Groups score NTF-ELCAC for equating human rights work with terrorism

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Groups score NTF-ELCAC for equating human rights work with terrorism
In this handout photo, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates holds a Women's Day program on March 8, 2023.
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights groups have scored the government’s anti-communist task force for trying to derail the passage of the Human Rights Defenders bill at the House of Representatuves by implying the proposal's supporters are participants in the communist armed struggle.

In separate statements on Monday, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines hit the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict for accusing legal human rights groups of being communist sympathizers in its attempt to drum up opposition to House Bill 77.

Representatives from the NTF-ELCAC, including Assistant Solicitor General Angelita Villanueva Miranda, criticized HB 77 during a press conference on Monday, claiming it would give unjustified protections to human rights defenders, whom the task force conflated with terrorists, criminals and other enemies of the state.

In doing so, the task force also "accused and disseminated malicious and libelous claims that PAHRA is affiliated with Communist Terrorist Groups" — the government term for the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People's Army and National Democratic Front — while "red-tagging other long-standing defenders of human rights," the rights groups said.

"Communist and terrorist tagging by the state poses a serious threat to the safety, liberty and lives of those labeled as such. [Miranda's] statement put PAHRA members at risk of being victims of violations, despite their crucial role in defending fundamental rights of people," PAHRA said.

PAHRA added that the dangers of red-tagging — including the government's long history of resorting to the practice to intimidate critics — is precisely why several groups have campaigned to support the passage of a bill protecting human rights defenders.

"Once approved, it would prohibit and penalize abuse of authority and violations against human rights defenders," PAHRA added.

In its statement, TDFP said that the task force resorting to red-tagging "[does] not contribute to any critical discourse" on the rights situation in the Philippines.

Human rights and the organizations that protect and promote them have been vilified by government officials since the Duterte administration's 'war on drugs' and have often been accused of siding with drug lords and rebels for insisting that rights and due process are observed in security operations.

At a budget hearing at the House last September, Commission on Human Rights Executive Director Jacqueline de Guia acknowledged "there has been a low appreciation [of human rights] during recent years and there has been a misconception of the mandate of the CHR."

Ascertain basis of HR Defenders bill first 

In the same press conference, the NTF-ELCAC insisted that the goals of HB 77 — which is to protect human rights defenders and other advocates from intimidation and threats — would weaken laws against terrorism and financial fraud. 

The task force's argument has been rejected by Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay), the principal author of the measure, who reminded the NTF-ELCAC that laws penalizing crime will still remain enforceable even with a law protecting human rights advocates.

TFDP criticized the anti-communist task force for essentially label as communist sympathizers the House lawmakers who worked on the bill and the United Nations, which created the framework the bill’s provisions were patterned after.

The group reminded the task force to first "ascertain the basis" for the measure.

"Any constitutional infirmity can be addressed by the legislative process and ultimately decided by the Supreme Court. The NTF-ELCAC cannot arrogate unto itself the role of legislator and judge of a proposed bill," the group added.

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