MANILA – There is no need for the enactment of House Bill 10576, also known as the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill, as all the rights and freedoms cited in it are already included in the country's Constitution.
"All the rights and freedoms cited by the bill as needing protection are appropriately covered by our Constitution already and under specific laws. So are we saying here that these rights do not exist and therefore must be stressed in another law. Because from how we looked at it, and from how millions of Filipinos looked at it, all these rights are in place and being enjoyed," said Undersecretary Severo Catura, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) spokesperson for International Affairs, Peace Process and Human Rights Concerns, in a virtual press conference on Monday.
Catura said the bill does not defend real human rights defenders but only allows "pretenders" to advance a "context that perpetuates falsehood and deceit".
"It is totally against the grain of what human rights principles are being set in place," he added.
If approved by Congress, Catura said this law will "adversely impact" the country's overall campaign against local terrorism and the advancement of the peace process.
"It is also a slap to the United Nations (UN) (whose) policies on human rights are either being twisted or completely unheeded. And the bill can be called anything but a human rights bill," he added.
Catura also expressed concerns over the bill's inclusion of a right to solicit, receive, and utilize resources.
He added that this provision is contrary to a crucial existing law that controls the solicitation of resources.
Catura raised alarm over the provision of the bill which seeks to establish sanctuaries for human rights victims as this gives leeway to criminals or those held accountable by courts to seek refuge by claiming to be human rights violation victims or human rights defenders.
The proposed bill, Catura said, also violates the human rights principle of inclusivity, by stating that four groups will constitute its proposed Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee.
These organizations are the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, Karapatan, Free Legal Assistance Group, and the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers.
Earlier, Catura said the proposed bill has many “many legal infirmities”, adding that even the UN does not have any pronouncement on who should be classified as “human rights defenders.”
“Human rights defender is not a job title,” Catura explained, adding that defending human rights should be pursued by everyone in accordance with UN’s declarations, but should be done in a “peaceful manner.”
Catura said what the UN has directly stated is that the government, police, and military are the defenders of human rights.
He also questioned the motivations of the Makabayan Bloc lawmakers in pushing for the proposed legislation since the bill did not even have the courage to denounce the proven atrocities committed by communist terrorist groups.
“This is a travesty and mockery of human rights,” Catura added. (PNA)