Karapatan lauds passing of Human Rights Defenders Bill on third and final reading, calls for an end to attacks vs HRDs

On June 3, 2019, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 9199, or the Human Rights Defenders Bill, on its third and final reading. 

“Everyone’s right to defend and uphold human rights is in peril. In the context of a repressive government’s non-stop suppression of people’s rights, we welcome this development as a long overdue measure for the protection of the people’s right to defend human rights. This comes at a most critical time when human rights defenders and activists are being killed, tortured, disappeared, illegally arrested, criminalized and slapped with trumped-up charges, and harassed in a myriad of ways. Throughout different regimes, the situation of HRDs and the risks that they face have gone from worse to worst and this bill, if passed into law, should provide stronger accountability measures for state actors who systematically and routinely violate people’s rights,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

Karapatan initiated and participated in the drafting and filing of the HRD bill, and have campaigned and lobbied tirelessly for its passage. “Since 2007, a proposed measure has already been filed. We know this is an uphill battle, but for human rights defenders who already have one foot in the grave, we are determined to see this through,” added Palabay, citing that since 2001, 58 human rights workers of Karapatan have already been killed in the course of their work as HRDs.

The Karapatan officer noted that the Philippines is among those who first adopted the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, but a domestic law has yet to be enacted in accordance with the declaration. “This bill comprehensively underscores the needs and dangers of human rights work vis-à-vis State-sponsored attacks, and it is a vital measure for the people, their communities and human rights defenders to continue our work. We are criminalized and tagged as ‘enemies of the State’, ‘terrorists’, ‘destabilizers’ and other labels to justify the attacks against us, executed under the implementation of counterinsurgency programs and other repressive policies. There is an orchestrated and systematic effort to undermine and discredit HRDs, and it is methodically done to strip us of our voices,” she explained. 

House Bill 9199 is complemented by the same initiative in the Senate, with Senator Leila de Lima’s filing of Senate Bill No. 1699. Among the salient points of the proposed HRD bill is the recognition of human rights defenders and their work, the recognition of the rights of human rights defenders, obligations of State actors, the creation of a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee, and stringent measures of those found violating the law. The bill also seeks measure for redress of women human rights defenders and activists in the LGBTQIA++ community who experience sexualized and gender-based attacks.

Palabay cited the cases of Atty. Benjamin Ramos who was killed in November 2018 because his work as a human rights lawyer; of Elisa Badayos, regional coordinator of Karapatan who was killed during a fact-finding mission in December 2017; of Bernardino Patigas, Escalante City councilor and human rights worker who was killed in April 2019; Jolita Tolino, an indigenous volunteer teacher who was charged with trumped-up charges of murder and frustrated murder; and trade unionist Maojo Maga, who wrongfully convicted of fabricated charges. “The harrowing experiences of Atty. Ramos, Elisa Badayos, Bernardino Patigas, Maojo Maga and Jolita Tolino depict the everyday dangers that hundreds of HRDs face,” she further stated. 

“Despite efforts of state forces to demonize rights advocates, at the end of the day, we are ordinary Filipinos – teachers, priests, trade unionists, lawyers, artists, health workers, indigenous leaders, farmers, among others. We are not enemies, but are staunch development actors for a life of dignity for all. We expose human rights violations and demand accountability from duty-bearers. As we witness more human rights violations, the onslaught of repressive policies, and the shrinking of the so-called civic space, these are all telltale signs of the need to fight back for the people’s basic rights and fundamental freedoms, in all venues possible including the legislative arena,” concluded Palabay.

 

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