MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago is pushing for the passage of a law making enforced and involuntary disappearances a crime.
Santiago said that her Senate Bill No. 1455 will give enforced and involuntary disappearances a distinction from kidnapping, murder or serious illegal detention.
"They are some of the cruelest forms of human rights violations and our laws should recognize this distinction from other offenses," the senator said.
The bill, however, does not push for life imprisonment against those who would be found guilty of perpetrating the crime.
Santiago only proposes 20 to 40 years jail time against those who would be found guilty and 12 to 20 years imprisonment against those who will attempt the act, conceal the crime or protect the perpetrator.
It also proposes compensation and free rehabilitation for the victims' families.
The bill defines enforced disappearances as "the deprivation of liberty by agents of the state, and the refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or concealment of information on the victim."
Santiago said that as of September 2006, the group, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), has reported 1,450 documented cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances.
"Crimes committed by agents of the state against the very people they have sworn to protect are reprehensible acts that must be punished severely. If agents of the state use their powers to mastermind and execute wrongful and cruel acts that deprive the people of their freedom or life, they must be held liable both criminally and civilly," Santiago said.
Surprise, unrestricted visits
The proposed measure provides the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) free access to all detention facilities.
It said the CHR should conduct "regular, independent, unannounced and unrestricted visits of inspection to all places of detention and confinement."
The senator added that the passage of her bill is in compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances which obligates state parties to prevent and suppress enforced or involuntary disappearances.
She said the Philippines has yet to sign the international instrument.
"In observance of the International Day of the Disappeared last August 30, I urge the President to sign the convention and certify it urgent for Senate ratification," Santiago said.