Under the bill, no justification can be offered that would allow torture and other inhuman punishments. Those who torture will be penalized as principals, as well as their superiors in the military, police or law enforcement establishments who ordered it.
It also requires the military and police to submit a monthly report listing all detention centers, including safe houses, to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). “Once passed into law, we expect the authorities to disclose this information on a regular basis. No more secret hideouts or holding areas where detainees may be subjected to torture,” Escudero said. Those who maintain secret detention centers or fail to include a detention center in the list provided to the CHR will be penalized.
The proposed law imposes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment on torturers. Other penalties range from a minimum of six months to a maximum of 12 years depending on the gravity of the offense.
The bill also includes provisions for the protection of complainants and witnesses and persons involved in the prosecution, and the establishment of a rehabilitation program for victims.
Under the proposed law, the CHR is mandated to implement the Anti-Torture Law. A P5-billion budget is requested for the remaining months of 2009 for the CHR.
In an interview with Bulatlat, CHR Commissioner Jose Manuel Mamauag underscored the importance of the anti-torture bill. He said that without it, those who commit torture may only be slapped with maltreatment or physical injury under the Revised Penal Code.
Escudero said the bill is the country’s compliance to its treaty obligations, as well as the international conventions and agreements it has ratified.
Under Article 2, paragraph 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), “Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”
The Convention Against Torture was ratified by the Philippine government on June 18, 1986, during the Aquino presidency. “To date, no law against torture has been enacted by Congress, more than 20 years after the Philippines’s ratification of the convention,” CHR chairperson Leila de Lima said in a statement.
De Lima commended Escudero and Tañada for “their dedication and sincerity in conscientiously working on the Anti-Torture Bills in their respective chambers.”
In an interview with Bulatlat, Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary-general of Karapatan, welcomed the bicameral committee’s version of the anti-torture bill. Clamor had attended Congress’s technical working group (TWG) meetings on the said bill. The TWG is tasked to consolidate various versions of the bill.
Tañada said that during the bicameral conference meeting, the most controversial issue was whether or not non-state actors should be included. “The House members were united that this bill should be dedicated to state actors only because it is the primary and foremost obligation of the state to protect basic human rights,” Tañada said.
Clamor said that even during the TWG meetings, representatives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) wanted to include non-state actors in the list of possible violators.
“The state has primary responsibility for upholding human rights. It is a signatory to the CAT and therefore, only state agents are liable for violating the provisions of the CAT,” Clamor said.