Table of Contents
- Strengthening AFAD’s Unity…
- Years of Trials and Triumphs…
- NO political reform, NO hope for justice…
- Hunger Strike
- Indonesian Human Rights Movement…
- Crime and Punishment
- Anti-enforced Disappearance Bill
- A Life That is Never The Same Again
- Kashmiri families of missing person stage…
- Disappearances in Sri Lanka
Report on International Lobbying
- A Narrative of Contrast
- Where are They?
- Working Towards an African Network
- Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency…
Mid Year Report
Anti-Enforced Disappearance Bill:
The Fight Goes On in the Philippines...
By John Vincent S. Cruz1
A draft consolidated bill called the “Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act” in the House of Representatives of the Philippine Congress, which criminalizes the perpetration of involuntary disappearance, promises to be the first legislation of its kind in Asia should the Philippine Congress be able to summon the needed political will to act accordingly and pass the bill within the next few months.
If the bill, originally authored by Rep. Loretta Ann P. Rosales of Akbayan and Rep. Krisel Lagman-Luistro among others, can be passed into law, it would not only signify the Philippine government’s sincerity to put in place the necessary mechanisms to give flesh to its commitment as a signatory to the UN Declaration for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance. It would also mean that redress would finally be available to the hundreds of victims of enforced disappearance in the country, as the bill provides for compensation and state support mechanisms for victims of enforced disappearance and their families.
The bill primarily highlights the fact that involuntary disappearance is essentially a politically motivated crime, and its commission must thus, be subjected to its own set of penalties. The bill recognizes the need to make this distinction because the motive for enforced disappearances often stems from the political beliefs held by a person, negating the right to freedom of thought and expression, and often, to liberty and life.
Status of the Bill
In her capacity as chairperson of the House Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights, Rep. Rosales of
Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party) has been working closely with Rep. Lagman-Luistro and others in soliciting support from within the Philippine House of Representatives in order to assure the bill of a stable and solid support once it makes its way to the floor for plenary debates.
The bill has been with the Committee on Justice when it was filed in September 2001, and only recently was it referred to the Committee on Appropriations owing to certain provisions regarding government compensation for victims of involuntary disappearance. Once the Appropriations Committee comments on and approves these provisions, the comment will be sent back to the Justice Committee who will then draft a Report for reading out on the floor. Legislative experience tells us that this phase of the legislative process can drag on and cause the bill to gather dust as politicians gear up for the national elections in mid-2004. Our advocacy work must display a decisive intensity soon in order to drum up enough support among legislators and to increase pressure for its passage.
It would be disheartening to lose this bill because of time constraints because the advocacy for the passage of this bill has been ongoing for almost ten years now. Lukewarm responses from legislators in the 10th and 11th Congress served an early demise to the bill, further denying us of a policy framework by which
desaparecidos and their families can seek justice.
The bill, in its latest incarnation, carries over the characteristics and the provisions of the previous versions, mainly pointing a finger at the government and its agents as the primary perpetrators of the crime. It defines the crime as having occurred “when a person is deprived of his or her liberty, in whatsoever form and for political reasons by agents of the State or by private persons or group of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by an absence of information or refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or information or concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, thus placing such person outside the protection of the law.”
The word “private” and the phrase “for political reasons” were inserted into the bill after deliberations at the Justice Committee, with the added requirement that in cases where a political motive cannot be established, the enforced disappearance of a person will then fall into the category of kidnapping, murder or homicide.
Further, the bill considers involuntary disappearance as a continuing crime for as long as the victims do not surface and the persons believed responsible for their disappearance continue to conceal their fate and
whereabouts. The bill also declares that prosecution for this crime would not be “prescribed” or subjected to the Statutes of Limitations unless the disappeared person surfaces alive; and that the perpetrators cannot be exempted from criminal proceedings and sanctions owing to any government amnesty programs.
The Commanding Officer or equivalent senior official, under whose jurisdiction perpetrators of involuntary disappearance fall, shall also be deemed criminally liable for their subordinates’ actions and their failure to avert the commission of the crime whether out of neglect or deliberate intent.
Suspects of the commission of the crime are at once placed under preventive suspension upon the filing of the information in the appropriate court in order to prevent them from possibly using their position to block or muddle the proceedings against them.
Section 5 of the consolidated bill prescribes reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment as the penalty for those found to have committed the crime, as well as for those who cooperated or encouraged the act, or those officials who allowed the crime to be committed when they could be prevented. For those who are found to have attempted to commit the crime, or those who profited from its commission or assisted the perpetrators in concealing, covering up the crime or escaping from it are to be meted the penalty of
The bill also provides that victims of enforced disappearance shall be entitled to indemnification from the government, and that the Commission on Human Rights shall be the agency primarily responsible for providing victims of enforced disappearance who resurface alive with the necessary medical assistance free of charge. Also, those involved in the prosecution of cases regarding involuntary disappearance such as legal counsels, witnesses, among others, are to be provided with protection by the State against possible harassment, intimidation or physical harm.
In order to make sure that the provisions of the proposed law are implemented, an oversight committee will be created, with representation from non-government organizations and human rights organizations including the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) and the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD).
Understandably enough, initial reservations about the bill coming from the military have now more or less subsided. During the committee hearings on the bill, it certainly helped that there was little or almost no objection at all from representatives from line agencies such as the Department of Justice, Department of National Defense, etc.
Rep. Rosales, in tandem with FIND, is also encouraging the Presidential Human Rights Committee to endorse the bill as a priority measure to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and make mention of it when she delivers her State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 28. The President’s speech to be delivered for the SONA will outline her administration’s legislative agenda for the remainder of her term. It will be most beneficial for human rights advocates,
desaparecidos and their families for this bill to elicit the stamp of approval from the President as a priority measure, since Congressional action would then be facilitated. Hopefully, if we are successful in this, we will be able to pass the bill before legislators become totally engulfed by election fever with national elections coming in May of next year.
At the same time, Rep. Rosales and Rep. Lagman-Luistro are closely watching the developments in the Appropriations Committee, to ensure that the committee acts swiftly on its deliberations to the provisions of the bill that fall under its jurisdiction and make sure it does not intrude on the rest of the bill which could delay its processing even further.
Significant to note is the fact that the authors of the bill are both victims of human rights violations. Rep. Rosales was arrested and detained during the Marcos regime. Rep. Krisel Luistro’s uncle, labor lawyer Atty. Hermon Lagman disappeared during the same period.
Seeking justice for the desaparecidos does not end with legislation. It surely does help, however, that should the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Bill be enacted into law, the government can finally own up to the crimes of its agents, and with this admission, seek proper measures by which victims can be served justice in a way they deserve - swift and assured.
1John Vincent S. Cruz is a staff member of the Committee on Civil and Political Human Rights of the Philippine House of Representatives under the chairpersonship of Rep. Loretta Ann P. Rosales.
VOICE September 2003