Yesterday, February 12, 2013, Desaparecidos co-signed the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the newly-enacted law called, the “Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.” We participated in the crafting of the IRR, after long years of advocacy and lobby work for the enactment of the law, because we view this engagement as part of the over-all enduring struggle for justice and human rights of victims and relatives, human rights advocates, and the Filipino people.
The Philippine government, through the law, officially recognized the criminal nature of the act of enforced disappearance – that enforced disappearance is a crime against persons, and that the perpetrators should be criminally liable and must be put to jail. Most importantly, the law’s acknowledgement that the said crime can only be perpetuated by State agents is an official admission and recognition that indeed, the State is most responsible in the commission of the crime of enforced disappearance. The law likewise recognizes that it is the State’s responsibility to provide compensation, restitution and rehabilitation to victims of enforced disappearances and their families.
Since Marcos’ Martial Law and the series of administrations after it, including the present Noynoy Aquino government, such crime was and is being committed with impunity, with much brazenness and with full use of government resources against the very people whom government has supposedly sworn to protect.
After thousands of disappearances, anguish and immeasurable pain we bear as we waged a resolute, determined struggle for justice for our loved ones, finally, the country’s recognition of this heinous crime proved us, families of the disappeared who fought and are still fighting, the correctness of our struggle for justice and human rights.
We commend progressive legislators led by Bayan Muna Reps. Teodoro Casiño and Neri Colmenares, and allies in Congress who stood with us against those who tried to deny the State’s responsibility on this heinous crime by twisting the definition of enforced disappearances. Our progressive legislators took a hard stand in asserting that it is the State which has the obligation, authority, and machinery to protect the rights of its people.
But by using these machinery and authority to commit enforced disappearance to maintain the powers-that-be, the gravity of this act is incomparably heavier than those who committed the same but are private civilians or non-state agents. It is well that these sound and grounded arguments prevailed over those of some legislators posturing as human rights crusaders who would have wanted to dilute the State’s role and responsibility and defeat the whole purpose and principle of the measure.
Our organization, Desaparecidos, is determined to stand for this principle: that enforced disappearances is a systematic act and is perpetrated by State actors.
Another notable positive provision of the law is the cognizance of the use of the Order of Battle (OB) lists that have been made to justify enforced disappearances. Although the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has denied its existence, the Order of Battle has become a hitlist of persons to be “neutralized” by different battalions in far flung provinces. Many of those whose names were in the OB have been victims of extrajudicial killings and/or enforced disappearances. The law considers the use of the OB as unlawful.
However, we note the provisions of the law and the IRR, and the process by which these were crafted, that we find questionable and reprehensible such as the following:
- The presence and participation of the representatives of the AFP and the Philippine National Police in the meetings of the committee that was tasked to draft the IRR is an irregular, questionable, and insensitive practice. Representatives of Desaparecidos questioned their personality in the said meetings, as they were not mandated in the law, and their participation in the meetings is not crucial for the drafting of the IRR. Moreover, it undermines the spirit of the law as it clearly should hold in primary consideration the rights and welfare of the victims and their relatives.
In the meetings for the drafting of the IRR, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, through its Human Rights Office Director Gen. Domingo Tutaan, tried to twist the definitions of crucial terms such as “enforced disappearance” and “command responsibility.”
The AFP also insisted on lengthening the number of hours before they are to provide immediate certification to human rights organizations, Commission on Human Rights, or relatives of the disappeared whether the military has a disappeared person in their custody.
The AFP likewise remains malicious as to who they give access to their camps in situations of search operations invoking the “national security” issue.
- In the law, and as reflected in the IRR, it is stated that any person, not being a principal, accomplice or accessory, who has or shall learn of any information about any incident or case of enforced or involuntary disappearance, has the duty to report to human rights organizations, relatives of the victims and government agencies.
However, as much as we want to be enlightened on the whereabouts of our disappeared loved ones, we find it inappropriate to consider person/s who may not be able to fulfil such duties for fear of reprisal; this does not provide an enabling environment for the witnesses or whistleblowers to come out later and report because of the penal provisions. Penalties should be rightfully imposed to those state agents who have such kind of information and failed to report it.
- The law also effectively disregards the need to provide restitution of honor and reputation to victims of enforced disappearances who remain missing and who may later on be found dead, as it only provides such for victims who surface alive. While compensation is provided for the victims who remain missing or who are found dead and their relatives, it denies them a crucial component of justice that is restitution.
On the whole, Desaparecidos welcomes the new law and the IRR with guarded optimism, for while the long overdue enactment of the law is an important, albeit small victory, we believe that the struggle for justice and genuine protection and realization of human rights goes beyond working for enactment and enforcement of laws.
As long as repressive and anti-people counter-insurgency programs such as Oplan Bayanihan exist, the rights of the poor and marginalized are trampled upon, and dissenting voices are silenced, our struggle for justice and human rights will continue, as we look forward to the day without enforced disappearances and other forms of injustice.
References: Concepcion Empeño, Chairperson, 0928-2884623 Aya Santos, Secretary General, 0922-9393824