Bill vs 'order of battle' awaits Aquino OK
MANILA, Philippines – A bill against enforced or involuntary disappearance awaits President Benigno Aquino III’s signature.
The Senate unanimously approved the bicameral conference committee report which makes enforced disappearance a crime punishable with life imprisonment. The chamber approved the bill on Tuesday, October 16.
Sen Francis Escudero, principal author of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, said the measure is “very significant for human rights.” Enforced disappearances have marred the Philippines’ human rights record.
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.”
Key provisions of the bill include:
- Declaring an “order of battle” as unlawful. An order of battle is a document made by the military or police listing the names of persons and groups perceived to be enemies of the state, which it considers “legitimate targets as combatants.”
The bill says any person receiving such an order has the right to disobey it.
- 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
- 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
- Requiring an official up-to-date register of all persons detained or confined to include details on their condition
- Holding liable the immediate commanding officer of the military unit or the immediate senior police official for acts that led to the commission of enforced disappearance by his or her subordinates
- Requiring courts and government agencies to prioritize proceedings related to the issuance of writs of habeas corpus, amparo and habeas data
The bill imposes a penalty of life sentence equivalent to 20 years and one day to 40 years imprisonment to perpetrators of enforced disappearance.
It also states that the prescription period or time limit for the prosecution of perpetrators shall not lapse unless the victim surfaces alive. “In which case, the prescriptive period shall be 25 years from the date of appearance.”
Here is the full text of the approved bicameral conference committee report:
Escudero, chairman of the Senate Justice committee, said enforced disappearance is not yet considered a crime under existing laws.
“We bear witness to cases of forced disappearances, and more often, these cases are left in oblivion without putting those persons responsible for the commission of the disappearances accountable,” he said.
Human rights groups have raised the alarm about the cases of enforced disappearances in the Philippines.
In a 2011 report, the New York-based Human Rights Watch documented 10 cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances under the Aquino administration. The group said no one has been arrested in any of these cases and the three “disappeared” people remain missing.
“If progress has been made, it is often because of the perseverance and courage of family members, rather than aggressive action by police and prosecutors,” Human Rights Watch said.
The problem goes beyond legislation. Human Rights Watch noted that retired Major Gen Jovito Palparan still evades arrest even after he was implicated in the disappearance of University of the Philippines students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006.
President Benigno Aquino III has raised the bounty for Palparan from P1 million to P2 million.
Another case of enforced disappearance is that of activist Jonas Burgos, allegedly abducted by members of the army’s 56th infantry battalion at the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City in 2007.
Human rights groups urged Aquino to order the investigation of police and military personnel implicated in enforced disappearances, and to order them to cooperate with authorities in investigating abuses. – Rappler.com
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