SOURCE: Press and Public Affairs Bureau
The House of Representatives unanimously approved on third and final reading House Bill No. 9199 which seeks to define the rights and fundamental freedoms of human rights defenders, declare state responsibilities, and institute effective mechanisms for the protection and promotion of these right and freedoms.
All 183 House Members present during the plenary voting approved the proposed “Human Rights Defenders Protection Act,” principally authored by Rep. Edcel Lagman (1st District, Albay).
The bill defines “human rights and fundamental freedoms” as rights or entitlements inherent in all human persons and freedoms recognized in or declared by international and regional human rights instruments and customary international law and by national laws that are consistent with the said instruments and law.
The term “human rights defenders” refers to any person who, individually or in association with others, acts or seeks to act to protect, promote or strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms and welfare of the people, at the local, national, regional, and international levels.
The bill provides and grants human rights defenders rights and freedoms such as the right to 2) promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms; 2) form groups, associations and organizations; 3) solicit, receive and utilize resources; 4) seek, receive and disseminate information; and 4) develop and advocate for human rights ideas.
The right to communicate with non-governmental, governmental and intergovernmental organizations; rights against vilification; right to access, communicate and cooperate with international and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms; and right to participate in public affairs, among others, are also provided under the bill.
In addition, human rights defenders are also granted the freedom from defamation and stigmatization; freedom from intimidation or reprisal; right to effective remedy and full reparation; and the right to exercise cultural rights and to development of personality.
A human rights defender shall be subject only to limitations that are 1) prescribed by law, 2) in accordance with international human rights obligations and standards, 3) reasonable, necessary and proportionate, and 4 solely for the purpose of securing due recognition of and respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and meeting the reasonable requirements of public order and general welfare in a democratic society.
The state and the public authorities shall have the obligation to a) respect, promote, protect and fulfill the rights of human rights defenders; b) facilitate the activities and work of human rights defenders; c) provide free access to materials relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms; d) not disclose confidential sources; and e) prevent and to ensure protection from intimidation or reprisal, among others.
The bill calls for the creation and composition of an independent collegial body to be known as the Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee, composed of one chairperson and six members.
The Chairperson shall be selected by the Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights from among themselves in an en banc session.
The six members shall be jointly nominated by two representatives each of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan), Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) in a meeting called for this purpose.
The said nominees shall be appointed by the Commission on Human Rights in an en banc session.
Among the functions of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee are to 1) protect human rights defenders from intimidation and reprisals; 2) ensure accountability for acts of intimidation and reprisal; 3) facilitate and promote inter-agency and inter-department coordination to prevent, protect from, investigate, and ensure accountability for acts of intimidation or reprisal; and 4) publicly acknowledge and promote the legitimate and important role, activities and work of human rights defenders.
All persons involved in the work and activities of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee, including security and law enforcement officials, shall be appropriately vetted and shall receive training on human rights and fundamental freedom, the situation and protection needs of human rights defenders prior to the commencement of the involvement, and continuing training designed to ensure full and effective implementation of the Act.
The bill imposes the penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period to reclusion temporal in its medium period without privilege of parole, upon any government personnel or the whole complement of a government unit, the paramilitary personnel or the whole complement of the paramilitary unit, the government asset (and/or the military affiliate) for violations of the rights and freedoms of human rights defenders.
The penalty of prision mayor in its maximum to its medium period or a fine of P100,000 or both, at the discretion of the court shall be imposed upon any government personnel or the whole complement of a government unit, the paramilitary personnel or the whole complement of the paramilitary unit, the government asset (and/or the military affiliate) who impede, obstruct, or influence any preliminary investigation, administrative investigation and/or petition by altering, destroying, mutilating, concealing, covering up, falsifying, or making any false entries in any record, document, or specimen whereof, relative to any matter involving any human rights defenders, defenders or organizations or activities.
The bill mandates the CHR, Member of the House Committee on Human Rights, Members of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, in consultation with PAHRA, Karapatan, FLAG, and NUPL, and other human rights organizations and individual human rights defenders of known probity, to jointly promulgate the implementing rules and regulations for the effective implementation of the Act within 60 days from its effectivity.
Authors of the bill are Reps. Edcel Lagman (1st District, Albay), Carlos Isagani Zarate (Party-list, BAYAN MUNA), Antonio Tinio (Party-list, ACT TEACHERS), Emmi De Jesus (Party-list, GABRIELA), France Castro (Party-list, ACT TEACHERS), Arlene Brosas (Party-list GABRIELA), Ariel Casilao (Party-list, ANAKPAWIS), Sarah Jane Elago (Party-list, KABATAAN), Cheryl Deloso-Montalla (2nd District, Zambales), Makmod Mending (Party-list, AMIN), Ramon Rocamora (Lone District, Siquijor), John Marvin Nieto (3rd District, Manila), Edgar Erice (2nd District, Caloocan City), Raul Del Mar (1st District, Cebu City), Emmanuel Billones (1st District, Capiz), Raul Daza (1st District, Northern Samar), Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado (1st District, Bulacan), Amihilda Sangcopan (Party-list, AMIN), Tom Villarin (Party-list, AKBAYAN), Maria Vida Bravo (1st District, Masbate), Kaka Bag-ao (Lone District, Dinagat Islands) and Jose Christopher Belmonte (6th District, Quezon City). / Ma. Victoria Palomar / News and Documentation Section-Press and Public Affairs Bureau/House of Representatives of the Philippines