MANILA — Incidents of enforced or involuntary disappearance continue to be reported in the Philippines despite a 2012 law that sought to protect and give justice to victims, according to the Commission on Human Rights.
During a hearing of the House Committee on Justice on Monday, CHR Commissioner Beda Epres said the Commission has monitored 145 victims of enforced or involuntary disappearance since the enactment of Republic Act 10353 in 2012.
"Despite the law’s comprehensive coverage, there are still incidents of enforced disappearance happening in our country. The Commission on Human Rights is in close coordination with the Department of Justice… We also do information dissemination campaigns as well as meetings with CSOs and NGOs on this issue,” he said.
Human rights advocate Karapatan raised some issues it observed in the implementation of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.
Karapatan’s Secretary General Cristina Palabay said sections of the law and its implementing rules and regulations pertaining to the right of access to communication, and specifying the duty of state actors to certify in writing the results of its inquiry into a reported disappeared person’s whereabouts are not complied with in several cases.
“In many of the case we have been assisting, it is disappointing that police or military personnel have refused to acknowledge or accept inquiry forms submitted by the families, legal representatives or human rights organizations aiding these families. Hindi po nire-receive ang inquiry forms as specified under the IRR. Equally lamentable were certifications or responses to inquiry forms are given at a much later time,” Palabay explained.
Karapatan has documented 263 victims of enforced disappearance since 2001. Of this number, 11 were recorded in the last 14 months, according to the group.
The group Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) called on the government to fully and strictly implement RA 10353.
Citing data from FIND, AKO BICOL Party List Representative Raul Angelo Bongalon asked about the status of reported enforced disappearance victims, which he said has reached over 2,000 since martial law until June 2023.
The National Prosecution Service said only 28 cases were reported to it. Of this number, there was acquittal in one case, conviction in another. One other case was dismissed, eight were archived, and 17 are under investigation by the secretariat.
“We have reported victims of enforced and involuntary disappearance of 2,559, and we have documented victims of 2,078. We have persons who are still missing, 1,165 and we have 663 surfaced alive and 280 found dead. Include in reports the status of the number of victims of enforced disappearance,” Bongalon said.
“There is a big difference between the number that we have. These are only the incidents where we really receive information details and that is why those are the only cases also that we work on. I’d like to invite people, groups, organizations, offices who have information running into thousands. The secretary is inviting them to come over, the DOJ through the witness protection program, is offering its benefits to these people who will give information about this, so that once and for all, they can be address,” Valdez replied.
The Philippine National Police, for its part, said the failure to immediately report to the police incidents of enforced disappearance and the difficulty in obtaining the cooperation of witnesses have become a challenge for investigators.
“This long cycle brought about by the non-reporting or late reporting of the incident obviously will not help since the possible crime scene is already contaminated and pieces of evidence that may be recovered there in such as CCTV footages may no longer be available,” PBGEN Rodolfo Castil said.
“The non-cooperation of the colleagues and relatives of the disappeared is also a major challenge, since instead of cooperating with the PNP or any other law enforcement agency in the country and filing a case for violation of 10353, they just opt to file a petition for Writ of Amparo and or Habeas Corpus before the court,” he added.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, meanwhile, told the panel that it does not condone violations of the law against enforced disappearance.
“We submit our personnel for investigation on alleged human rights violations including those covered under the AO 35 mechanism. We engage various groups to promote human rights. We do not condone or tolerate violations committed by our personnel… The AFP manifests our continuing commitment to promote human rights, including the prevention of commission of grave human rights violations such as enforced disappearances,” LTC Eduardo Esquivas said.
“When we talk of human rights violations, invariably, the incriminating finger is pointed at the military and the police. This committee hearing is an opportunity for these agencies to clear its name, particularly in the implementation of pertinent applicable laws,” Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman replied.
Lagman authored House Resolution 45, which sought an inquiry into the status of RA 10353’s implementation.