18 January 2022
On 17 January, Congress passed the Human Rights Defenders Protection bill on the third and final reading. The bill aims to strengthen existing laws and provide additional institutional measures to protect human rights defenders (HRDs) from extrajudicial killings, and extreme threat and harassment. Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director responds:
“Congress’ approval of the HRD Protection bill is a welcome development, and provides a glimmer of hope that impunity will not always prevail in the Philippines. This bill is sorely needed as an answer to the Duterte administration’s intense crackdown on activists and any other person who speaks critically of its policies,
“Red-tagging has become a common and dangerous tactic which endangers the safety and security of many HRDs. The bill codifies the protections guaranteed to HRDs and provides them with a formal recourse in instances of threat or danger. If enacted into law, this will also provide some measure of protection for activists and other human rights workers until the Anti-Terror Law is amended,
Amnesty now calls on the Senate to demonstrate the same commitment to human rights, justice and democracy by acting swiftly and judiciously to pass the bill that is currently pending at the Justice and Human Rights Committee chaired by Senator Gordon.
“Amnesty now calls on the Senate to demonstrate the same commitment to human rights, justice and democracy by acting swiftly and judiciously to pass the bill that is currently pending at the Justice and Human Rights Committee chaired by Senator Gordon. It is crucial for this law to be enacted before the current Congress ends. The Senate’s action on the bill may help rescue the deteriorating human rights situation in the country fueled by Duterte’s counter-progressive policies on freedom of expression and association.”
On 17 January 2022, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 10576 entitled “An Act Defining the Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Human Rights Defenders, Declaring State Responsibilities, and Instituting Effective Mechanisms for the Protection and Promotion of These Rights and Freedoms”. An identical bill authored by human rights defender and Senator, Leila de Lima, has been pending in the Senate for two Congresses.
The bill’s salient points include the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on right to form associations, participate in peaceful assemblies, right to privacy, effective remedy and full reparation, freedom from intimidation and reprisals. and respect for the principle of non-refoulment. It prohibits all public authorities from participating, by acts of commission or omission, in violating human rights and fundamental freedoms, and strengthens the obligation of public authorities to conduct investigations on suspected human rights violations of HRDs. It also mandates government agencies to enforce and institutionalize command responsibility, the adoption of human rights-based approach, including in counter-insurgency and anti-terror programs and policies. It seeks to strengthen the Witness Protection Program of the Commission on Human Rights, mandates the Commission to provide sanctuaries for high-risk HRD, and creates an independent collegial body to be known as the Human Rights Defenders Committee.