Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND)
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance (AFAD)
28 May 2012

As the world observes the International Week of the Disappeared on 28 May – 02 June 2012, the Philippines undergoes the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland tomorrow, 29 May 2012.

One of the standing Council recommendations to the Philippines is to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Philippines neither “accepted” nor “refused” the said recommendation but declared “to consider” it.

It is hoped that the Philippines during the UPR will once and for all decide and sincerely commit to sign and accede to the Convention soonest.

The commission of enforced disappearances may have actually decelerated under the Aquino watch. Considering, however, that enforced disappearances are continuing offenses so long as the fate and whereabouts of the victims are not established with certainty, the number of enforced disappearances remains high with over 2,000 continuing and unresolved offenses from the Marcos regime to the current administration.

The Aquino dispensation is therefore equally responsible to investigate, prosecute and penalize the perpetrators of enforced disappearances as his predecessors during whose terms the deprivation of liberty began but continues to the present. The State is accountable for all unresolved disappearances whoever is in power and whenever the abduction, arrest or detention was made.

In 2007 as one of the Philippines’ pledges to the United Nations Human Rights Council, it committed to support the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The families of desaparecidos in the country were then hopeful that the Philippines would be one of the early signatories and States Parties to the Convention. To date, the Convention has 91 signatories and 32 States Parties but the Philippines is neither a signatory nor, much less, a State Party.

The Convention is a landmark international human rights instrument that enshrines the non-derogable right against enforced disappearance, the right to know the truth, the right of victims and their families to reparation and rehabilitation, among others, and the duties of States Parties to protect these rights, investigate and bring to justice the violators, and prevent further commission of enforced disappearance.

On October 6, 2010, three days before the completion of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s first 100 days in office, representatives of the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and two families of the disappeared met with the President in Malacanang to urge him to endorse the Philippines’ signing of the Convention and the immediate enactment of an anti-enforced disappearance law, and to address the unresolved cases of enforced disappearances in the country. President Aquino promised to “study” the group’s concerns.

One year and seven months hence, with separate follow-up meetings with the Assistant Secretaries in the Office of the President and the Department of Foreign Affairs in July last year and February this year respectively, more particularly on the signing of the Convention as the passage of the bill in Congress has been on track, the Aquino government has remained outside the circle of signatories and States Parties to the Convention.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have already approved the bill on third reading. Government looks to the law, whose passage is imminent, to lay the groundwork for the country’s accession to the Convention.

Apparently, the executive has taken the reverse path of waiting for Congress to enact a law first before the Philippines’ binding itself to the Convention. It should be pointed out, however, that it is Article 3 of the Convention that mandates States Parties “to ensure that enforced disappearance constitutes an offense under its criminal law.” In other words it is the country’s accession to the Convention that should have facilitated the enactment of a domestic law on enforced disappearance.

If accession to the Convention is the Philippines’ goal as pronounced by government, why has it not yet even signed the treaty?

If enhancement of “domestic legal and institutional capacities” to deal with the issue of enforced disappearance is “the current priority” of government, the more reason the country should sign the Convention with dispatch because the law on enforced disappearance will soon be a reality and trainings to enhance the capacities of implementers should have started long ago. After all, the Convention does not create any new implementing institutions. They are all existing. Appropriate government agencies dealing with deprivation of liberty, investigation, prosecution and administration of justice, reparation including psychosocial rehabilitation, universal jurisdiction and extradition are all in place and have long been operating.

With respect to the latter two legal concerns (universal jurisdiction and extradition under Articles 9 and 13, respectively, of the Convention), it should be noted that these two Articles are a virtual reproduction of Articles 5 and 8, respectively, of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to which the Philippines has been a State Party since June 18, 1986. Moreover, Article 9 of the enforced disappearance Convention has its equivalent in Article 4 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child on Sale of Children, Child Prosecution and Child Pornography which the Philippines ratified on May 28, 2002.

If these similar provisions did not impede the signing and ratification of the said previously ratified instruments, they should neither hinder the signing and ratification of the enforced disappearance Convention.

Hope may spring eternal from the human heart, but we hope for the signing and accession to the Convention and the enactment of an anti-enforced disappearance law now even as we reiterate our strong support to the repeated requests of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances for the Philippines to invite the Working Group to visit the country.

Secretary General of AFAD                          Co-Chairperson FIND
and Focal Person of ICAED

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