HRW to PNoy: Erase 'black chapter' of PH history, sign bill criminalizing enforced disappearances
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MANILA, Philippines - International non-government organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday urged President Benigno Aquino III to immediately sign into law a bill criminalizing enforced disappearances in the Philippines.
If it becomes law, the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, which was recently ratified by Congress and submitted to Aquino, "would be the first to criminalize enforced disappearances in Asia," according to HRW.
Aside from urging Aquino to sign the bill, HRW is also calling on the President to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and transmit it to the Senate for prompt ratification.
HRW said that in Asia, only Japan had signed and ratified the Convention, placing Asia behind other regions of the world.
“Congress has done a great job in taking the initiative to pass a law on enforced disappearances. President Aquino can show his administration’s commitment to ending this black chapter of Philippine history. He can also assume a role as a regional leader on human rights," said HRW Asia director Brad Adams in statement.
HRW said the enactment of the legislation against enforced disappearance "would demonstrate the Philippine government’s commitment to address human rights abuses such as the abduction and killing by the security forces of activists, environmentalists, and journalists."
Disapperance, torture, killings continue
Adams said enforced disappearances, which often involve torture and extrajudicial killings, "have been a blot on the Philippines’ human rights record" since the dictatoprship of Ferdinand Marcos.
“To this day, activists are still being abducted by the authorities and ‘disappeared.’ This law would be an important step towards ending these abuses," said Adams.
Enforced disappearances were rampant during the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos, when the military and police routinely rounded up activists and suspected communist supporters and rebels.
The practice did not end with Marcos’s ouster in 1986. Many enforced disappearances occurred during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. At least 11 activists have “disappeared” since Aquino took office in 2010, according to local rights groups, though there are no allegations that the Aquino administration has direct responsibility.
HRW detailed some of these cases in its 2010 report, “No Justice Just Adds to the Pain,” and in a video released earlier this year in which family members of the disappeared call on the president to live up to his promises of justice.
'Order of battle' illegal
The Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 penalizes violators with a life sentence or decades in prison.
It also prohibits amnesty for violators and declares that the government cannot suspend the law even in times of war or public emergency.
It is also stated in the act that the commanding or superior officer of the unit or personnel implicated in an enforced disappearance case is just as liable as the person who physically carries out the crime.
Crucially, the act also makes the “order of battle” – a document prepared by the military identifying alleged threats and enemies – illegal, stating that “it cannot be invoked as a justifying or exempting circumstance.”
Under the act, any person who receives an “order of battle” from their superiors “shall have the right to disobey it.”
Many victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings have been listed or said to have been listed in such “orders of battle.”
Secret detention unlawful
The act also deems unlawful secret detention facilities and directs the government to make a full inventory of all detention facilities in the Philippines.
It also orders the government to create a registry of every detainee, complete with all relevant details including who visited the detainee and how long the visit lasted.
The act likewise mandates and authorizes the governmental Commission on Human Rights “to conduct regular, independent, unannounced and unrestricted visits to or inspection of all places of detention and confinement.”
It also allocates P10 million (approximately US$250,000) to the commission, which will be tasked with the initial implementation of the law.
Human rights organizations are likewise encouraged to draft the implementing rules and regulations along with the Department of Justice.
Click this link for copy of the ratified version of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.
*In June 2012, InterAksyon.com did a special report on Jonas Burgos and other activists who are victims of enforced disappearances. PLEASE CHECK THIS MICROSITE: WHERE IS JONAS BURGOS? STILL MISSING AFTER FIVE YEARS
*In 2010 Human Rights Watch released a video “Philippines: No Justice for Victims of Enforced Disappearances,” in which family members of the “disappeared” call on the president to live up to his promises of justice. WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW: