[Statement] FIND condemns the enforced disappearance of journalist and human rights defender Margarita Valle

The Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) condemns in the strongest possible terms the enforced disappearance of journalist and human rights defender Margarita Valle.

On 9 June 2019, her son Rius Valle posted the following on Facebook: “Margarita Valle, 61 years old, my mother, was illegally arrested today by members of PNP in Laguindingan Airport for an unknown reason. She was set to go home after attending a training-workshop in Pagadian City and about to board a plane to Davao when the arrest happened. We have now lost all communications with her and we don’t know her whereabouts…She made a last minute call during her arrest and she was told that she will be brought to CIDG for interrogation.”

All elements of enforced disappearance, which are clearly defined under R. A. 10353 or the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012, were clearly present in the case of Valle:
• Deprivation of liberty
• Committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State
• Refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person

The law purposely does not set a minimum period of time for a person to be missing in order for a case to be considered one of enforced disappearance. As what Ms. Valle’s family and friends can now attest to, it does not matter if the period of disappearance is relatively short, it causes tremendous pain and anxiety just the same. Additionally, a minute of enforced disappearance can easily stretch into days, then weeks, months, years. This could very well have been the case with Ms. Valle had she not had the presence of mind to make that last minute call and had there not been widespread public outcry and clamor for her release.

Ms. Valle’s experience saw violations of R. A. 10353, foremost of which are of the following provisions:

• The right against enforced disappearance is non-derogable. The law states that it shall not be suspended under any circumstance including political instability, the threat of war, state of war or other public emergencies.

Even given that it is true that her case was that of mistaken identity, the person the police actually meant to take into custody should not be made to disappear.

• Right of access to communication. Under the law, it shall be the absolute right of any person deprived of liberty to have immediate access to any form of communication available in order for him or her to inform his or her family, relative, friend, lawyer or any human rights organization on his or her whereabouts and condition.

Ms. Valle had a mobile phone with her but in an article posted on 10 June 2019 at newsinfo.inquirer.net, she was quoted as saying, “…For so many hours, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, I have no contact with my family since they took my cellphone. That by itself is a violation,” she said. She was absolutely right. Not only was she not given “immediate access to any form of communication”, but her means of communication was also actually taken away from her.

According to FIND Co-chairperson Nilda L. Sevilla, “Before the enactment of R. A. 10353, we human rights defenders lobbied steadfastly for 16 years for an anti-enforced disappearance law that will protect all persons from enforced disappearance under any and all circumstances. However, we are all aware that a law is only as good as its implementation. Ms. Valle’s experience is undeniable proof that the law is not at all being fully nor strictly implemented. If it were, she would not have had to undergo the horrors she went through in the hands of the police.”

FIND Advocacy Officer Celia Sevilla called for an impartial and thorough investigation, adding that, “There are still provisions under R. A. 10353 that can and should be implemented in the case of Ms. Valle: perpetrators should be held accountable and penalized under the law, and Ms. Valle should be provided immediately with the reparation she wishes to avail herself of and to which she is legally entitled.”

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