Human rights defenders’ bill threat to Philippine democracy: NTF-ELCAC

2023 March 13

MANILA – The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) Legal Cooperation Cluster (LCC) on Monday said House Bill (HB) No. 77 or the proposed Human Rights Defenders Protection Act is a threat to the country’s democratic of way life once enacted into law.

“The impending approval of HB No. 77 or the ‘Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Act’ (HRDPA) before the House Committee on Human Rights in the House of Representatives on February 28, 2023, is a grave, vicious, and insidious threat against the Philippines’ democratic way of life,” the body said in a statement Monday.

The NTF-ELCAC LCC is chaired by Assistant Solicitor General Angelita Villanueva Miranda and co-chaired by ASG Karen A. Ong.

It also claimed that if passed into law, HB 77, will make laws such as 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.”

The NTF-ELCAC LCC also noted that HRDPA “suffers from a plethora of grave constitutional and legal infirmities” such as:

a) The definition of “human rights defender”, is vague and duplicitous such that in essence, it will include within the scope of the term any criminal, rebel, terrorist, or enemy of the state;

b) The Bill gives unjustified preferential treatment by ensuring protection to anyone who claims to be a human rights defender. In fact, Section 37 of the Bill mandates the creation of “sanctuaries” or safe places of refuge for “high risk human rights defenders” and/or their immediate families. Obviously, criminals or terrorists may take refuge in these sanctuaries, from prosecution and law enforcement, by merely claiming to be “human rights defenders” entitled to the protection of the bill;

c) The Bill which proposes for the creation of a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee is an encroachment upon the jurisdiction and powers granted by the 1987 Constitution to the Commission on Human Rights. The said Committee violates the independence required since it will be composed of members from “Communist Terrorist Group” (CTG) affiliated groups or sympathizers, particularly Karapatan, Flag, PAHRA, and NUPL;

d) The Bill is a patent encroachment by the legislature into the exclusive domain of the Executive branch of the government – a prerogative that is solely vested by Constitutional fiat and the intrinsic nature of the President’s office as the Chief Architect of the country’s foreign relations since it sought to implement a non-binding United Nations (UN) Resolution dated December 9, 1998, which is not even a treaty under international law;

e) The Bill seeks to create “sanctuaries” that virtually makes the CTG 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;

f) The Bill is in direct contravention with the legislative intent of Republic Act No. 9160 as it prohibits the freezing and sequestration, among others, of solicited funds and resources irrespective of the character thereof, which will drive the Philippines in breaching its obligations under International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.

“Apart from its numerous loopholes, HB No. 77 is a clear attempt to cripple the array of programs and projects being implemented by the State through the whole of nation approach, i.e., relentless legal assault, intensified information and education campaign, and the expanded Barangay Development Program (BDP), among others. Without a scintilla of doubt, HB No. 77, HB No. 407 and other related bills are the CTG’s obvious struggle to demoralize the NTF-ELCAC and to decelerate our relentless efforts to end the communist armed conflict,” the body added.

The task force also reminded the public of the need to be intelligent, informed, and vigilant against legislations masqueraded as “beneficial” but which, in truth, are dangerous and destructive to the country.

This vigilance is needed as Filipinos will be ultimately the victims of the decades-long destruction and violence brought by the communist insurgency, it added.

“Thus, 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,” the body noted. 

Priam Nepomuceno