MANILA, Philippines—Just before nightfall Friday, President Benigno Aquino signed Republic Act No. 10350, otherwise known as the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act, which criminalizes abduction by the state or by its agents.
With the President’s imprimatur, the Philippines has become the first Asian country to define enforced disappearance as a separate criminal offense.
“President just signed the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012,” said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda in a text message.
Without fanfare, Mr. Aquino signed the measure which was earlier hailed by the families of “desaparecidos”—people seized by the state and never seen again—as a “timely and meaningful Christmas gift.”
No part of the RA 10350 has been vetoed by the President.
Explaining by phone, Lacierda said: “one cannot do a line item veto since this bill is not a revenue, budget or tariff measure.”
It was Lacierda who confirmed the other night that Mr. Aquino was set to sign the measure, allaying fears that the President would just let it lapse into law this Sunday.
The principal author of the bill, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, had mistakenly announced, through a press release, that the measure had been signed by the President.
When the Inquirer sought a confirmation at past 10 p.m. Thursday, Lagman had said he had already retracted the release.
The law treats enforced disappearance as a distinct crime separate from kidnapping, serious illegal detention, or murder.
The law says that enforced disappearance is committed when a citizen is deprived of liberty by the state or agents of the state, and when information on the whereabouts of the missing is concealed or denied.
It would also goad security officers into being better public servants who respect human rights.
According to Lagman, once signed into law, RA 10350 would “end the impunity of offenders.”
“It envisions a new or a better breed of military, police and civilian officials and employees who respect and defend the human rights and civil liberties of the people they are sworn to protect and serve and who observe the rule of law at all times,” he said.
Lagman said the enforced disappearance law cannot be suspended even during periods of political instability, or when there is a threat of war, state of war, or any public emergency.
The law also upholds the right to truth by requiring public officers to give inquiring citizens full information about people under their custody.
It also requires investigating officials who learn that the people they are investigating are victims of enforced disappearance to relay the information to their families, lawyers and concerned human rights groups.
The law also provides free access to the updated register of detained or confined people to those who have a legitimate interest in the data.
All detention centers must have such a register.