“There is compelling evidence that human rights defenders, in particular those advocating for land and environmental rights, are under serious threat, are constantly vilified, intimidated and ‘terrorized.’” – Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Makabayan senatorial bet and current Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño called on his fellow lawmakers to push for the passage of House Bill 5379 or the Human Rights Defenders Act to commemorate International Human Rights day.
“As the world commemorates International Human Rights Day, it is high time that the Aquino government stop playing blind and deaf to the real human rights situation in our country. There are at least 129 victims of extrajudicial killings that have been documented by Karapatan, among these, 69 were farmers and 25 were from indigenous peoples. Most of those killed in Mindanao, for instance, are anti-mining activists and Lumad leaders who defend their land and the environment against the intrusion of big foreign mining corporations,” said Casiño.
The bill aims to guarantee the rights of human rights defenders. Among these rights are: 1) Right to promote and protect human rights 2) Right to information about human rights 3) Right to develop and advocate human rights ideas 4) Right to participate in public affairs 5) Right to access to human rights violations victims and, if necessary, provide legal assistance or facilitate the provision of the same and 6) Right to unhindered access to communication with human rights bodies.
It also includes: 7) Right to refuse to violate human rights 8 ) Right to participate in activities against human rights violations 9) Right to solicit, receive and utilize resources 10) Right to establish a sanctuary to human rights victims 11) Right to file an action involving human rights violations – human rights organizations as complainants and, finally, 12) Right to access documents of government units and personnel, paramilitary units and personnel, and military affiliate and government assets.
“When will human rights violations stop? Farmers pushing for their right to land and indigenous peoples protecting their ancestral domain are being killed. What hurts is that these are perpetuated by the military and their cohorts in big companies,” Casiño said.
He added that victims of human rights violations are longing for justice. “The passing of the HR Defenders Act is one of the ways to ensure that this would not happen again,” he said.
Geneva-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said in its preliminary report that, “there is compelling evidence that human rights defenders, in particular those advocating for land and environmental rights, are under serious threat, are constantly vilified, intimidated and ‘terrorized.’ A climate of pervasive and systematic impunity is at the heart of this alarming situation. Urgent protection measures and unequivocal steps to address the lack of accountability for attacks on human rights defenders are now required.”
Casiño said human rights defenders in the Philippines are facing human rights violations themselves in the course of their work. These include killings, death threats, abductions and kidnappings, arbitrary arrest and detention, and other actions of harassment and intimidation.
“All these violations also target the immediate family members of human rights defenders, including their children and their other relatives, so as to prevent them from continuing their activities,” Casiño said.
Recent attacks on human rights
Several days before the commemoration of the International Human Rights day, Karapatan documented cases of human rights violations. First is the killing of three activists namely Rolando Quijano, a farmer and member of the Alliance of Farmers Union in Zamboanga del Sur, and two anti-mining activists Cheryl Ananayo and cousin-in-law Randy Nabayay from Nueva Vizcayas.
Church worker Aniceta Yaun Rojo, vilified as ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines, was arrested on Dec. 7, on charges that she was behind the killing of a military officer early this year. Two union organizers — Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano — from Courage, a federation of government employees, were also arrested on Dec. 3 in two separate incidents.
“COURAGE is a legitimate organization that supports the rights and welfare of government workers. The Aquino administration fabricates accusations to harass and intimidate people who are pushing for their rights because it believes that repression and counter-insurgency campaigns will stop the people to fight for their legitimate rights,” Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus said.
Both Vegas and Camposano are active in helping employees of the Metro Manila Development Authority in their fight to get their Collective Negotiations Agreement incentive.
“The Philippine government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is duty bound to protect, respect and promote human rights. I call on the president, who is the AFP’s Commander-in-Chief, to stop labelling and targeting human rights defenders as enemies of the state,” de Jesus said.
She added that, “these human rights violations are being perpetrated under the auspices of the government’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan,” which she said is “anti-people and anti-poor.”