‘We have been clamoring for this for quite some time,’ says CHR Cordillera chief Romel Daguimol

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Baguio City has inched closer to having an ordinance that will protect human rights workers and advocates against threats and harassment.

Councilor Peter Fianza, one of the ordinance’s proponents and committee chair on laws, justice, and human rights, believed they are almost on the homestretch in passing the proposed Human Rights Defenders Ordinance, following the city council’s public consultation on Tuesday, July 11.

“The proposed ordinance has been published and approved during the second reading before publication. So, what will happen now is to present the proposal to the council for second reading after publication,” he said. 

Fianza explained that it is at this stage “where most of the debate will come in, incorporate the suggestions, and rationalize the proposal to come up with the final version.”

“After this and its publication, basically, the ordinance is good as approved because it will return to the council for third reading where there is no debate,” he added.

The UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in a resolution in 1998. The document defines HRDs as “individuals or groups who act to promote, protect or strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means.”

Unique legislation 

“We have been clamoring for this for quite some time because we have experiences of [HRD rights violations] here in Baguio,” said Commission on Human Rights (CHR)-Cordillera chief Romel Daguimol.

Daguimol said that if passed, it will be the second local government legislation of its kind in the country, after Ordinance 22-717 of Isabela City in Basilan.

But unlike the Isabela ordinance, the proposed Baguio ordinance has penal provisions and defines political vilification and red tagging, recognizing that these are comparable to acts considered as human rights violations and abuse.

“This is what we have been lobbying, to have greater teeth, not just defining what vilification or violations of against human rights defenders are but to come up with some mechanism of redress and penalties to make it more effective,” Daguimol said.

In the preparatory statements, the ordinance authors said, “Human rights defenders and civil society community in Baguio experienced and documented cases of human rights violations including but not limited to political vilification, unfounded red-tagging, and terrorist-labeling, harassment.”

Barangay Pacdal Human Rights Action Officer Mario delos Reyes lauded the crafting of the ordinance and the city council’s efforts to make it inclusive through consultation. 

“It is good that we have this venue to scrutinize all the provisions, so the ordinance will not be half-baked. This ordinance is important because it makes human rights protection a community concern,” he said. 

The former Saint Louis University teacher and union leader also appreciated the inclusion of red tagging, citing his experience of being a victim despite having two sons in the military. 

Casselle Ton of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance also commended the proposed provisions on sanctuary for high-risk HRDs and the legal and psychological assistance for victims. 

“These would greatly help HRDs who have fallen victim to rights violations and their family, especially those that experience relentless attack for their work and advocacy,” she added. 

‘Support with reservation’

Police Major Aileen Bugnosen, Baguio City Police legal officer, expressed support for the ordinance “with reservations in certain provisions.” 

“We recognize the intention in passing this ordinance. Rest assured that BCPO, with or without the ordinance, will always uphold our mandate to enforce the law and respect human rights,” she said in mix of Filipino and English. 

She did not identify these provisions, saying they would submit a formal comment to the council. 

“Considering that Congress has not passed the proposed bill on HRD, and the PNP during the deliberations of that proposed bill has already communicated its reservations in so far as BCPO is concerned,” she added. 

During a House hearing in November 2022, Philippine National Police Human Rights Affairs Office chief Vincent Calanoga said  that there is no need for legislation specific to HRDs, arguing that existing laws give them enough protection. The proposed bill protecting HRDs hurdled the committee level in March.

There have been calls for legislation aimed at protecting human rights defenders in view of the culture of impunity in the country. – Rappler.com

Source link