Lawmakers and Experts Meet in Manila on the Occasion of International Human Rights Day to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief
Manila, Philippines — Together with the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) and the Philippine House of Representatives Human Rights Committee, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) hosted a congressional forum in Manila on the role of legislators as thought leaders and drivers of change in advancing freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in the region. The forum was held on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, to coincide with International Human Rights Day. A separate training for Philippines House of Representatives member staff was held on December 12, 2018, to preview an online toolkit to support legislators and FoRB advocates across the region to continue to advance freedom of religion in their own countries in the years ahead.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights provides that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Representatives from the Philippines House of Representatives were joined by parliamentarians and FoRB experts from around the region -- including Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand -- to discuss ways to build inclusive legislative coalitions to raise awareness of the challenges facing religious minorities and to promote legislation to advance freedom of religion or belief. Senior experts from NDI and the International Commission of Jurists provided examples of how to engage legislators to advance religious freedom based on their global experience in promoting issue-based parliamentary interventions to solve regional problems.
“The government plays a crucial role in protecting the freedom of religion or belief,” said House Human Rights Committee Chair Cheryl Deloso-Montalla. With legislation under active consideration to prohibit racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, Deloso-Montalla said the Committee was “deeply honored and privileged to be the first Legislative Committee in the Philippines to have sponsored a significant forum on freedom of religion or belief.” Committee member, Congressman Edcel C. Lagman, further pledged to repeal the country’s blasphemy law during the next 18th Congress.
Following the congressional forum, the Philippines Commission on Human Rights hosted a dialogue with NDI, regional experts and civil society leaders on their role in working with elected representatives to advance FoRB protections and advocacy efforts. Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Chairperson of the Philippines Human Rights Commission, noted that, “regardless of the faith or non-faith of any individual, we must adhere to the core freedom of every person everywhere to hold and practice their belief with dignity and in peace.” Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit added that, “in every way that you wish to express your connection, or even the lack of it, to a higher being or to a certain way of proceeding or spirituality, that deserves to be respected.”