Bill against disappearances brings hope to victims’ families, says lawmakerBy Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The ratification by Congress of a bill penalizing enforced disappearances has brought hope to the families and supporters of Jonas Burgos, Karen Empeño, Sherlyn Cadapan and other Filipino “desaparecidos.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, a principal author of the measure at the House of Representatives, asked President Aquino on Thursday to sign the bill into law as soon as possible to allow the government to go after people behind the disappearance of the missing activists.
Noting that enforced disappearance is considered a “continuing crime,” Colmenares said the measure could still be used to capture and charge those responsible for the abduction of Burgos, Empeño, and Cadapan.
“This is the reason why it has to be signed immediately,” said Colmenares, also a human rights lawyer.
Burgos was seized by a group of men and a woman at a department store on Commonwealth Avenue in 2007. He was dragged into a Toyota Revo vehicle whose license plate was later traced to the Army’s 56th Infantry Battalion camp in Norzagaray, Bulacan.
Empeño and Cadapan, both students of the University of the Philippines, had gone missing the year before. Blamed for their disappearance was retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who remains at large.
Colmenares said the “refusal to acknowledge the fate or whereabouts of the victim” as among the elements of the crime of enforced disappearance. The other elements are “abduction, involvement of state or government or its agents, and the intent to deny the victim of the protection of the law.”
“Since the abductors of Jonas Burgos and other desaparecidos continue to refuse to acknowledge the fate or whereabouts of their victims, they continue to commit the crime of enforced disappearance until now,” the congressman said. “It’s about time that those who committed this heinous crime to come forward and inform the family of their victims where these victims are. Otherwise, the enforced disappearance law will pluck them from oblivion and extract from them the accountability and punishment they so richly deserve.”
The Anti-Enforced Disappearance Bill took more than 20 years to put together and be consolidate and ratified by both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Rep. Edcel Lagman described the crime as “an atrocious tool of the martial law regime to silence protesters and human rights advocates.” He said it “continues to be employed by subsequent administrations after the end of the martial law regime.”
Sen. Francis Escudero said the new bill differed from the existing law against abduction because the measure requires no presentation of a victim’s body. “In kidnapping, there’s either a body recovered or someone is known as being held hostage. In this case, the person is still missing,” he said.