Karapatan renews calls for passage of “long overdue” law protecting rights defenders

Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

Human rights alliance Karapatan called on the House of Representatives anew to expedite the passage of the “long overdue” Human Rights Defenders Protection Act as the group expressed its support for the refiling of bills seeking the enactment of the proposed measure before the 19th Congress, such as House Bill No. 77 filed by Albay First District Rep. Edcel Lagman and House Bill No. 256 filed by Kabataan Party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel.

“Since 2007, we have tirelessly campaigned and lobbied for the passage of this very important measure which not only recognizes the vital work of human rights defenders but also the dangers we face. To say that it is long overdue is an understatement — and we cannot stress enough the urgency of passing this measure when human rights defenders continue to have one foot on the grave for defending people’s basic rights and fundamental freedoms,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Identical bills passed on third and final reading in the House of Representatives during the 17th and 18th Congresses, but their respective counterpart measures in the Senate have failed to move forward. During the 18th Congress, a total of 200 legislators voted in favor of approving House Bill No. 10576; no legislator voted against or abstained on voting on the bill. The National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), however, has expressed opposition to the bill.

According to Karapatan’s documentation, a total of 222 human rights defenders — among them 15 Karapatan human rights workers — have been killed in line with the Duterte administration’s counterinsurgency campaigns from July 2016 to June 2022. Many of them were red-tagged and publicly vilified as “terrorists” before they were killed, and red-tagging and attacks against human rights defenders and their organizations have only worsened with the formation of the NTF-ELCAC in 2018.

Palabay averred that “if Marcos Jr.’s full support for the NTF-ELCAC is of any indication, we can only expect the continuity of the Duterte administration’s repressive and murderous policies, and that the proposed has a slimmer to none chance to be passed this time around.”

“Nonetheless, we will not back down in calling for the passage of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act and in our work in defending people’s rights, exposing human rights violations, and demanding accountability from duty-bearers. Furthermore, with or without the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act, human rights defenders should not be targeted by the government for their work — but these continued State-sponsored attacks only underscore the urgency of passing this measure and enacting it into law,” she ended.