Enforced disappearance still not a crime in PH

As the world commemorates the International Day of the Disappeared, the Philippines has yet to enact a law penalizing enforced disappearances.

Neither has the Senate ratified the International Convention for the Protection of  All Persons from Enforced Disappearance since the Philippines is not even a signatory.

Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) secretary general Rose Trajano blames this on a lack of political will.

Bills to criminalize enforced disappearances, or the secret “arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty” by agents of the State have already been approved on final reading at both Houses of Congress.

The proposed law makes it government policy to prohibit enforced disappearances, requires the government to keep a list of detainees and detention centers, and recognizes command responsibility for officers whose men engage in enforced disappearances.

But the bills have yet to go through a bicameral conference committee to reconcile differences in the bill versions, a requirement before it can be sent to President Benigno Aquino III for his signature. According to the records of the House of Representatives, the House only requested a bicam on August 28.

Since the bill has not been certified urgent, Trajano said it may not even become a law at all unless human rights advocates keep the pressure on. “In his 2011 State of the Nation Address, President Aquino promised a law to give compensation for human rights victims,” she said. Until today, there is still no such law.

Amnesty International chair Ritz Lee Santos III meanwhile said human rights does not seem to be a priority for the Palace. “It’s obvious from Aquino’s three SONAs  that human rights is not part of the priority legislative agenda of this administration, he said. He said that Aquino should focus on human rights too, not just on fighting corruption.

The Palace has raised the reward for information leading to the arrest of Jovito Palparan, a former Army general wanted for the alleged kidnapping and serious illegal detention of two UP student activists missing since 2006.

Santos said, however, that doing that is like a “penicillin approach” when a “collective and holistic” approach against enforced disappearances is needed.

“Amnesty International is concerned that while the UN Convention is not ratified and the bill not enacted, enforced disappearance cases will remain unresolved and lives of human rights defenders in the country, continue to be at risk,” AI Philippines director Aurora Corazon Parong said in a separate e-mailed statement.

In the meantime, human rights advocates and the families of victims are forced to file kidnapping, abduction, or illegal detention cases against suspects, charges that often do not fit the circumstances of the disappearances.

What makes things worse is that enforced disappearances hurt more than just the victims. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., whose group held a march to mark the International Day of the Disappeared, called it “such a heinous crime which tortures the families of the victims who continue to search for their loved ones.”

Human Rights Commissioner Jose Manuel Mamauag said the same thing, adding there are few remedies for victims of enforced disappearances since families often do not even know who to accuse of the crime.

Situation better under Aquino?

The situation has improved since Aquino became president, Trajano admitted. She said the Presidential Human Rights Committee held consultative meetings with civil service organizations and law enforcement agencies in July to discuss enforced disappearances.

The plan, she said, was to create a technical working group that would look into the cases of enforced disappearances during the Aquino and Arroyo administrations.

According to Families of Victims of Enforced Disappearance (FIND), there were 58 documented victims during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and 7 documented victims under Aquino who are still missing. Their families may have to wait longer since the TWG has yet to be created.

“In fairness, there is effort but sustaining the effort is a different thing,” Trajano told Yahoo! Southeast Asia.

CHR Commissioner Mamauag told Yahoo! Southeast Asia that the police and military has also been more cooperative with human rights fact-finding missions.

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police now have offices that coordinate with the CHR. That means field commanders and police chiefs who do not turn over after-action reports or refuse to submit to investigation can be reported directly to the national headquarters.

That does not mean though that upholding human rights has become easier. Mamauag said the CHR does not have enough funding and has to head to the field in vehicles that are at least 15 years old. On top of that is harassment from local leaders and resentment from security forces who may get mentioned in CHR reports.

“But that is (already) an assumed risk,” he said.

Mamauag stressed that although CHR investigators are willing to go on fact-finding missions despite the threats, having a law against enforced disappearances in place will help send the message that it is unacceptable in the Philippines. “It will take more than CHR to curb this,” he said.

Originally posted on Yahoo! News but reposting here because I am feeling preachy.

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