Working Group: Bill to protect human rights defenders unnecessary, against the law


November 10, 2021 | 8:26 p.m.

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The human rights defenders bill that the Makabayan bloc seeks to pass is unnecessary, members of the government’s anti-communist task force said.

Spokesmen for the National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflicts also said the bill would be unconstitutional and help organizations the government considers terrorists.

Under Secretary Severo Catura said the bill “seeks to institutionalize within government groups known as fronts of the [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front]”by making members of the Karapatan rights group and the lawyers’ group National Union of People’s Advocates” compulsory members of the so-called “Committee for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders” which will be established once the law promulgated “.

The government has taken the position that Karapatan, NUPL and other human rights groups and activists are fronts for communist rebels. The practice of confusing support or membership in these groups with involvement in the communist insurgency is among the concerns raised during oral arguments at the Supreme Court against the anti-terrorism law.

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Committee for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

The text of House Bill 240 – the bill tabled by members of the Makabayan bloc – only proposes the establishment of the committee, whose members would be appointed by the Human Rights Commission.

Karapatan and NUPL are among the groups that will be allowed to appoint members to the committee. Other groups that may nominate members to the committee are the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Defenders, the Free Legal Assistance Group and the National Secretariat for Advocacy, the Justice and Peace of the Philippine Catholic Bishops’ Conference. .

Bill 15 tabled by Representative Edcel Lagman (Albay) and Bill 161 tabled by Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte (Quezon City) propose the creation of similar committees made up of candidates from advocacy groups , including Karapatan and NUPL.

A bill homologous to the Senate which lists the Senses. Leila De Lima and Risa Hontiveros as authors contains a similar provision.

The committee will be chaired by a CHR Commissioner and will have, among its tasks, the protection of human rights defenders against intimidation and reprisals, the facilitation of inter-agency and inter-service coordination against intimidation and reprisals, and conducting inquiries thereon. .

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Government: “Human Rights Defender” is not a job title

HB 240 defines a human rights defender as one who “acts or seeks to act to protect, promote or struggle for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms” and states that “any bona fide member of an organization human rights defender should be seen as a human rights defender.

But Catura argued that “human rights defenders are not a job title,” also claiming that “what the UN has said directly is that the government, police and military are human rights defenders “.

The government and its security forces are seen as guarantors, or those who have a duty to “protect, promote and fulfill all human rights”.

Lawyer Marlon Bosantog, also of NTF-ELCAC, claimed the bill would protect rebels like NPA leader Jorge Madlos, who was killed during a military operation in Bukidnon in October.

“For [Indigenous People]s, he was their butcher. But under the bill, it can be defended, ”Bosantog said.

Article 24 of HB 240 recognizes that human rights defenders are “subject only to the limitations prescribed by law, in accordance with international human rights obligations and standards” and to those necessary to guarantee human rights. ‘others and’ the reasonable requirements of public order and general well-being in a democratic society.

Attorney Rhowee Buergo, also of NTF-ELCAC, said the bill “contradicts existing laws” such as the 2001 Anti-Money Laundering Law, the 2020 Anti-Terrorism Law and the Privacy Law. 2012 data.

Brig. General Joel Alejandro Nacnac, director of the Armed Forces of the Philippines – Center for the Law of Armed Conflict (AFP-CLOAC), stressed that the bill “is not necessary” because the country has enough laws and the Constitution has sufficient measures and protections in place against human rights violations.

“Congress should examine the track record of supporters of the unilateral bill,” he also said.

Mary Lawlor, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, in March called on Filipino lawmakers to make the passage of a bill to protect human rights defenders a priority.

“The adoption of legislation at the national level is an important means by which states can recognize the work of human rights defenders and create strong mechanisms for their protection, and I urge all members of Congress to support this initiative. commendable, ”she said.

“In my recent report to the Human Rights Council, I highlighted the extremely serious risks facing those peacefully defending human rights around the world, including in the Philippines, and documented the legislative efforts already made by some states to protect them, ”she also mentioned.

“By prioritizing legislation to protect human rights defenders, the Philippines would join this group and send a clear message about their willingness to uphold their human rights obligations.

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– Jonathan de Santos with a report by The STAR / Artemio Dumlao


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