Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has called for an intensified campaign for the enactment of a measure protecting human rights defenders (HRDs) against harassment and any forms of abuses and allowing them to fulfill their mission without being oppressed.
In her message read by her Chief-of-Staff Fhillip Sawali during the Colloquium on the Protection of HRDs last Monday, De Lima said the country is experiencing the worst human rights crisis in Philippine history as Mr. Duterte continues to engage in a war against rights defenders.
“Now, more than ever, we need the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act. We need a law that will safeguard the HRDs from harm, and help create an environment that will enable us to effectively carry out our mission,” she said.
“Trusting that our work and worth are truly invaluable in making a safer and more humane society – as we bravely challenge injustice, oppression and inhumanity anywhere; as we risk even our own lives when we speak truth to power anytime – we must push for the passage of a law that will defend the defenders,” she added.
Entitled “The Places Where Human Rights Matter,” De Lima’s message was read by Sawali for the opening of the first Colloquium on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders organized by the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) and the Mambabatas para sa Karapatang Pantao (Makatao) in Quezon City.
Note that De Lima refiled her Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill, now logged as Senate Bill (SB) No. 179, as among her first 10 priority measures this 18th Congress, and she has consistently pushed for its passage which is expected to go through the proverbial eye of the needle with the presence of Duterte allies in the Senate.
The Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill highlights the obligations of the State and public authorities to respect, promote, protect and fulfill the rights of HRDs by facilitating their activities and work and by refraining from derogatory and unfounded labelling, among others.
In the Philippines, De Lima noted that 167 HRDs have been killed under the Duterte administration, with six cases of enforced disappearance, citing figures from rights group Karapatan. Of the 3,229 persons who were subjected to questionable arrests, HRDs hold a majority.
“There is no surprise here. By his appalling rhetoric and antics, Duterte has almost successfully perverted the rule of law, has enabled a climate of terror and fear within and outside government, and has relentlessly demonized the concept of human rights itself,” she said.
De Lima, a known human rights defender here and abroad, lamented that HRDs not only in the Philippines, but in different parts of the world as well, have been threatened, stigmatized, ostracized, killed and unlawfully detained for their work.
“In different regions of the world, the civic space – in which there is a free flow of information, where there can be open and robust discussion, and where people participate fully in political and social life – is being undermined, eroded, or shut down,” she said.
De Lima cited, among others, the six-month-long demonstrations by young pro-democracy activists who have been met with police brutality in Hong Kong and the arrests to more than 12,500 people in Venezuela since 2014 in connection with protests against President Nicolas Maduro.
To effectively fight for human rights and the rights of HRDs here and abroad, De Lima pointed out the need for a “new narrative” which requires a different way of doing human rights work that celebrate humanity, and all the positive things that make people truly human.
“This narrative projects a hopeful message of peace and love, believing that this positive message can have as much political currency and legitimacy as the message of hate, fear and division,” she concluded.