By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) reiterated its support for enacting a law to protect human rights defenders and urged dialogue instead of spreading fear about the proposed legislation.
Last month, the House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights approved House Bill 77 or the Human Rights Defender Bill (HB 77).
In a March 16 statement, CHR said, “the increasing reports of serious risks and dangers faced by human rights defenders, as well as the prevalence of impunity for violations and abuses against them,” warrants the bill’s passage.
“Instead of spreading fear, CHR believes that it would be more productive for other stakeholders to have an open and genuine dialogue with the advocates of the said bill,” the commission added.
CHR said engaging those supporting the bill would “eliminate any doubt and address misunderstanding on what the proposed legislation seeks to achieve and the realities that it seeks to address.”
The call came after the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) statement opposing the bill, calling its passage “unjustified.” The anti-communist body, created during the Duterte administration and known for red-tagging activists and government critics, has been hyping the belief that the proposed measure would protect New People’s Army members and supporters.
The CHR has repeatedly called on Congress for the passage of the law, along with the international civil society and institutions and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
In December 1998, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The declaration is “based on, consolidates, and reflects binding international law relevant to the promotion, protection, and defense of human rights.” It defines human rights defenders as “ordinary [individuals] who act for the respect of human rights … (and) can act alone or in organizations.”
Challenge to NTF-ELCAC
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the NTF-ELCAC opposes the bill because “[the] legislation will directly challenge and confront the agency’s actions, including the relentless red-tagging and state-sponsored attacks against human rights defenders, government critics, activists, and dissenters.”
“It is appalling how the NTF-ELCAC claims that the bill is a ‘vicious threat to democracy,’ when they are the ones who fabricate lies and weaponize the law to criminalize everybody they have maliciously and wrongly labeled and tagged as ‘terrorist,’” she added.
She also criticized the agency for zeroing in on a provision that grants sanctuary to endangered human rights defenders.
“So why is the NTF-ELCAC so obsessed against providing sanctuary? Is it because this will prevent them from freely killing, abducting, arresting or harassing and intimidating anyone they tag as terrorists?” Palabay asked.
The Baguio City council is among those supporting the law’s passage, unanimously approving a resolution on March 3 urging Congress to expedite its enactment.
The resolution acknowledged the necessity to protect human rights defenders and the grave threat posed by red-tagging, citing CHR Cordillera’s advisory on the issue. Members of the council also urge other LGUs to support the bill.
Human rights lawyers Peter Fianza and Jose Molintas are the principal authors of the resolution.
Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, who also chairs the Regional Peace and Order Council, said activists are safe in the city.
Aside from engaging people’s organizations, the mayor has also prohibited red-tagging posters in the city, especially those that target youth leaders. For this, serial red-taggers Lorraine Badoy and Jeffrey Celis accused him of being in league with communist groups.
Bayan Muna Party-list first filed the bill seeking to protect human rights defenders in 2008, during the 14th Congress, and refiled in 2011 and 2016 but was left pending at the House Committee on Human Rights. The 17th and 18th Congresses passed it in June 2019 and January 2022 respectively. However, the Senate failed to pass a counterpart measure. # nordis.net