Reasons to be hopeful

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo () - December 25, 2010 - 12:00am

In the spirit of Christmas that we celebrate today, let us scan the horizon for reasons to be happy and more optimistic, notwithstanding the uncertainties pervading most parts of the world and the mixed feelings of Filipinos over the Aquino administration’s performance in its first six months in office.

First, consider this: it has been 10 days since the 19-day mutual ceasefire declarations by the Aquino government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) took effect and no violation has been reported.

One could only wish that the atmosphere of cordiality manifested between the local government of Davao City and the NPA command in the area would prevail all over the country.

The young mayor of Davao City, Inday Sara Duterte, and her father Rodrigo have invited the NPA leader, Leoncio Pitao, and his comrades to celebrate Christmas with them at the Duterte residence. The elder Duterte is of course the celebrated mayor of Davao who now continues to serve as its vice mayor. He has asserted that safe conduct would be issued to the NPA members and he would assume full responsibility for their safety while in the city.

Police authorities have threatened to arrest NPA rebels with standing arrest warrants, such as Pitao (whom Duterte has known for a long time), should they come down to the city during the ceasefire period. Such action, the vice-mayor warned, could violate the ceasefire.

Invited earlier by Pitao to visit the NPA area, Mayor Duterte told the media that she had not had the opportunity to honor the invitation, but expressed her interest to “meet and talk to them in person.”

Whether either of the mutual invitations gets to be honored or not, that’s good enough reason to cheer and to hope that, unlike in the past, the ceasefire will hold until January 3 when it formally ends.

If that happens, the manifestation of mutual trust can augur well for the scheduled preliminary meetings of the GRP and NDFP peace panels on Jan. 14-18. Billed as getting-to-know-you informal discussions, the initial panel-to-panel meetings are expected to set the agenda for the resumption of formal peace talks in February.

Here’s another positive development: the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPAPED) that came into force last Dec. 23. This landmark human rights convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly four years ago. It came into force after being ratified by Iraq, thus completing the requisite number of 20 signatory-nations for it to become effective.

This convention took more than 30 years of acrimonious debates before being adopted, which tells you how long enforced disappearances have been a scourge in many countries, including the Philippines, mired in social conflicts. The 30-year reckoning begins in the 1980s, when the families of victims under repressive regimes in Latin America since the late 1950s, who became known as “desaparecidos,” called for its formulation and adoption by all nations.

A triumphant highlight of that long campaign was the court ruling in Argentina only last Dec. 22 sentencing to life imprisonment former military ruler Jorge Videla, 85, for crimes against humanity — murdering dissidents — committed between 1976 and 1983. What a victory against impunity!

The ICPAPED is a parallel human rights accord to the International Convention Against Torture (ICAT), which came into force earlier. The Philippines is a signatory to the ICAT.

Moreover, we now have the Anti-Torture Act of 2010, passed by the 14th Congress. The law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations were signed in Malacanang last Dec. 10 witnessed by President Aquino. Hopefully this may lead to the investigation, prosecution and conviction of torturers.

But the Philippines has not signed the ICPAPED. The Aquino government should accede to it as soon as possible. Why?

Over the nine years of the Gloria Arroyo administration, the human rights alliance Karapatan documented 206 incidents of enforced disappearances, apart from 1,206 cases of extrajudicial killings. This may explain why the Arroyo government did not sign the ICPAPED.

In the first four months of the Aquino government, Karapatan has documented 20 cases of extrajudicial killings and two cases of enforced disappearances.

President Aquino has publicly declared that he will pursue the investigation and resolution of the enforced disappearance of Jonas Burgos, the most prominent and highly publicized of the 206 cases. Jonas is a son of the late press-freedom icon, Jose G. Burgos Jr., a close friend of Ninoy and Cory Aquino. But Editha Burgos, Jonas’ mother, has made a selfless appeal to the President to do justice to all victims, not just to her son.

It will be in line with his declared policy to uphold human rights and due process of law, made more explicit last Dec. 10, for President Aquino to get the Philippines behind the ICPAPED. More than that, he can certify the urgent enactment of the bill against enforced disappearance that has been pending in the House of Representatives since the 14th Congress.

Merry Christmas, and may the next ones be even better!

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