A Philippine human rights alliance called on Congress to pass the proposed Human Rights Defenders Protection Act ahead of the observance of the International Day of Human Rights Defenders on December 10.
In a statement, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) said the passage of the proposed measure can be a “significant step toward the recognition and protection of human rights defenders.”
The group claimed that during the administration of former president Rodrigo Duterte, 427 human rights defenders were killed, 2,807 were arrested, 1,161 were jailed and 1,367 were raided.
“Those are alarming numbers that should never be seen in a democracy,” read PAHRA’s statement.
At least four bills have been filed in the House of Representatives seeking to enact the human rights defenders protection law.
The proposed measures aim to provide for the rights of human rights defenders and the corresponding obligation of public authorities to ensure the protection of these rights, and the operation of the necessary mechanism for the full and strict implementation of the law.
“The government should respond to threats against human rights defenders by taking genuine and effective measures for their protection,” read PAHRA’s statement.
The group said they hold Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla accountable to his word that the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will adopt 200 recommendations from the recently concluded Universal Periodic Review, one of which is to protect human rights defenders.
PAHRA said that at first glance the rights of human rights defenders are already included in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution, “but given that the government passed an all-sweeping Anti-Terrorism Law and other restrictive measures like the existence of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, more we need the extra layer of legal protection for HRDs who are all too often the victim of harassment and violence by the State.”
While the advancement of the legislation is “most welcome,” PAHRA insisted that the government “cease its attacks against human rights defenders” and abolish NTF-ELCAC.
The group also called on the international community to remain vigilant in monitoring the government’s human rights performance and supportive of human rights defenders in conducting their legitimate work.
Meanwhile, human rights group Karapatan announced that it will lead demonstration’s on December 10 “to highlight calls for justice for victims” of human rights abuses and “the burning issues of high prices, low wages and corruption.”
In Manila, a program is set to be held at the Liwasang Bonifacio to be followed by a march to the presidential palace. Simultaneous programs and rallies will also be held in Naga City, Legazpi City, Sorsogon, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Baguio City, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Cebu City, Iloilo City, Roxas City, Kalibo, and Davao City.
Karapatan said victims of rights violations, martial law survivors, victims of the government’s “war on drugs,” relatives of killed, arrested and detained human rights defenders, will join the protest marches.