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De Lima alarmed over latest killing of rights defender in Mindanao

Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima once again expressed alarm over the rise of killings involving human rights defenders (HRDs), the latest of whom was a human rights investigator for the Bangsamoro region Archad Ayao who was killed last May 1.

De Lima, a human rights and social justice champion, noted that Ayao is the second rights worker who was killed in the last two weeks after the slain of city councilor and rights advocate Bernardino Patigas last April 22.

Ayao is the latest addition to the 134 human rights defenders (HRDs) recorded by rights group Karapatan who were killed since Mr. Duterte assumed presidency.

"Mahigit isang linggo pa lang ang nakalipas mula nang paslangin ang konsehal at human rights advocate sa Negros Occidental na si Bernardino Patigas. Ngayon, isa na namang tagapagtanggol ng karapatang pantao ang biktima ng brutal na pagpatay sa Cotabato City ng hindi pa nakikilalang salarin," De Lima said.

"Malinaw na pahiwatig ito sa matinding panganib sa buhay ng mga nagtatanggol ng karapatan ng ating mga kababayan. Dahil sa kawalan ng seryosong pagtutok at pagtugon dito ng gobyerno, lalo lamang nadadagdagan ang biktima ng walang habas na pamamaslang," she added.

Ayao, a Human Rights Commission investigator for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and his driver were reportedly shot to death by motorcycle-riding assailants while aboard a hired motorcycle commonly known as habal-habal on Ramon Rabago Avenue, Cotabato City last May 1.

While police officers were able to identify the plate number of the motorcycle that the assailants used, they could not confirm the direction where the suspects fled even as they reported that the motive of the killing was "still to be determined."

"Maraming patayan na ang nangyayari sa bansa pero madalas ay nakakatakas ang may sala at hindi naibibigay ang hustisyang nararapat para sa mga biktima at kanilang mga pamilya. Hindi ito katanggap-tanggap!" said De Lima.

De Lima, a former CHR Chairperson, pointed out that the unprecedented number of attacks against HRDs under the Duterte administration calls for the immediate approval of her bill that sought to protect human rights defenders.

"With human rights defenders still under serious attack and perpetrators of crimes against them still roaming free, it is high time for the government to finally pass a measure protecting human rights defenders," said De Lima, referring to her Senate Bill (SB) No. 1699.

Filed last year, SB No. 1699, also known as the "Human Rights Defenders Act of 2018," seeks to institutionalize and enforce state obligations for the protection of the rights of HRDs.

Under the proposed measure, it is the responsibility of the government to conduct investigation "whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that a human rights defender has been killed, disappeared, tortured, ill-treated, arbitrarily detained, threatened or subject to a violation of any of the rights..."

The lady Senator from Bicol also found it alarming that offenders do not fear accountability anymore because Mr. Duterte himself demonized human rights workers and tolerated culture of impunity in the country.

"I call on my Senate colleagues to help protect human rights defenders and save them from the bad guys who make their work extremely dangerous by helping push for the immediate passage of SB No. 1699," she said.

"Ayaw na natin ng marami pang patayan, lalo na kung ang target ay yung mga tao mismong nagsusulong ng karapatan ng kapwa nila. Sobra na," she added.

In December 2017, De Lima filed proposed Senate Resolution No. 153 which called for a Senate investigation into the reported deaths of 17 women HRDs summarily, saying that the State has an obligation to protect human rights defenders, especially those who were abused as a consequence of their gender and activism.