House okays bill seeking protection for Human Rights defenders

THE House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the Human Rights Defenders (HRD) Protection bill.

Voting unanimously, the lawmakers underscored the need for the bill whose primary function is to prevent human rights violations and abuses perpetrated against HRDs.

House Bill (HB) No. 9199 consolidated HB 8128 principally authored by Albay 1st District Representative Edcel C. Lagman and HB 1617 introduced by Representatives Carlos Isagani Zarate, Antonio Tinio, Emmi de Jesus, France Castro, Arlene Brosas, Ariel Casilao and Sarah Jane Elago.

Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights recorded the killing of 697 human rights defenders in the country for the period 2001-2018, while Task Force Detainees of the Philippines documented 76 human rights violations affecting 333 HRDs from September 2013 to September 2016 alone.

The bill guarantees HRD rights and freedoms; mandates the State and public authorities to respect, protect, and fulfill these rights and freedoms; and imposes appropriate sanctions to counter impunity.

Should it be signed into law, the bill will also create a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee chaired by a Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and six members who will be jointly nominated by concerned civil society organizations.

HB 9199 is based on the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the Model National Law on the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights Defenders drafted by the International Service for Human Rights.

Rep. Lagman lauded the House of Representatives for approving the measure on third and final reading.

“It is high time that we accord stronger legal protection to those who defend not only their own human rights and fundamental freedoms but those of others as well,” Lagman said.

In the recent World Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Michael Forst called on the Philippine government to “end immediately all forms of violations against human rights defenders, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.”

He also urged the Philippine government to “cease immediately the public stigmatization of human rights defenders, which can incite perpetrators to act against them, and instead to publicly recognize the legitimacy and importance of their work.”