International right watchdog lauds passage of ‘desaparecidos’ billBy Fat Reyes
MANILA, Philippines—A human rights watchdog on Thursday lauded the passage on second reading of a landmark bill criminalizing enforced disappearances in the Philippines as it urged President Benigno Aquino to back the measure that aims to stamp out human rights abuses in the country.
“Congress has done a great job in taking the initiative to pass a law on enforced disappearances,” Adams said.
“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,” he added.
“Enforced disappearances, often involving torture and extrajudicial killings, have been a blot on the Philippines’ human rights record since the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“To this day, activists are still being abducted by the authorities and ‘disappeared.’ This law would be an important step towards ending these abuses,” he added.
The House of Representatives approved on second reading Tuesday night the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Bill. The law, if enacted, would be the first to criminalize enforced disappearances in Asia.
In its statement, HRW lauded specific provisions of the bill, saying that its definition of enforced or involuntary disappearance was in line with international standards, and that they reflected recommendations by domestic human rights organizations.
It said that the bill defines an enforced or involuntary disappearance as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such person outside the protection of the law.”
The rights watchdog also noted how the bill would give the punishment of life sentence or decades in prison to violators, and that it prohibited amnesty for them. It also found laudable the declaration that the government could not suspend the law even in times of war or public emergency and 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.
It particularly noted that a crucial provision of the bill was that it made 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.”
“Many victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings have been listed or said to have been listed in such ‘orders of battle,’” HRW noted. It said that the bill also noted that any person who receives an “order of battle” from their superiors “shall have the right to disobey it.”
The rights group also lauded the provisions deeming unlawful secret detention facilities, directing the government to make a full inventory of detention facilities in the country, directing the government to create a registry of every detainee, and authorizing the Commission on Human Rights “to conduct regular, independent, unannounced and unrestricted visits to or inspection of all places of detention and confinement.”
It said that the bill would allocate P10 million to the CHR, which would be tasked with the initial implementation of the law. It added that human rights organizations would also be encouraged to draft the implementing rules and regulations along with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
HRW had been vocal in its criticisms of how enforced disappearances had been rampant during the administrations of Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
It also detailed human rights violation cases under the present Aquino administration in its 2010 report entitled “No Justice Adds to the Pain.”
“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,” it said.
The group also urged Aquino to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and transmit it to the Senate for prompt ratification.
It said that in Asia, only Japan had signed and ratified the Convention, placing Asia behind other regions of the world.