The Human Rights Committee approved the Human Rights Defender Bill (or House Bill 77/HB77) in February 2023, which is currently under consideration in the plenary. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) emphasized that protecting human rights defenders (HRD) is a “legal and moral obligation” of the state to preserve democracy.
In a press conference from March 13, 2023, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) claimed that the term “human rights defender,” which is used in the bill, is too broad and puts this group of people on the same level with enemies of the state, such as terrorists and rebels. The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TDFP) who were directly accused by the NTF-ELCAC defended themselves in separate statements. They said the NTF-ELCAC’s statement lumps HRDs together with terrorists and criminals. With these accusations, NTF-ELCAC is putting HRDs in serious danger and would therefore even label the United Nations – which created the framework for this bill – as communist sympathisers.
Secretary General of the human rights group Karapatan, Cristina Palabay, stated that the NTF-ELCAC opposes the bill as it would directly challenge NTF-ELCAC’s central role in so-called “red-tagging” (i.e. accusation of supporting the communist insurgency) and increased attacks against HRDs.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on HRD, Mary Lawlor, urged the Philippine government on 23 March 2023 to pass the bill as evidence of respect for human rights in the country. Earlier, Lawlor had already been critical of the many cases of “red-tagging” of HRDs, pointing out the dangers this practice poses to HRDs.
In Baguio City, “red-tagging” is already banned, making it safe for HRDs, according to Mayor Benjamin Magalong.
On 23 March 2023, the Philippine government also announced that retired appellate judge Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa was appointed as CHR commissioner. Zenarosa, along with three other judges, acquitted US Marine Daniel Smith of raping a Filipina woman in Subic almost 18 years ago. Ferdinand Marcos has yet to appoint one last CHR commissioner.
Photo © Raffy Lerma