Int’l rights watchdog lauds signing of law criminalizing enforced disappearances

Rhodina Villanueva - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The new law that criminalizes enforced disappearances in the Philippines is the first of its kind in Asia and a major milestone in ending human-rights violations, the international group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday.

President Aquino signed the landmark law on Friday that criminalizes enforced disappearances.

Under Republic Act 10350 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, enforced disappearances – or abductions carried out by government forces – will not be treated as cases of ordinary kidnapping and could invite up to life imprisonment as punishment.

It also prohibits secret detention facilities and authorizes the government to conduct “regular, unannounced... inspections of all places of detention and confinement.”

Although Congress passed the law in October, Aquino did not immediately sign it. He approved the legislation late Friday amid a growing outcry over alleged abductions of activists and government critics by security forces as part of their campaign against communist rebels.

HRW welcomed the move, saying “this law is a testament to the thousands of ‘disappearance’ victims since the Marcos dictatorship, whose long-suffering families are still searching for justice.”

“The challenge now is for the government to move quickly to enforce the new law,” HRW said in a statement.

Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III said the Philippines is ready to take a lead role in advocating the protection of human rights in Asia with the new law.

Tañada, however, said the country’s stature as a bastion for human rights would be boosted if Aquino also signs the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

“The enactment of this law is truly historic, not just because it is the first in Asia, but because it is an unmistakable expression by our government of its readiness to act as the champion of human rights in its region,” Tañada said.

He said RA 10350 brings the country much closer to building a comprehensive structure of legal protection against the practice of abducting, arresting, and detaining citizens without legal process.

A significant provision in the law is making the “order of battle” illegal, because many victims attribute their abduction to that list of the military, Tañada pointed out.

“Under the law, the perpetrators cannot invoke the fact that they were acting under an order of battle as a justification for exemption from liability. In fact, anybody who receives an ‘order of battle’ from his superior has the right to disobey it,” he said.

Another important provision in the statute is that the superior of the perpetrator, or his commanding officer, is also liable for the crime, he said.

“Hopefully this provision will strengthen the idea of command responsibility in its proper sense, with the military keeping its own ranks in check, especially since there is no possibility of amnesty for violators,” Tañada said.

He said enforced disappearances is also called a “gateway crime” as it provides the opportunity for the commission of other human rights violations.

“Disappearances” of activists rose sharply after then-president Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Although Marcos was toppled in a popular revolt in 1986, activist groups say the abductions still continue. – Paolo Romero


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