (6th District, Quezon City) and France Castro (ACT Teachers Partylist).

Authors define a human rights defender as a person, who individually or in association with others, acts or seeks to act to protect, promote or strike for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals.

Under the bill public authorities have the responsibility to ensuire that the human rights defenders are able to undertake their activities and work in a safe and enabling environment that is free from restrictions.

Government authorities are alsor equired to facilitate the activities and work of human rights defenders and provide them with free access to materials relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms, among others.

The bill also prohibits public authorities to engage in false, unfounded and derogatory labeling of human rights defenders and are directed to ensure their protection and unlawful intrusions.

The bill mandates the creation of the Human Rights Defenders ‘Protection Committee which will be attached to the Commission on Human Rigths for administrative and budgetary purposes.

“This bill guarantees specific rights of Human Rights Defenders and lays down the obligations of the government to protect them. It also stipulates the penalties for violatios of the proposed law,” said Zarate.

“We hope that this bill will be fast tracked and that it can be a deterrent to the harassment and killings of Human Rights Defenders,” he said.

For her part, Elago said that while Congress is set to act on the bill, Filipinos should “step up our campaign to stop political persecution, judicial harassment, and all forms of attacks against HRDs.”