[Press Release] House of Representatives has passed on third and final reading the bill protecting human rights defenders | Rep. Edcel Lagman

House of Representatives has passed on third and final reading the bill protecting human rights defenders

Hon. Edcel Lagman, photo source http://ph.yfittopostblog.com/

For two consecutive Congresses, the 17th and the current 18th, the House of Representatives has passed on third and final reading the bill protecting human rights defenders (HRDs).

Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, the principal author of HB 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”, disclosed that the House approved on third reading on Monday, 17 January 2022, the crusading measure affording full protection to HRDs.

The precursor HB 9199 was passed by the House on 03 June 2019 during the 17th Congress but was not acted upon by the Senate due to time constraints.

The enactment of the Human Rights Defenders Act will put an end to the prevailing impunity on the extrajudicial killings and extreme harassment of HRDs.

The following are the salient features of the bill:

  1. Defines an HRD as “any person, who individually or in association with others, acts or seeks to act to protect, promote, or strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms, at the local, national, regional, and international levels.” This definition is broad and inclusive enough to cover HRDs in both government and private sector who may not be bona fide connected to any human rights organization.
  2. Embodies the rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders such as the rights to: form associations and to peaceful assembly; represent and advocate; privacy; effective remedy and full reparation; and freedom from intimidation, reprisal, defamation, and stigmatization among others.
  3. Prohibits all public authorities from participating, by acts of commission or omission, in violating human rights and fundamental freedoms. Subordinate employees have the right and duty to refuse any order from their superiors that will cause the commission of acts that contravene their duty to protect, uphold, and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. Such refusal shall not constitute a ground for any administrative sanction.
  4. Strengthens the obligation of public authorities to conduct investigations on suspected human rights violations of HRDs.
  5. Prohibits the public authority offender from invoking presumption of regularity in the performance of duty which presumption is commonly used as a veneer to conceal accountability for violation of human rights and freedoms. The prohibition is consistent with the rule on the Writ of Amparo.
  6. Mandates government agencies to enforce and institutionalize command responsibility and impose sanctions against errant superiors in both military and civilian agencies as provided under existing laws and executive issuances.
  7. Directs public authorities to adopt the human rights-based approach to governance and development including in counter-insurgency and anti-terror programs and policies.
  8. Seeks to strengthen the Witness Protection Program of the Commission on Human Rights and mandates the Commission to provide sanctuaries for high-risk HRDs, particularly those who have filed formal complaints against high-ranking government officials.
  9. Ensures respect for the principle of non-refoulement or the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country where they are likely to be subjected to persecution.
  10. States that in exercising their rights under the Act, HRDs shall be subject only to limitations that are prescribed by law, in accordance with international human rights obligations and standards, are reasonable, necessary and proportionate, and are solely for the purpose of securing the recognition and respect for the rights and fundamental freedoms of others and meeting the reasonable requirements of public order and general welfare in a democratic society;
  11. Creates an independent collegial body to be known as the Human Rights Defenders Committee composed of one Chairperson and six members. The Chairperson shall be selected by the Commissioners of the CHR from among themselves in an en banc session. The six members shall be jointly nominated by representatives of human rights organizations. The nominees shall be appointed by the CHR not by the President to underscore the Committee’s independence of the Executive.
  12. States ten guiding principles that shall be adhered to in implementing the Act and in formulating the corresponding rules and regulations. These include among others: adherence to the rule of law; active participation of HRDs in formulating, implementing and evaluating HRD protection programs; periodic risks assessments; confidentiality of personal data collected on HRDs; special attention to protection of women and LGBT HRD rights; continuous training of the Committee Secretariat; sustained adequate resources; and transparent and equitable resource allocation.
  13. Expressly provides that all provisions of the HRD Protection law shall be construed to achieve its objectives and that all doubts in the implementation and interpretation of these provisions shall be resolved in favor of the HRD.
    An identical bill authored by Sen. Leila de Lima is pending in the Senate which could be approved by the upper chamber for the expeditious enactment of the pioneering legislation.

17 January 2022

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