Position Paper Supporting the Proposed Human Rights Defenders Protection Act of 2018

This Position Paper was submitted to the Committee on Human Rights at the House of Representatives during the Committee Hearing on December 4, 2018 in support of the Human Rights Defenders (HRD) Bill authored by Reps. Zarate and Lagman, with Atty. Kit Belmonte as head of the Technical Working Group. The Committee approved the bill, dubbed as a ‘breakthrough’ in human rights legislation. According to Chairperson Chito Gascon of the Commission on Human Rights, the “proposed law is the first of its kind not only in the Philippines, but in [the] Asia Pacific region.”

MASIPAG is a network of farmers’, scientists and non-government organizations (NGOs) pushing for food security and farmer empowerment through sustainable agriculture and upholding farmers’ rights to land, seeds and technology. Since the mid-1980s, we have been working towards the development of the communities and uplifting the lives of the small-scale, resource-poor farmers through extensive orientations and trainings on technical practices on sustainable agriculture, as well as information-dissemination and awareness-raising on the various issues that affect them. Staff and farmer-trainors often traverse remote areas to reach the farmers and organizations that need the most help, and these often put them in precarious situations exacerbated by the increasing militarization in these critical areas.

Atty Ben Ramos, the 34th lawyer and human rights defender killed under the Duterte administration, was valued member of the MASIPAG network through his NGO, Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group or PDG. He served as a member of the Board of Trustees from 1998-2016 where he helped develop the network’s policies and ensure that MASIPAG’s farmer-led principles are upheld. Atty Ben staunchly promoted farmers’ rights to land, seeds and technology.

MASIPAG staff, farmer-leaders and members of the network who are promoting farmers’ rights are also not exempt from harassment and vilification. Two of our number in Northern Luzon has been maliciously tagged back in September and as such, they are now open targets of intimidation and possible assassination under the Duterte’s militarist regime.

The right to development is a vital human right. Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development states that

“The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized. The human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.”

The harassment, vilification and worse, killings of human rights defenders and development workers are affront to the people’s right to development. These abhorrent practices usually done by state actors who should be protecting the peoples’ rights weaken the nation’s thrust for genuine development, especially in the rural areas whose services brought by development workers and their organizations are most needed. It is very unfortunate that these acts are being made at a time when the country is facing problems on rice shortages and food insecurity.

In this light, MASIPAG fully supports the passage of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act. We call on our honourable representatives to heed the call of the people and uphold the people’s right to development, and to protect the rights of human rights defenders and development workers against harassment, vilification and killings.

Lastly, we call for justice for Atty Ben Ramos and all the victims of extra-judicial killings. #