Phl has most number of ‘desaparecidos’ in SEA

Two days apart this week, two important commemorations took place. One evoked a resounding plea for long-delayed justice; the other, for the resumption of peace negotiations to attain just and lasting peace. In each case, concerned groups and advocates urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to act positively.

The first was the observance (on Tuesday) of International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, universally referred to as “desaparecidos.” Gathering at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, family members, advocacy organizations, and friends of Filipino desaparecidos asked Marcos Jr. to help them find the missing individuals, and give justice to the more than 1,900 who were forcibly disappeared in the years dating back to his father’s 14-year dictatorship.

Among those they asked him to help find are two women’s rights advocates, who disappeared on July 3 – three days after he took office. Suspected state agents are believed to have abducted them in Moncada, Tarlac.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which came into force on Dec. 20, 2010, defined enforced disappearance thus:

“…[T]he arrest, detention, abduction or any 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 person outside the protection of the law.”

The aggrieved families decry the government’s inaction – thus perpetrating impunity – despite the enactment in 2012 of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act (RA 10353). Its provisions conform with those of the ICPPED, which obligates states to investigate acts of enforced disappearance and bring those responsible to justice. Thus far, 68 states have signed and ratified the treaty; 44 others have signed but not ratified it. The Philippines has neither signed nor ratified it.

A 2021 report from the United Nations says that the Philippines has more than 600 outstanding cases of enforced disappearance. Despite evident underreporting, the report notes, this number was the highest in Southeast Asia.

“What good is this law if it can’t punish those who perpetrated enforced disappearances?” the desaparecidos’ kin and supporters lamented. They challenged Marcos Jr. to perform his duty to enforce RA 10353 and his obligation to sign and ratify the ICPPED.

Will he?

Yesterday marked the 30th year of the signing of The Hague Joint Declaration, which set the framework and the four-point agenda of formal peace negotiations between the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

Invoking the occasion, the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) – consisting of church leaders who have been conscientiously supporting the peace talks for years – promptly wrote to Marcos Jr. They urged him “to reconstitute the GRP Peace Panel and resume the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, respecting the work [done] and upholding the agreements that have been entered into by past [GRP] leaderships.”

Altogether, from Sept. 1, 1992 to June 9, 2018, the peace talks produced 37 signed major agreements and joint statements, now compiled in book form. The first 10 accords were forged during the watch of the late President Fidel Ramos, including the landmark 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

However, yielding to pressures by his military advisers, who opposed two new agreements on socioeconomic reforms forged by the negotiating panels, Rodrigo Duterte took two steps. He issued Proclamation 360 in November 2017 terminating the peace negotiations, and Proclamation 374 in December 2017, designating the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations. These acts did not comply with the mutually agreed manner of formally ending the peace talks.

The PEPP asked Marcos Jr. to recognize that Duterte’s all-out-war policy “failed to resolve the decades of armed conflict despite the investment of huge resources and personnel…” In fact, the group said, every administration, starting from Marcos Sr.’s, intensified its counterinsurgency program aimed at defeating the communist rebellion, in vain.

“Despite the massive campaigns implemented by these administrations to settle the armed conflict, it has continued to rage particularly in the countryside, causing internal displacement in the most vulnerable communities,” the PEPP wrote on. “This long-running conflict only shows how deeply embedded are its roots in social injustice.”

`Likewise, Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda urged the current administration to revive the GRP-NDFP peace talks, reiterating a promise made during the electoral campaign. She made the call on Tuesday in responding to a proposal made by Sen. Francis Tolentino. The latter had suggested that government officials “be required to declare [if] they have a relative who is a member of a terrorist organization [or] an affiliate of an organization that seeks to overthrow the government.”

Legarda pointed out that some advocacy groups and nongovernmental organizations critical of government have been needlessly red-tagged and branded as “enemies of the state.” But, she added, “if we see and study what they actually believe and want, it is social justice. It’s really [about] uplifting our people from poverty for decades without bearing arms.”

Harking back to when she had worked with the NDFP in freeing soldiers and policemen captured by the NPA as “prisoners of war,” she candidly stated:

“I stand here as someone who has worked with the so-called Left… and there’s nothing wrong with that. It does not make anyone subversive.” She added that, in her interactions with NDFP personalities, “I agreed with them on many subject matters that are close to our hearts.”

As regards the CPP, NPA, and NDFP being designated as terrorist organizations by the Anti-Terrorism Council by virtue of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020, Legarda correctly pointed out: As required by law, the three revolutionary organizations have not been judicially declared as terrorists by the Court of Appeals.

Because of this, the senior senator vowed to push for a review of the ATA.

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Published in Philippine Star
September 3, 2022

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