A Huge Step Towards Ending Impunity
The Philippine Congress has made a huge step in instituting legal measures for better human rights protection as conferees from both chambers of the Philippine Congress ratified on 16 October 2012 the bicameral report on reconciled bill which will very soon become the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.
The Asian Federation Against Enforced Disappearances (AFAD), a regional federation of human rights organizations working directly on the issue of enforced disappearances in the Asian region, hails the firm resolve of the members of the Philippine Congress for finally heeding to the call of the families and relatives of the victims who, for almost two decades, have been lobbying the Philippine Congress to criminalize and penalize the act of enforced disappearance and eventually put an end to this odious practice.
The reconciled Anti-Enforced Disappearance bill defines the crime of enforced disappearance as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups 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 place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
The bill prescribes penalties ranging from arresto mayor to reclusion perpetua, depending on the gravity of the acts committed. Under the approved bill, the rights of the victims and their families are guaranteed especially the right to know the truth of what happened to their loved ones and the rights to compensation, rehabilitation and restitution of dignity and to guarantees of non-repetition. Further, the bill provides the continuing character of the crime, thus, applicable to past cases. For as long as there is no certainty of the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared persons, the victims continue to be deprived of their rights to life and liberty and their families continue to suffer.
We urge President Benigno Aquino III to sign this very important piece of legislation with dispatch as soon as the Philippine Congress transmits it to Malacanang Palace for his signature. Signing it will show the Philippine government’s commitment to uphold the rights of every person to be protected from enforced disappearance which, to date, still remains prevalent. Further, the future anti-enforced disappearance law in the Philippines will be the first in Asia – a very good example for neighboring Asian governments to follow.
The Philippines is not yet a signatory much less a State-Party to the Convention despite committing to do it in a voluntary pledge before the UN Human Rights Council when it ran for membership in 2007. In the second cycle of the Universal Period Review of the Philippines in May 2010, the Philippine government stated that the imminent enactment of an anti-enforced disappearance law will expedite the government’s position favorable to the signing and ratification of the Convention.
The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances therefore, deems it equally important for President Aquino to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Convention). The Convention and the Bill are complementary measures which, if acted upon by the government, would serve as major steps towards ensuring state accountability and ending impunity. Doing so would serve as momentous opportunity for the President to make a strong statement on its human rights policy by holding accountable those responsible for the disappearances since Martial law up to the present.
We congratulate all those who have contributed to make this major step possible even as we continuously encourage human rights groups and the general public to participate in consultations and in the formulation of rules and regulations for the effective implementation of the law.
Our almost two decades of struggle to end enforced disappearances has finally borne fruit in this imminent Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012. Once enacted into law, let this be fully implemented in its letter and spirit and let it be complemented by the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance which the Philippines has soon to accede without further delay.
Towards a world without desaparecidos, we say NO to enforced disappearances and impunity!
MARY AILEEN D. BACALSO MUGIYANTO
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances
Rooms 310-311, Philippine Social Science Center Bldg.
Commonwealth Ave., Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
AFAD Statement on the Ratification by the Philippine Congress
of the Anti-enforced Disappearance Bill
19 October 2012
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