Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has called on the Senate leadership to act with dispatch on a House counterpart measure in the Senate seeking to promote and protect human rights defenders against harassment, intimidation and abuses.
De Lima, a known human rights activist here and abroad, said the Senate, notably the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, should take a cue on the urgency of passing into law the Senate Bill (SB) No. 1699 which she filed early this year.
“It is very encouraging to learn that the House leadership is vigorously pushing for the immediate passage of a measure protecting human rights defenders, especially at a time when human rights defenders are now under serious attacks,” she said.
“I enjoin my colleagues in the Senate to act on a counterpart measure as part of our solidarity and commitment to Universal Declaration of Human Rights which we shall commemorate its 70th year this coming Dec. 10, she added.
Last Dec. 4, the House Committee on Human Rights chaired by Zambales Rep. Cheryl Deloso-Montalla has approved a measure which seeks to define the rights and fundamental freedoms of human rights defenders.
Known as the Human Rights Defenders (HRD) Bill, the measure also seeks to mandate government agencies to act within three days all reports about possible human rights violations committed against human rights workers and activitists.
In her message at the National Summit of Human Rights Defenders at the Cocoon Hotel, Quezon City on Dec. 5, De Lima called for concerted efforts among human rights groups to push for the passage of a counterpart measure in the Senate.
“Ang mas malaking hamon sa ating mga HRDs: ang magpunyagi para makamit ang isang pulitikal at lehislatibong kahandaan para tuluyang maisabatas ang sistemang poprotekta sa gawain at kapakanan ng mga nagtataguyod ng karapatang pantao,” she said.
Last February, De Lima has filed a counterpart measure, logged as Senate Bill 1699, which has, to date, remained unacted upon by the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights chaired by Sen. Richard J. Gordon.
Under SB No. 1699, also known as the “Human Rights Defenders Act of 2018,” it is the government’s obligation to ensure protection of HRDs against intimidation and unlawful intrusion by any public or private individual.
The Senator from Bicol said HRDs and civil society groups should work hard to make ordinary people and government leaders understand the importance of upholding the rights of HRDs, amid efforts by some quarters to paint them as enemies of the state.
“Kritikal dito ang ipanalo sa isip at puso ng mga Pilipino na ang ating mga karapatan ay may tunay na kahulugan at pakinabang sa indibidwal na buhay ng bawat isa, at may saysay sa pagsasaayos ng bansa,” she said.
“Mahalaga ring maihakayat ang sapat na bilang ng mga lider na tataya para sa karapatang pantao at maniniwalang mahalaga ang mga ipinaglalaban ng mga HRDs,” she added.
De Lima maintained that the campaign for the passage of the HRD Protection Act cannot and should not be divorced from the larger struggle for restoration of democracy, respect for sovereignty and rule of law, and triumph of social justice in the Philippines.
“We must establish the broadest coalition of geographical and sectoral formations under a common banner of dignity and freedom for all. We must also seek to be understood in the language of the ordinary Filipinos,” she said.
In last year’s Report of the UN Working Group on the Philippines’ Universal Periodic Review, it recommended, among others, the adoption of a national law for the promotion of the rights of the HRDs.