Mindanao rights groups welcome Desaparecidos Bill in Congress

Oct. 18, 2012

The Philippine Senate ratified on Tuesday a bicameral report on The Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.  If enacted, it would make the Philippines the first country in Asia to criminalize enforced disappearances.

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Human rights groups in Mindanao welcomed the Congress’s approval of a bill that seeks to criminalize enforced disappearances in the country.

Pastor Jurie Jayme, spokesperson of rights group Karapatan in Southern Mindanao urged President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino to sign the bill, saying “it will support the families of the victims of abduction and enforced disappearances whose perpetrators are agents of the State.”

On Tuesday, the Philippine Senate ratified a bicameral report on The Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012. If enacted, it would make the Philippines the first country in Asia to criminalize enforced disappearances.

The bill defines enforced disappearance as the “arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support, 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.”

Pastor Sadrach Sabella of Karapatan in Socsksargends (South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarata, Sarangani, General Santos, Davao del Sur) also welcomed the bill.

“It would support the campaigns for those victims of abduction and enforced disappearances,” he told davaotoday.com in a text message.

Sabella cited the case of Jing Cardino of Koronadal City in South Cotabato believed to be a victim of enforced disappearance during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But until now, Sabella added, Cardino remains missing. “The bill will be a great support for the continued efforts of Jing’s family,” he said

A number of cases of enforced disappearances were recorded during Arroyo’s reign, when her counter-insurgency operational plan Bantay Laya (Freedom Watch) was unleashed in both rural and urban areas.

Now, under the present administration, human rights groups already recorded 11 cases of enforced disappearances since Aquino took office in 2010.

The bill, authored by Senator Francis Escudero and Representative Edcel Lagman, also declared as “unlawful” the “order of battle,” a list of names of persons and groups perceived as enemies of the state and considered as legitimate targets by the police and military.

Many victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the past years were listed or allegedly listed in the “order of battle” of the government’s armed forces.

The Bill also penalizes violators with a life sentence or decades in prison and imposed prohibitions for them to apply for amnesty. The commanding or superior officer of the unit or personnel implicated in an enforced disappearance case is just as liable as the person who physically carries out the crime.

It also declares that the government cannot suspend the law even in times of war or public emergency. Other important provisions of the bill include:

1. Recognizing the right to communication of any person deprived of liberty to inform his or her family, friend, relative or lawyer or human rights groups about his or her whereabouts and condition;

2. Imposing the duty of police and military officers and employees of hospitals and morgues to issue a written certification on the results of inquiries into a reported disappeared person’s whereabouts;

3. Requiring an official up-to-date register of all persons detained or confined to include details on their condition;

4. Requiring courts and government agencies to prioritize proceedings related to the issuance of writs of habeas corpus and amparo;

5. Subordinates are authorized to defy unlawful orders of superiors for the commission of enforced disappearance;

6. Secret detention facilities are prohibited;

7. Compensation, restitution and rehabilitation of victims and kin are mandated;

8. Human Rights organizations shall participate in the crafting of the necessary Implementing Rules and Regulations.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Aquino to sign the bill into law, saying it would demonstrate the Philippine government’s “commitment to address human rights abuses such as the abduction and killing by the security forces of activists, environmentalists, and journalists.”

Brad Adams, in a statement sent to davaotoday.com, said “enforced disappearances, often involving torture and extrajudicial killings, have been a blot on the Philippines’ human rights record since the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.”

The HRW’s Asia Director added that up to now, “activists are still being abducted by the authorities and ‘disappeared.’ This law would be an important step towards ending these abuses.” (Alex D. Lopez/davaotoday.com)

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