Friday, 3 March 2023
iDEFEND welcomes the approval of the House Committee on Human Rights of the consolidated version of the proposed Human Rights Defenders Protection Act (HRDPA) which would mandate the government to protect HRDs.
This is an important milestone in efforts to secure protection for rights defenders (HRDs) from threats and harassment as a result of their related activities. It is likewise an important pushback against shrinking civic spaces as a result of the government’s continuing war against dissent.
Aside from red tagging, human rights defenders particularly those struggling to assert their land rights also face criminalization of their agrarian struggle. The group Katarungan-Kilusan para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungan Panlipunan has documented over the past few months a number of cases of judicial harassment by way of strategic lawsuits against public participation or SLAPP cases that threaten imprisonment for land rights defenders. One such case is that of the agrarian reform beneficiaries in Barangay Sumalo, Hermosa, Bataan where nine leaders- eight women and one man, mostly senior citizens- have been charged with syndicated estafa, a non- bailable offense that could lead to their incarceration. Private companies, such as the plaintiff in the case against the Sumalo farmers, take on such an active role in criminalizing the struggle of the agrarian reform beneficiaries that they result in the violation of human rights.
Thus it is critical that the State establish significant support to human rights defenders facing not only incarceration and threats to their security, but the devastation of their livelihood. At the time of tremendous economic strife, the right to defend human rights should be an intrinsic part of our national endeavor towards economic recovery and achieving dignity for all.