De Lima Vows To Refile Human Rights Defenders Bill In 18th Congress

Senator Leila M. de Lima has vowed to refile the Senate’s version of the House-approved measure seeking to provide protection to human rights defenders (HRDs) who have always been under serious threats, intimidation, and harassment.

In the coming 18th Congress, De Lima said she will file the human rights defenders’ protection bill which was unacted upon by the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon during the previous Congress.

“In the coming 18th Congress, I am refiling the human rights defenders’ protection bill and I hope my colleagues, especially Sen. Gordon, will take a harder look at how HRDs have become more vulnerable to harassment these days,” she said.

“Nakakalungkot na naisantabi pa ito sa Komite at hindi agarang nakausad para maging ganap na batas. I find it important that we pass a measure protecting human rights defenders, especially after the recent incidences of killings involving them, which proves that their work has become extremely dangerous,” she added.

Last June 3, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading House Bill (HB) No. 9199, also referred to as the “Human Rights Defenders Protection Act” with 183 affirmative votes, with no objection or abstention.

The House-approved measure is a consolidation of HB No. 8128 and HB No. 1617 authored by Rep. Edcel Lagman in 2017 and by the Makabayan bloc in 2016, respectively.

Its Senate counterpart filed by De Lima, Senate Bill No. 1699, languished at the committee level since February 2018.

SB No. 1699 guarantees HRDs’ rights and fundamental freedoms, such as their rights against vilification, right to freedom of movement, right to privacy, freedom from intimidation or reprisal, and freedom from intimidation or reprisal, among others.

Under De Lima’s proposed Senate measure, the government is mandated to ensure that all HRDs are “able to undertake their activities and work in a safe and enabling environment free from restriction.”

De Lima, a former chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and former justice secretary, maintained that HRDs should be recognized and protected because they offer their selfless service to defend other people.

“Sa panahon kung kailan lantarang ginagamit ng mga nasa kapangyarihan ang kanilang impluwensya at posisyon para makapang-abuso at yurakan ang ating pagkatao, kailangan natin ng batas para protektahan at bigyang lakas ang mga tagapagtanggol ng karapatang pantao,” she said.

Of the total number of bills and resolutions she filed and were referred to the Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee, De Lima noted that 24 bills and 11 resolutions remain pending while one resolution is still pending on second reading.

Among the bills languishing at the committee include an Act punishing extraordinary heinous crimes with the penalty of qualified reclusion perpetua (SBN 368), an Act defining extrajudicial killing (SBN 117), an Act protecting the rights of refugees and stateless persons (SBN 1854), and an Act strengthening the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines as the national human rights institution (SBN1230).

As early as September 2016, De Lima sent a formal communication to Gordon requesting him to give priority to SRN 97, which seeks to probe into the current state of jails and penitentiaries all over the country, she filed a month prior.

In December 2017, De Lima also filed proposed Senate Resolution No. 153 which called for a Senate investigation into the reported deaths of 17 women HRDs summarily killed amid the rash of extrajudicial killings in the country.

In April 2018, she also urged the Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee to address the issue concerning overcrowded detention cells and act on the resolutions she filed but her call remains unheeded.

De Lima, a known human rights defender, said the apparent inaction on these crucial pieces of legislation is untenable and regrettable because problems, such as killings, injustices, state abuses and prison congestion, continue to plague the present administration.

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