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NTF-ELCAC opposes bill on human rights defenders’ protection

The government’s anti-insurgency task force on Monday expressed opposition to House Bill (HB) No. 77 or the "Human Rights Defenders' Protection Act" (HRDPA).

In a statement, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) said the bill is a “grave, vicious, and  insidious threat” against democracy.

“The NTF-ELCAC, through its Legal Cooperation Cluster, therefore, calls on all Filipinos to unequivocally reject HB No. 77 and to enjoin their District Representatives to junk the said Bill on sight, upon its introduction in the plenary for its Second Reading,” it said.

It said the bill will make anti-terrorism laws like the Anti-Terrorism Act, Anti-Money  Laundering Law as amended, and the Terrorism Financing Prevention  and Suppression Act, among others, as mere “toothless paper tigers”.

“Human Rights Defenders' Protection Act” or House Bill No.77 hurdled the committee level earlier this month. It defines "human rights defenders" as any person who, individually or in association with others, acts or seeks to act to protect, promote or strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms and welfare of the people at the local, national, regional, and international levels.

The measure also mandates the government to respect, promote, protect, and fulfill the  rights of human rights defenders. It also ensures protection from intimidation or reprisal. Derogatory and unfounded labeling such as “reds”, “communists”, “terrorists”, or “enemies of the state”, among others are also refrained under the proposed bill. 

The NTF-ELCAC, however, believes the “Human Rights Defenders' Protection Act” has grave constitutional and legal infirmities.

“The Bill seeks to create 'sanctuaries' that virtually makes the [communist terrorist group] beyond the reach of law enforces, which are in direct contrast with the unequivocal language of the aforesaid UN Resolution that it does not create new rights but instead merely articulates existing rights,” it said.

It also called out the vague definition of “human right defenders” in the bill as well as the alleged encroachment on the jurisdiction and powers of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

For the NTF-ELCAC, the bill would also cripple the government's programs and projects like the intensified information and education campaign, and the expanded Barangay Development Program (BDP), among others. 

In a statement, Fr. Christian Buenafe. O.Carm, chairperson of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, said they support the HRD bill and endorse its enactment into law.

"TFDP, a founding member of PAHRA, fully supports and stands with it and the principles it upholds. Red tagging will not deter us from advocating for human rights within and outside Congress," he said.

He added any constitutional infirmity in the bill can be addressed by the legislative process and ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.—VAL/AOL, GMA Integrated News