Hopes Are High for Passage of Law Criminalizing Torture by Philippine Forces

The definition of torture is in accordance with the CAT definition. Under the reconciled version, the bill focuses on the torture acts of agents or officials of the government. Private individuals will be covered by what is prescribed in the Revised Penal Code.

Clamor said the AFP and the PNP representatives attempted to “water down the bill” by opposing provisions on criminal liability and on penalties. “They said administrative liability is enough and they wanted to make the penalties lighter,” he said.

International Pressure

Clamor recognized the international pressure exerted on the Philippine government as a major factor in the passage of the bicameral version of anti-torture bill.

In May 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Committee subjected the Philippines in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and recommended, among others, the complete elimination of torture and extrajudicial killings and the submission of regular reports to the UN Committee against Torture and the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

De Lima also said that during the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s review on the Philippine government’s implementation of CAT in May 2009, the UN Committee raised the failure of government to enact a law translating the provisions of CAT into national legislation.

In its concluding observations, the UN Committee specifically urged the State party to enact the Anti-Torture Bill as soon as possible.

The Committee also noted the “credible allegations of torture and/or ill-treatment committed by law enforcement and military services personnel.” It also noted that the Philippines’s second periodic report, submitted 16 years late, lacks statistical information and practical information on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention and relevant domestic legislation.

OPCAT, Other Pending Bills

Apart from complying with CAT and the UN Committee’s recommendations, de Lima said the passage of this law would show the government’s sincere and resolute intention of erasing the culture of impunity in the country and giving greater promotion and protection of human rights.

The CHR called on the government, specifically the Executive Department, to give due regard to important legislative measures currently pending in Congress such as Anti-Extra Legal Killings, Anti-Enforced Disappearance and Anti-Torture.

De Lima also urged the passage of the CHR Charter aimed at strengthening its functional and organizational structures. “With this proposed Charter, the Commission seeks to remove the perception of a being a ‘toothless tiger’ and aims to be more responsive and dynamic in giving greater protection and promotion of human rights in the country,” de Lima said.

Mamauag said that the draft of the charter provides the CHR with standby prosecutorial powers and removes obstacles for inspecting detention places. “These bills aim to contribute to curbing impunity,” Mamauag said.

Tañada said the CHR bill is up for plenary deliberations in the Lower House. “The bill is necessary not only to strengthen the CHR, but also to vigorously promote human rights in the country. With this bill, the CHR will become more independent from the government, especially from the executive branch, and will be given ‘powers’ which we would like to call ‘residual prosecutorial powers’ on human rights cases should there be failure to act on the same by the government agencies,” he said.

The bill, Tañada, said, will also provide for more protection to state witnesses under a strengthened witness protection program.

Stop Counter-Insurgency Campaign

For the leading human rights group in the country, however, the abolition of the counter-insurgency program of the Arroyo government is the “most decisive step” in curbing human rights violations.

“The use of torture is just part of the Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch), the counter-insurgency program of the Arroyo government,” Karapatan’s Clamor said. He said that as long as the Arroyo government refuses to change its policy in dealing with the insurgency, torture and human rights violations would continue.

Still, Clamor is hopeful that the anti-torture bill, if passed into law, would provide victims with a venue to seek redress and justice. (Bulatlat.com)

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