MANILA, Philippines – In and out of the halls of Congress, the lawmakers who banded together as a group called Makatao (Mambabatas para sa Karapatang Pantao) vowed to be committed “to the cause of human rights and pursuit of justice.”
At least 13 district and party-list representatives composed the initial membership of the group during its launch on Monday, March 19 at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City.
They said the Duterte administration “continues to brazenly violate human rights,” the latest incident of which was the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Makatao will have the following objectives:
1. To serve as a powerhouse lobby group to generate support for quality human rights legislation from fellow legislators as well as opposition to legislative measures that pose a threat to human rights;
2. To promote dialogue on human rights issues, thereby helping form public opinion, and how these may be addressed through legislation;
3. To serve as a link between the legislature and civil society, especially the human rights community.
4. To push for the adoption of human rights-based governance;
5. To help ensure that Philippine legislation complies with international human rights standards and that the country fulfils its international human rights obligations; and
6. To serve as a militant sentinel for the protection and promotion of human rights in the Philippines.
Its founding members are Representatives: Edcel Lagman, the lead convenor, Kaka Bag-ao, Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Jose Christopher Belmonte, Emmanuel Billones, Arlene Brosas, Emmi de Jesus, Raul Del Mar, Ramon Rocamora, Amihilda Sangcopan, Antonio Tinio, Tom Villarin, and Carlos Isagani Zarate.
The group said it would expand its membership to the members of the Senate and local councils or sanggunians. It will also conduct regular media forums and briefings on human rights.
In his opening remarks, Lagman stressed that, “Keeping our eyes closed and our lips sealed amid the unabated summary killings and unexplained disappearances is an offense of omission which condones and exacerbates crimes against humanity.”
“Let us hold accountable or responsible through legislation, court proceeding or mass action all perpetrators of human rights violations from the President down to the rank and file of the military, police, and civil service,” he added.
During the launch, several family members of victims of extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations gave testimonials. The Makatao members underscored that the testimonials serve both as “a challenge and a source of inspiration.”
The group said part of its top legislative agenda would be the enactment of the human rights defenders’ protection law in the light of President Duterte’s “persistent vilification of human rights defenders and their organizations and even categorizing them as terrorists.”
The bill was filed by the Makabayan bloc members at the House of Representatives and its counterpart in the Senate was principally authored by Senator Leila de Lima.
In her solidarity message to Makatao read by her legislative staff chief, De Lima said that “Now, more than ever in our history, we, in government, and those out of it, need to unite against the tyranny and oppression of this administration, against the lack of basic decency and respect in governance and the non-adherence to the rule of law and human rights.”