(Message of Rep. Edcel C. Lagman during the National Human Rights Defenders Summit 2020on 9 December 2020)
Good afternoon and warmest congratulations to all human rights defenders (HRDs) and their supporters and allies.
If the Duterte administration’s own 3-day “Human Rights Summit” which started on December 7, 2020 and ends today, is not a veiled mockery of human rights and a masked depreciation of human rights defenders, then President Rodrigo Duterte must lose no time in certifying the urgent passage of the Human Rights Defenders bill (HB No. 15) once it is favorably reported out by the House Committee on Human Rights. I filed HB No. 15 on July 1, 2019, the very first day of the current 18th Congress or 17 months ago.
Otherwise, the government’s summit would be a cosmetic compliance with the requirements of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHCR) for extending “technical assistance” to the Philippines’ fulfillment of its national and international obligation to protect and promote human rights.
The House Committee on Human Rights has yet to schedule the initial meeting on the refiled HRD bill which enjoys a fast lane for having been approved on third reading during the 17th Congress.
It heartens me that despite the crackdown on HRDs, you openly and courageously celebrate your invaluable work as protectors of human rights.
That you remain uncowed, unintimidated, and unrelenting in asserting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is indeed a cause for celebration. For how many have the courage to stand up and speak out for human rights amid distortion of human rights concepts and standards, amid rabid vilifications, arbitrary arrests and detentions, horrific tortures, enforced disappearances, and brutal extrajudicial killings of HRDs?
That you remain standing and fighting, speaking the truth against ruthless exercise of State power, is in itself a victory.
And you are by no means alone. You have principled and unwavering supporters in the legislature, academe, media, churches, factories, farms, among urban settlers and street dwellers, in homes, and even in government.
They may not be as vocal and as visible as you are, but they believe in you. They empathize with you. They dream with you. They aspire with you. They hope with you. They toil with you. Together, we will all triumph ultimately and inevitably!
Since I unequivocally believe that those who defend human rights must be defended in law and practice, I filed House Bill No. 8128 or the HRD Protection Act in August 2018. The bill was consolidated with House Bill No. 1617 authored by the Makabayan bloc led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate. The consolidated bills were reported out as substitute House Bill No. 9199 that was approved on third and final reading in the House of Representatives in the 17th Congress. However, the Senate failed to act on the version introduced by Senator Leila de Lima under Senate Bill No. 1619.
I refiled as House Bill No. 15 in the current 18th Congress the version that was passed in the previous Congress. Identical bills were refiled by Rep. Kit Belmonte and the Makabayan bloc, the latter with some amendments.
On 30 October this year, I wrote Speaker Lord Allan Velasco to include in the House priority bills four bills I authored with other progressive Representatives: the HRD Protection bill; bill on the prevention of adolescent pregnancy and the social protection of adolescent mothers and their infants; the prohibition of child marriage bill; and reinstitution of absolute divorce bill. All four bills seek to protect, promote, and fulfill human rights.
Speaker Velasco replied on record via Viber categorically saying that: “Ok po, Manong.” We should not only hope that this “Ok” is translated into the HRD Protection Bill’s second approval on third and final reading in the House of Representatives. We should strive to ensure that majority of the members of the Congress in both the House and the Senate will vote “yes” to the HRD Protection bill. We all know that this is a huge challenge, but no challenge is insurmountable. We have achieved it in the past. We can do it again.
The Executive Director of the Presidential Human Rights Committee accuses human rights groups of “spreading a fake narrative abroad” and the President himself stated without ambiguity and remorse that he does not care about human rights and that, “The game is killing…I say to the human rights, I don’t give a shit with you.”[*] Pronouncements such as these aggravate vilification against and intensify hatred towards HRDs.
My niece, FIND Advocacy Officer Celia Lagman Sevilla, has likened human rights work to an uphill battle, and according to her, nowadays quicksand surrounds the hill. Verily, human rights defense, particularly in the hostile environment we have today, is not for the weak and ambivalent. Challenges loom at every corner, threatening HRDs at every turn.
NGUNIT WALANG PAGHAMON NA HINDI MALALAMPASAN NG NAGSUSUMIKAP AT DETERMINADONG MAGTAGUMPAY. AT SA KATAGALAN KO NANG NAGTATRABAHO PARA SA KARAPATANG PANTAO, MASASABI KONG WALA NANG MAS PURSIGIDO AT DETERMINADONG MAGTAGUMPAY KAYSA SA MATATATAG AT MATATAPANG NA HRDS. NARARAPAT LANG NA ANG HRDS AY MAGDIWANG AT IPAGDIWANG, HINDI LAMANG TUWING LINGGO AT ARAW NG KARAPATANG PANTAO, KUNG HINDI ARAW-ARAW.
MABUHAY ANG MGA TAGAPAGTANGGOL NG KARAPATANG PANTAO.
[*] Source: https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/12/03/2061268/i-dont-care-about-human-rights-duterte-says-urging-cops-shoot-first (Retrieved on 07 December 2020)