By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor called for the passage of a bill seeking to protect human rights defenders in the Philippines.
Lawlor made the statement 23 during a side event at the ongoing 52nd regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Lawlor said that she has been following the developments of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill, which was approved at the committee level at the House of Representatives. The bill was being opposed by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
“As we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, I couldn’t think of a better way that the Philippine government could show its value, its worth, than adopting and implementing this act. It definitely would show commitment to the work of human rights defenders,” Lawlor said.
She urged the Philippine government to comply with human rights treaties and standards that she said are complementary and mutually reinforcing goals for effective counter terrorism measures.
Lawlor said that human rights defenders in the Philippines continue to face attacks, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, stigmatization campaign and worse, they are killed.
These cases, she said are “rarely investigated which increases the vulnerability of those who remain active while undermining the human rights community’s confidence in the justice system.”
In particular, Lawlor cited the killings and arrests of activists in Southern Tagalog on March 7, 2021.
She added that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 “further compounded the precarious situation of human rights defenders by legally formalizing the practice of ‘red tagging’ defenders by its overly-broad definitions of terrorism.”
“Red-tagging and being designated as a terrorist are dangerous labels for human rights defenders in the Philippines. The country is again considering legislation to protect its Human Rights Defenders, but news that those peacefully advocating for the rights of others are being threatened is disturbing,” Lawlor said.
“I join other mandates in sharing our concerns regarding the designation of individuals, and civil society, and humanitarian organizations as ‘terrorists’ in the context of ongoing discrimination directed at religious and other minorities, human rights defenders, and political opponents,” she added.
Lawlor also asked the Philippine government to investigate the disappearance of peasant organizer Steve Abua who has been missing since November 2021.
Abua’s wife, Johanna, has filed a petition to the Court of Appeals to help her to locate her husband. She asserted that it was state agents who abducted Abua who experienced surveillance weeks before his abduction.
Meanwhile, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) lauded the passing of Baguio City Council Resolution No. 155 series of 2023 supporting the House of Representatives and the Senate’s proposed measures to penalize red-tagging and other similar acts that endangers human rights defenders.
The group said human rights defenders and youth in the city have lobbied for having an Anti-Political Vilification Ordinance (APVO) since it was crafted in 2018. Since then, the group said they have pushed for similar legislation to the Human Rights committee of the Sangguniang Panlungsod.
They added that the resolution is timely as they have documented cases of disinformation against human rights defenders by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) in different schools in Baguio City and the filing of trumped-up charges of rebellion against seven activists who are temporarily released on bail. Three of them are residents of Baguio City, the group said in a statement.
“We applaud the recent efforts of the City Council, headed by its Human Rights committee, towards the opening and strengthening of Barangay Human Rights Action Centers (BHRAC) that are actually mandated to be present in our BLGUs (barangay local government units). This is a step further to widening education and information dissemination on human rights and combatting disinformation and fake news against human rights defenders,” the CHRA said. (RTS, RVO)