Under the banner of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) “Policy Rights Talks” during the CHR’s 36th anniversary month, the organization held a free webinar championing the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill.
Held on May 10, 2023, as the fourth episode of the CHR Human Rights Institute webinar series, CHR illustrated the significance of the bill as a bastion against unfounded red tagging. The webinar welcomed the expertise of speaker Vince Gamboa, an information officer hailing from the CHR’s Policy Advisory Office.
Gamboa explained that the bill was approved by the House of Representatives last year, yet it failed in the Senate. However, the bill has since passed to the committee level in the House last February 28. Currently, its committee report is awaiting approval.
Despite the extensive list of heroes who had once fought for the rights Filipinos enjoy today, Gamboa asserted that the Philippines still has a long way to go in the struggle for civil liberties. “Wala po silang proteksyon na binigay sa kanila noon, at hanggang ngayon hindi sapat ‘yung binibigay,” he said.
The Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill thus sought to fill this gap. According to Gamboa, it was anchored on the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While the Philippines is a signatory of the international law, it has met hurdles in its implementation due to its nonbinding nature.
Nevertheless, Gamboa affirmed that the fight for human rights must continue.
Gamboa argued that the bill will not only benefit human rights defenders, but everyday Filipinos. At its core, the bill will ban government agencies and private citizens from red tagging and protect victims from intimidation and harassment.
“Ang layunin ng batas na ito ay mag-create ng enabling environment para ‘yung mga human rights defenders natin, magawa nila freely yung work na dapat nilang gawin para mapabuti ang kalagayan ng karapatan pantao sa ating bansa,” he shared.
The bill will also establish a committee that will conduct investigations on human rights violations, head advocacy-related activities, and submit reports to the United Nations. Gamboa added that the committee will undergo periodic reviews of the law. “Ang konsepto po ng human rights ay ever-evolving. Naintindihan po natin na maari ‘yung sapat ngayon, hindi sapat sa mga susunod na taon,” he stated.
Additionally, he mentioned that the law intends to institute human rights-centered curricula through the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education. This will be holistically integrated into different classes, such as Social Studies and the National Service Training Program.
Aside from this, Gamboa and his colleagues from CHR are turning their gaze to the local arena. Presently, they are discussing the implementation of a human rights defenders protection ordinance in target local government units (LGUs). “Since waiting tayo sa national level ng isang batas, naisip namin na magsimula rin from the ground,” he conveyed.
The @chrgovph streamed a webinar illustrating the significance of a pending legislative bill protecting human rights defenders as a bastion against unfounded redtagging. pic.twitter.com/svOAj6ZzqA
— GoodNewsPilipinas.com (@GoodNewsPinas_) May 17, 2023
As of February 2023, the pioneering LGU of Isabel City, Basilan has signed the ordinance. Its content essentially mirrors that of the national bill, imposing penalties for local officials who red-tag their constituents. The team at CHR has further met with mayors from Iloilo to lobby for the ordinance, which is currently being reviewed.
Last year, CHR marked its anniversary month with a tribute to its former chairperson, Chito Gascon. The CHR has also collaborated with the UP College of Law to offer e-lawyering service during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Policy Rights Talks” is streamed live every second Wednesday of the month. The webinar may be viewed here on the Human Rights Institute Facebook page here.
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