MANILA, Philippines - A bill that would make involuntary or enforced disappearance a crime is now just awaiting the signature of President Benigno Aquino III.
The Senate unanimously approved on Tuesday the bicameral conference committee of Senator Francis Escudero’s Senate Bill 2817.
Enforced or involuntary disappearance is defined in the bill 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 authorization or support from the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared."
Escudero explained that under existing laws, the act of involuntary disappearance is not yet a crime. “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.”
The perpetrator will be meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua or 20 years and one day to 40 years imprisonment.
The measure prohibits the issuances of so-called “orders of battle,” used by law enforcement agencies to justify the disappearances.
The prosecution of the suspect will continue unless the victim surfaces alive. It sets only the prescription period--for the prosecution-- of 25 years from the date of reappearance.
The measure also mandates the expeditious disposition of petitions for the issuance of the writs of habeas corpus and amparo. The Supreme Court was the first to issue relevant modes of action to address enforced disappearances, such as the writ of amparo that protect one’s right to life, liberty and security.
"There must be no compromise on strong legislation with effective corrective penal measures, even if it would mean tilting the balance much more in favor of individual rights and human dignity. There should be enough of desaparecidos, because enforced disappearances have emotionally, mentally and physically displaced mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, children. These disappearances have caused us to be put under the tight watch of local and international rights groups and even foreign governments,” Escudero said.