A COMMITTEE in the House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that seeks to protect human right defenders from harassment and intimidation.  

In a hearing, the House Committee on Human Rights approved a substitute bill to House Bills 15, 161, and 240, subject to amendments.   

The measure would mandate the government to respect the rights of defenders such as forming organizations. It will also prohibit state authorities from freezing or seizing their bank accounts, among others.  

State authorities will also be directed to refrain from using “derogatory” labels, or tagging human rights defenders as “red,” “communists,” “terrorists,” or “enemies of the state.”    

It would also create a Human Rights Defenders Committee, with the chair and members to be selected by the Commission on Human Rights along with representatives from the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, Karapatan, Free Legal Assistance Group, and the National Union of People’s Lawyers. 

House Deputy Speaker Bienvenido M. Abante, Jr. suggested the inclusion of government officials, such as representatives from the Department of National Defense and Department of Justice, in the committee.   

Meanwhile, Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Jane I. Elago welcomed the approval of the bill saying as it can help enable the youth to actively contribute to nation-building. 

“It is imperative to give the highest priority to the implementation of legislative enactments, executive issuances and judicial decisions that guarantee respect, protection, promotion and fulfillment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to provide access to legal remedies and reparative measures to human rights violations victims,” she said in a statement.  

A counterpart bill is pending at the committee level in the Senate. — Russell Louis C. Ku