The military is now prohibited from issuing a hit list—officially called “order of battle”—with the enactment of a law against enforced disappearances, Malacañang said on Saturday.
Order of battle is a list of people security forces say are “enemies of the state” to make them “legitimate targets as combatants,” including those not formally charged with crimes.
People on the military’s hit list are open to assassinations, abductions, harassment and intimidation.
Those who have disappeared are known as desaparecidos—the disappeared—a term first used in Latin America to refer to the critics of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet who were seized by state security forces and never seen again.
Local security forces have used the order of battle to justify the seizure and detention of critics of the government, mostly activists suspected of being members of the communist New People’s Army or of front organizations belonging to the communist movement in the Philippines.
The new desaparecidos law “rejects [the] use of an order of battle or any similar document to exempt” state agents from the prohibition or “justify” the detention of enemies or critics of the government, President Aquino’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, said in a radio interview.
The President signed the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act late Friday, hours after attending the 77th founding anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The new law, the first major human rights legislation under Mr. Aquino’s nearly three-year-old administration, imposes up to life imprisonment for state agents convicted of being involved in enforced disappearances.
Its enactment has made the Philippines the first country in Asia to treat enforced disappearance as an offense distinct from ordinary kidnapping.
US-based nongovernment organization Human Rights Watch challenged Mr. Aquino to “move quickly to enforce it.”
“Effective enforcement of this new law by the Philippine government will deter enforced disappearances and address the deep-seated problem of impunity for human-rights abusers,” Brad Adams, the group’s director for Asia, said in a statement.
According to the human rights group Karapatan, more than 1,000 political activists and suspected supporters have disappeared since the 1972-1986 dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, including more than 200 under Mr. Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Karapatan has documented 12 cases of enforced disappearance since 2010 under Mr. Aquino.
The desaparecidos law defines an enforced disappearance as the abduction or “any form of deprivation of liberty” of a person by state officials or their agents who subsequently conceal the person’s fate or whereabouts.
Human rights groups have reported that such people have been kept in a network of “safe houses” where they are tortured and sometimes killed, their bodies buried in unknown graves or dumped in remote areas. They say this was extensively practiced during the Marcos regime.
The law against enforced disappearance prohibits secret detention centers and safe houses and authorizes the government to conduct “regular, unannounced … inspections of all places of detention and confinement.”
The law cannot be suspended even during wartime and does not permit amnesty for those convicted. Superior officers of those found responsible are to be equally penalized.
According to Valte, the law requires public officials and private citizens to report forced disappearances, and state agencies to investigate cases and report their findings.
It also requires the regular updating of the lists of people being held in state detention centers.
The number of attacks against political opponents of the government has risen alongside the growth of the 43-year-old communist insurgency and the decades-long Moro rebellion in Mindanao, which appears close to a political solution following a preliminary peace accord by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed in October.
Mr. Aquino, son of prodemocracy icons, has pledged to take steps to prosecute violators of human rights during the previous administration and prevent new ones. Rights groups, however, say violations have continued under his administration.
The groups have urged Mr. Aquino to prosecute violators of human rights during the Arroyo administration, particularly retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, who has gone into hiding after being ordered by a court to stand trial for the enforced disappearance of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006.
Palparan is also believed to have knowledge of the enforced disappearance of left-leaning agriculturist Jonas Joseph Burgos, son of the late journalist Jose Burgos, in 2007.
Rights groups have also urged the Aquino administration to give priority to the passage of a bill pending in Congress to compensate thousands of victims of human rights abuses, including enforced disappearance, during the Marcos dictatorship. With reports from AFP, AP