Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has commended several members of the House of Representatives for taking up the cudgels for human rights despite the relentless and deliberate attacks by the present Duterte administration.
In a solidarity message read during the launch of the group Mambabatas Para sa Karapatang Pantao (MAKATAO) last March 19, De Lima said the country needs more like-minded leaders–whose framework of governance is based on human rights standards and principles–to defend the Filipino people from any form of abuses.
“I welcome the creation of this organization not only because there is an immediate need to face this administration’s affront to human rights and fundamental freedoms of our people but more so because it is our duty and obligation as legislators to ensure that the laws of the land and internationally accepted principles and standards on human rights are respected, protected and promoted,” she said.
“We are duty holders and it is our primary responsibility to ensure that laws respect, protect and promote the rights of our people. The people expect us to do no less. Good governance requires the State, which we are a part of, to respect, protect and fulfil human rights,” she added.
Among the members MAKATAO include Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr., Quezon City 6th District Rep. Kit Belmonte, and Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, among others.
While human rights work has become a dangerous endeavor under Duterte’s leadership, De Lima said her fellow legislators should still show the President and his lackeys that they are not afraid of them.
“We need to strengthen our collective action against tyranny, oppression, violations of human rights and disregard for the rule of law… The time to act is NOW, not yesterday and definitely, not tomorrow,” she said.
“The people need us to show to this administration that we are not cowed and afraid, despite vilification campaigns against us and/or in my case, filing of trumped-up charges and one year of unjust detention. We need to speak the truth and convince our constituents of the truth, from the lens and always, from the lens of human rights,” she added.
As public servants, De Lima said they also need to ensure that mechanisms and processes are in place for human rights defenders (HRDs), who serves as the legislators’ partners in ensuring that the rights and freedoms of the public are not violated.
“[HRDs need] to fulfil their work in a safe and enabling environment and if their rights and freedoms are violated, that they have recourse not only to courts but to programs and services of our institutions tasked to protect and promote their rights,” she noted.
The Senator from Bicol likewise noted that the close coordination and partnership with local legislative bodies and legislators are critical in bringing human rights issues and legislation closer to their source and intended beneficiaries.
“Why? Unang-una sa lahat, dahil ang mga human rights issues – as the term itself explicitly states – are about human beings. They are about the people. For the people. And, therefore, they ought to be by the people. Their inputs are imperative to be truly reflective and responsive to their needs,” she said.
“Hindi natin maipapanalo ang laban para sa karapatang pantao kung tayo-tayo lamang ang tatayo bilang mga human rights defenders. The people have to see its benefits and importance for themselves, own it for themselves, claim it for themselves and, thus, hopefully, they will defend it for themselves,” she added.
In her message, De Lima asked her fellow legislators to support the Human Rights Defenders Bill she filed last month to ensure that it is passed into law as soon as possible.
A known human rights defender herself, De Lima filed Senate Bill No. 1699 seeking to institutionalize and enforce state obligations for the protection of the rights of HRDs.