De Lima refiles bill protecting human rights defenders

Aika Rey
De Lima refiles bill protecting human rights defenders


Detained Senator Leila de Lima says the bill ensures that human rights workers 'are free and protected' and that government policies will 'support their work and ensure accountability for violations of their rights and freedoms'

MANILA, Philippines – As human rights advocates accused the Duterte government of intimidation and harassment, opposition Senator Leila de Lima refiled a bill seeking to ensure their safety and unhampered pursuit of their advocacy. 

Senate Bill (SB) 179 seeks to protect human rights defenders with 12 rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom from intimidation or reprisal; and also prescribes state obligations to human rights defenders.

De Lima cited the recommendations of a United Nations report on the sorry state of human rights defenders in the country which, she said, were “merely noted” by the government.

“The Philippine government merely noted but did not commit to support the recommendations of the said report. What is even disturbing is that President Rodrigo Duterte himself publicly declared that he will order the shooting of human rights workers,” De Lima said in filing the bill.

“This version seeks to ascertain that the dynamic community of human rights workers in the Philippines remains free and protected and that the government policies will both support their work and ensure accountability for violations of their rights and freedoms,” she added.

SB 179 seeks to guarantee the following to human rights defenders:

  • Right to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms
  • Right to form groups, associations, and organizations
  • Right to solicit, receive, and utilize resources
  • Right to seek, receive, and disseminate information
  • Right to develop and advocate for human rights ideas
  • Right to communicate with nongovernmental, governmental, and intergovernmental organizations
  • Rights against villification
  • Right to access, communication, and cooperation with international and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms
  • Right to participate in public affairs
  • Right to peaceful assembly
  • Right to represent and advocate
  • Right to freedom of movement
  • Right to privacy
  • Freedom from intimidation or reprisal
  • Right to establish a sanctuary for human rights victims and/or their families
  • Freedom from defamation and stigmatization
  • Right to exercise cultural rights and to development of personality

Chapter 3 of the bill also lists down 15 obligations of the state and public authorities to human rights defenders:

  • Obligation to facilitate the activities and the work of human rights defenders
  • Obligation to provide free access to materials relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms
  • Obligation not to disclose confidential sources
  • Obligation to prevent and to ensure protection against intimidation or reprisal
  • Obligation to penalize intimidation or reprisal
  • Obligation to refrain from derogatory and unfounded labelling
  • Obligation to ensure protection against arbitrary or unlawful intrusion or interference
  • Obligation not to participate in violating human rights and fundamental freedoms
  • Obligation to conduct investigation
  • Obligation to ensure effective remedy and full reparation
  • Obligation to enforce and institutionalize command responsibility
  • Obligation to adopt human rights-based governance
  • Obligation to strengthen protection program
  • Obligation to respect the Principle of Non-refoulement
  • Obligation to promomte and facilitate human rights education

If passed, an independent collegial body, to be called as the Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee, will be created to ensure that the law is being implemented. It will be an attached agency under the Commission on Human Rights for administrative and budgetary purposes.

The bill also seeks to put in prison violators of the proposed measure.

In the 17th Congress, De Lima’s bill was left pending at the committee level, while the House of Representatives approved it on third and final reading. (Things to know: the bill that seeks to protect human rights defenders)

Human rights group Karapatan reported that at least 134 have been killed since Duterte took office in June 2016.

De Lima revived the bill in the same week that the Court of Appeals denied the petition of human rights groups seeking a protection order from army harassment.

Karapatan, Gabriela, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) had sought the court protection order after they were labeled by the Duterte government as fronts from the Communist Party of the Phiippines, which they denied.

On Thursday, Juy 4, the office of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr announced that he had sued the 3 human rights groups for perjury following their petition for a protection order against government harassment and intimidation.

De Lima, a former justice secretary and Commission on Human Rights chairperson, was arrested late February 2017 over what she and her allies called trumped-up drug charges, and has been detained since then as she faced trial.

The senator is one of the most outspoken critics of President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody campaign against illegal drugs. (EXPLAINER: What is Leila de Lima being accused of?)  –

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at