MANILA, Philippines - International group Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged President Benigno Aquino III today to sign as soon as possible a bill criminalizing enforced disappearances.
“Enforced disappearances, often involving torture and extrajudicial killings, have been a blot on the Philippines’ human rights record since the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship,” said HRW Asia Director Brad Adams. Still, activists are still being abducted to this day and as such “this law would be an important step towards ending these abuses.”
At least 11 activists have “disappeared” since Aquino took office in 2010, according to local rights groups.
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."
The Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 reflects the recommendations of several human rights organizations.
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 25 years from the date of reappearance.
HRW also urged Aquino to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and submit promptly to the Senate for ratification. Only Japan has ratified the convention in Asia.
"Congress has done a great job in taking the initiative to pass a law on enforced disappearances,” Adams said.
“President Aquino can show his administration’s commitment to ending this black chapter of Philippine history. He can also assume a role as a regional leader on human rights.”
Palace waiting for bill
The Palace said it has not yet received the desaparecidos bill.
"We have not received the bill yet. The bill has not been transmitted to us. So we're waiting for the transmittal of the bill," Lacierda said, reacting to calls for the President to immediately sign the bill.
"There is a limit naman to the… certain number of days that the President can sign. If he does not sign it, it lapses into law. So we will just wait for the transmittal of the bill and then it will be reviewed first before it is submitted to the President," he added.
Lacierda said it is unfair to conclude that the President is not interested in the bill.
"We have not seen the bill yet so it is unfair to conclude any reaction from the President. If he sees that, then we'll let you know. But he has not yet seen the copy of the law itself or the bill itself," he said.