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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Protecting human rights defenders

If human rights defenders are an endangered species, Senator Risa Hontiveros believes what they need is adequate protection from harassment and prosecution.

The lawmaker has therefore filed a bill defining their rights and fundamental freedoms.

Senate Bill 2447 asserts that human rights defenders (HRDs) are “treated with contempt, even threatened with violence” and “often subjected to summary execution, enforced disappearance, false labeling and red-tagging, and malicious prosecution” despite helping protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms of Filipinos.

The bill wants to guarantee the protection of the rights and fundamental freedoms of HRDs, specify the obligations of the State to ensure the enjoyment of these rights and freedoms, and impose appropriate sanctions to counter impunity.

The proposed measure is convinced “the rights of HRDs must be fully recognized and the duties of public authorities institutionalized” since “human rights are fundamental anchors of our democratic society.”

Senate Bill 2447 seeks to respect, protect, and promote the following rights: (1) to form groups, associations and organizations; (2) to hold peaceful assemblies; (3) to seek, receive and disseminate information; (4) to have privacy; (5) to develop and advocate human rights ideas; (5) to solicit, receive and utilize resources; and (6) to access, communicate and cooperate with international and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms.

It also wants to protect freedom from intimidation and reprisal, as well as freedom of movement.

A similar bill has been filed in the House of Representatives, apparently by the Makabayan bloc. House Bill 77 or the “Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Act” which defines “human rights defenders” as any person who, individually or in association with others, acts or seeks to act to protect, promote or strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms and people’s welfare.

It hurdled the committee level in March this year.

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), however, has expressed vehement opposition to the proposed House bill, calling it “a grave, vicious, and insidious threat” to democracy as it would make existing laws against terrorism, money laundering and terrorism financing prevention and suppression as “toothless paper tigers.”

But if human rights advocacy is considered by the NTF-ELCAC as part of the terrorist playbook and human rights defenders as “terrorists,” isn’t that going overboard and runs counter to the 1987 Constitution’s clear and unequivocal provisions on the rights and fundamental freedoms of all citizens in a democratic system?

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