House approves bill protecting human rights defenders

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives on Monday, June 3, gave its nod to a bill that would define and protect the rights of human rights defenders.

A total of 183 legislators voted yes to House Bill (HB) No. 9199 on 3rd and final reading, with no other lawmaker voting no or abstaining from the vote. 

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, who sponsored the bill, hailed its passage in the House. (READ: Powering through a crisis: Defending human rights under Duterte

"It is high time that we accord stronger legal protection to those who defend not only their own human rights and fundamental freedom, but those of others as well," said Lagman.

But he urged the government of President Rodrigo Duterte to "cease immediately the public stigmatization of human rights defenders, which can incite perpetrators to act against them, and instead to publicly recognize the legitimacy and importance of their work." (READ: U.N. expert to PH gov't: Stop stigma against human rights defenders)

What freedoms does HB No. 9199 grant? The bill grants to human rights defenders a total of 17 rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom from intimidation or reprisal.

"No person shall be subjected, individually or in association with others, to any form of intimidation or reprisal on the grounds of or in relation to one's status, activities, or work as a human rights defender," reads Section 18 of the bill.

Section 19 also establishes a sanctuary for human rights victims and their families. 

All 17 freedoms to be granted to human rights defenders are the following:

Section 24 of the bill requires the state to "take all the necessary measures" to ensure the rights and fundamental freedoms granted to human rights defenders are protected and that all laws, policies, and programs of the government "are consistent with the rights" listed under the bill.

HB No. 9199 also requires the government to ensure human rights defenders are "able to undertake their activities and work in a safe and enabling environment free from restriction."

Will it be passed into law soon? No. The bill would not become a law under the current 17th Congress, as session is set to adjourn on Tuesday, June 4. 

The Senate version of the bill has been pending at the committee level since February 2018. 

Past versions of the human rights defenders bill have long been languishing in the legislative branch since the 14th Congress. 

What is the state of human rights in the country? According to the United Nations, the Philippines is one of the countries where governments subject human rights defenders and activists to "an alarming and shameful level of harsh reprisals and intimidation."

Karapatan, a human rights organization, reported that at least 134 have been killed since Duterte took office in June 2016. 

Still, human rights defenders in the Philippines persist in their work despite the culture of impunity under the Duterte administration. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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