Human-rights advocates welcome the signing into law of Republic Act 9745, which penalizes acts of torture in the Philippines. The challenge now, they say, is for the Arroyo administration to effectively implement it, given its sordid human-rights record.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Twenty-three years after the Philippine government ratified the Convention Against Torture (CAT), a domestic law penalizing acts of torture in the country was finally passed last week when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Republic Act 9745 or the Anti-Torture Law.
The United Nations’ Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) mandates state party to the convention to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”
Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, principal author of the Anti-Torture Law, said its passage is a step forward. “At least, Arroyo did what she has to do to comply with the CAT,” he said in an interview with Bulatlat.
“It’s a welcome development but it is long overdue,” said Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary general of human rights group Karapatan.
In a statement, Leila de Lima, chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), also pointed to the failure of past and present governments to pass an anti-torture law. “The interregnum between assuming the obligation under the CAT and the passage of the Anti-Torture Law had left the Philippines unable to specifically penalize torture, thereby diluting the grievous nature of torture against human rights by assigning ordinary crimes to blatant incidents of torture.”
De Lima stressed the importance of the Anti-Torture Law as it defines the crime of torture separately and distinctly from other crimes under the Revised Penal Code, for instance murder, serious physical injury, grave coercion and illegal detention.
High-profile cases of torture, such as that of the Manalo brothers and of the Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas “have illustrated the magnitude of legal framework deficiency in relation to torture,” de Lima added.
The Anti-Torture Law criminalizes all forms of torture — physical, mental, psychological and pharmacological (the latter is done through administering drugs).
The law disallows any justification for torture and other inhuman punishments. Torturers will be penalized as principals, as well as their superiors in the military, police or law enforcement establishments who ordered the torture.
The law also requires the military and police to submit a monthly report listing all its detention centers, including safehouses, to the CHR. Those who maintain secret detention centers or fail to include a detention center in the list provided to the CHR will be penalized.
Anti-torture law imposes on torturers a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Other penalties range from a minimum of six months to a maximum of 12 years of imprisonment depending on the gravity of the offense.
The law 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.
“Now that the Philippines has a statute specific to torture, it is hoped that it will a have a domino effect throughout all aspects of mechanisms that address torture. Beyond the statutory definition of the crime and a specific penalty, the law should enable the investigating authorities and the prosecutorial service to zero in on criminal acts characterized as torture,” de Lima said.