“A law criminalizing enforced disappearance is long overdue. We hope this will be enacted into law at the soonest time possible.” – Mary Guy Portajada, Desaparecidos
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Enforced disappearance is considered as the one of the most heinous crimes against humanity and yet, in the Philippines, the practice is not yet considered as a criminal offense.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED), an international human rights instrument of the United Nations, defines “enforced disappearance” as the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.
The Philippines has not ratified the said Convention and has not enacted a domestic law penalizing the crime of enforced disappearance. This week, the House of Representatives passed on third reading House Bill 98 or “An Act Defining And Penalizing Enforced Or Involuntary Disappearance And For Other Purposes” or the Anti-Enforced or Anti-Involuntary Disappearance Bill.”
“This is a step toward ending the impunity… A law criminalizing enforced disappearance is long overdue. We hope this will be enacted into law at the soonest time possible,” Mary Guy Portajada, secretary general of Desaparecidos, an organization of relatives of victims of enforced disappearances, said in a statement.
After the bill was approved on third reading, it will be transmitted to the Senate for its concurrence. After the bill is passed on third reading in the Senate, a conference committee will be constituted to reconcile any differences in the bills. After the committee approved its version, the bill will then be transmitted to the President for approval.
“We hope that our legislators in the Senate also realize the significance of passing this bill as enforced disappearance is still being committed today even as we have a new administration,” Portajada, whose father Armando Sr. has been missing for almost 25 years, said.
Desaparecidos said there have been nine victims of enforced disappearance under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III. Human rights group Karapatan said there were 206 victims of enforced disappearance during the reign of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Portajada said they hope the bill’s passage “will help families of enforced disappearances prove that state forces are behind the abduction of their loved ones.” She pointed out particularly Art.12 of the said bill stating the Liability of the Commanding Officer or Superior as principal to the crime of enforced disappearance, either in assisting, abetting or allowing, whether directly or indirectly the commission of his or her subordinates.
“This will also serve as warning to state agents who continue to enjoy impunity under the current administration,” she said.
For her part, Edita Burgos, mother of missing Jonas Burgos, said that while they welcome the bill’s passage, the pain and agony of families searching for their loved ones never stop. “As long as they remain missing, we will feel the pain every day,” Burgos said.
Burgos also said families of desaparecidos (Spanish term for “the missing”) will continue to exhaust all means to seek justice.
The group also challenged the House of Representatives to support the victims’ efforts in prosecuting and arresting Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. Desaparecidos considers Palparan as “one of the most rabid criminals who promoted and implemented the crime of enforced disappearances.”
“He [Palparan] is one of the operators and masterminds of many enforced disappearances in different regions in the country, his kidnapping case are actually not enough to punish him. But we need to get him soon,” Portajada said.
Palparan, along with Master Sgt. Rizal Hilario, Col. Felipe Anotado and Staff Sgt. Edgardo Osorio, were charged with kidnapping with serious illegal detention for the abduction and disappearance of University of the Philippines (UP) students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan. He and Hilario remain at large three months after a local court in Malolos issued a warrant of arrest.
In a related development, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) has called on the Philippine government to use all its powers, resources and machinery in immediately arresting Palparan.
The IADL is a non-governmental organization founded in 1947 that has consultative status with the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and accredited with the UN Human Rights Council. It has members in 90 countries.
In the recently concluded meeting of the IADL governing bureau in Brussels, Belgium, the group approved by consensus and in principle an omnibus resolution challenging the administration of President Benigno Aquino III to leave no stone unturned to immediately arrest Gen. Palparan and prosecute him forthwith, noting that he is reportedly the highest-ranking military official that has ever been criminally indicted for human rights violations after the Marcos dictatorship.
The IADL resolution said that violators of human rights anywhere in the world, wherever they are, must answer for their crimes against humanity. The IADL said the targeting of civilians violates the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Those present at the Brussels meeting were lawyers who are key leaders or prominent representatives of different democratic lawyers associations in 16 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, North and Latin America including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Germany, France, Haiti, India, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Philippines, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam. The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), the affiliate of the IADL in the Philippines and which represents the families of the disappeared university students and several other victims of human rights violations, was represented by Edre Olalia, NUPL secretary general in the bureau meeting.