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Albay legislator hails 3rd reading approval of bill protecting human rights defenders

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Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman has lauded the passage of the bill protecting human rights defenders (HRDs) on third and final reading at the House of Representatives.

Lagman was the the principal author of HB 10576, entitled “An Act Defining the Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Human Rights Defenders, Declaring State Responsibilities, and Instituting Effective Mechanisms for the Protection and Promotion of These Rights and Freedoms.”

For two consecutive Congresses, the 17th and the current 18th, the House of Representatives has passed on third and final reading the bill protecting HRDs.

The precursor HB 9199 was passed by the House on June 3, 2019 during the 17th Congress but was not acted upon by the Senate due to time constraints.

The enactment of the Human Rights Defenders Act will put an end to the prevailing impunity on the extrajudicial killings and extreme harassments of HRDs.

The measure defines an HRD 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, at the local, national, regional, and international levels.”

This definition, according to the Bicolano solon, is broad and inclusive enough to cover HRDs in both government and private sector who may not be bona fide connected to any human rights organization.

It also seeks to prohibit all public authorities from participating, by acts of commission or omission, in violating human rights and fundamental freedoms. Subordinate employees have the right and duty to refuse any order from their superiors that will cause the commission of acts that contravene their duty to protect, uphold, and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. Such refusal shall not constitute a ground for any administrative sanction.

It likewise aims to prohibit the public authority offender from invoking presumption of regularity in the performance of duty which presumption is commonly used as a veneer to conceal accountability for violation of human rights and freedoms.

Meanwhile, it also mandates government agencies to enforce and institutionalize command responsibility and impose sanctions against errant superiors in both military and civilian agencies as provided under existing laws and executive issuances.

The bill, once enacted into a law, will create an independent collegial body to be known as the Human Rights Defenders Committee composed of one Chairperson and six members.

An identical bill authored by Sen. Leila de Lima is still pending in the Senate.