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Tuesday, June 18, 2019
CEBU

Tell it to SunStar: Shrinking civic space

THE Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), recently concluded its international mission on the situation of human rights defenders in the Philippines, in a press conference held at the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City on Wednesday, May 22. FIDH and OMCT met with various stakeholders, including victims of human rights violations and their kin, and human rights organizations.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) are being subjected to various forms of harassment because they have persistently echoed the grim realities on the ground. We support the findings and recommendations of the FIDH and the OMCT, and likewise express concern on the new members of the Senate and the House of Representatives who are subservient to the repressive agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte. The situation has only become more dangerous for human rights defenders.

The laws and proposed legislation can further shrink civic space in the country, including the re-imposition of the death penalty, the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and the proposed amendments to the Human Security Act of 2007.

These initiatives can likewise be used to target and harass human rights defenders, and will add to the list of anti-people and militarist policies that show the country’s major regression from its human rights obligations.

Clarisa Ramos, wife of slain human rights lawyer Atty. Benjamin Ramos, also gave her reaction to the findings made by the FIDH and the OMCT.

She reiterated that the extrajudicial killing of her husband in November 2018 would remain a glaring evidence of how perilous the Philippines is for human rights defenders. Ramos also raised the case of human rights advocate Bernardino Patigas who was killed in April 2019.

“Patigas won his re-election bid even if he did not live to serve his term. The lives of Patigas and of my husband were cut short because the government has chosen to silence them than listen to their legitimate demands. We, their families and colleagues, will continue our fight for justice and are all the more emboldened to push for the implementation of measures to protect rights defenders from killings and other forms of violations,” Ramos said.

We have been lobbying for the enactment and implementation of a human rights protection bill that will aim to create a conducive and safe environment for HRDs to continue their work. This initiative is long overdue, and it has become increasingly necessary given the present context. We are alarmed at how the legislative and the judiciary’s independence are gradually being eroded, reinforcing our fears of a looming dictatorship.


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