HomeEquality & JusticeProtestant council welcomes passage of bill for protection of rights defenders

Protestant council welcomes passage of bill for protection of rights defenders

The proposed measure defines the rights and freedoms of human rights defenders and aims to institute measures that will protect them

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines welcomed the passage in the House of Representatives of a bill that aims to ensure the safety and security of human rights defenders.

“The passage of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act is a positive step forward in upholding the rights of those who are working for the protection of God’s Gift of human dignity,” said Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, NCCP general secretary.

The House of Representatives passed the proposed measure on its third and final reading with 200 affirmative votes, zero negative, and no abstention on Monday, January 17.

The House Bill defines the rights and freedoms of human rights defenders in the Philippines and aims to institute measures that will protect them.

“For the NCCP, the defense of human rights is an integral part of our Christian witness and mission and we have supported this Act since it was introduced in the previous 17th Congress,” said Bishop Marigza.

He said the Protestant council is “glad that legislators of this 18th Congress finally voted in favor of its passage.”

“In recent years, the state of human rights has sharply declined and the NCCP has observed various forms of human rights violations and more vicious patterns of attacks against human rights defenders, including church people, several of which are our pastors and lay members,” said the prelate.

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“We are also concerned over the rampant red-tagging and we are alarmed over the freezing and/or monitoring of bank accounts of church-designated sanctuaries, NGOs and humanitarian actors,” added the bishop in a statement released on January 19.

“When rights defenders have fallen victims to violations and abuses, who will now defend the defenders?” he said.

The Protestant Church leader called on the Senate to also pass its counterpart bill that was file by Senator Leila de Lima.

The senator, however, said that “there is slim to none chance” for the measure to pass in the Senate.

“The topic of the bill necessitates extended deliberations in the Senate in both committee and plenary levels. Given the present extended office closure due to the pandemic, there might not be enough time to give this measure the scrutiny it deserves,” she said in a statement.

De Lima said that it is “almost certain” that President Rodrigo Duterte will veto the proposed measure even if it passed Congress.

The National Task Force to End Local Armed Conflict has earlier expressed opposition to the bill, claiming that it “seeks to institutionalize in the government, groups that are known fronts” of the communist movement.

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