LONDON - Activists in the UK have challenged President Benigno Aquino III to end human rights violations in the Philippines following the signing of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.
Known as the Desaparecidos Act, the new law prohibits involuntary disappearances in “secret detention places” or similar forms of illegal detention using “torture, force, violence, threat and intimidation.”
“We challenge him to prove that the passage of the law is not merely a lip service, but a real step towards responding to the dismal record of human rights in the Philippines,” urged Rafael Maramag from the UK-based Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP).
He added: “We will continue to raise awareness within the UK, as well as work with other organizations internationally, to put pressure to the Philippine government to stop human rights violations.”
The new legislation, which took effect at the end of last month, targets corrupt officials by differentiating regular kidnapping from illegal abduction and detention conducted by military and government officials.
Those found guilty face life imprisonment without parole for 30 years, along with a lifetime ban from taking any public role. Temporary incarceration will also be given to everyone else involved in the crime, depending on the gravity of the actions.
“We think of it as a positive stride, especially for the relatives of victims, as well as human rights defenders in solidarity with international organizations who have been persistent in campaigning and lobbying for this,” Maramag said.
Based on the 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, the new law defines the criminal act 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.”
Activists around the world lauded the Philippine government for setting up the new law, seen by most as a positive step towards better human rights in the country.
“I welcome the new law in the Philippines. It’s good for human rights, and it’s good for the victims of enforced disappearances. They now have guidelines on how they can pursue these cases,” observed Amy Balliao from the Philippine Jury Campaign UK (PhilJury).
On the issue of implementation, she said: “This is a new start. There must be independent bodies to form rules and regulations so we can eliminate bias and doubt.”
The government has already stated that it will work alongside human rights groups, such as FIND (Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances) and Desaparecidos for Justice, to ensure the effective implementation of the act.
According to rights group Karapatan, there are 12 known cases of enforced disappearances under the Aquino administration, in addition to over 200 more from the previous government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Among the most notable cases is the disappearance of Karen Empeno, a student from the University of the Philippines who went missing in Bulacan in 2006.
Retired Major General Jovito Palparan, dubbed as “The Butcher”, was tagged in Empeno’s abduction. Palparan is currently on the run from the police following an arrest warrant.
“The new law is good because it can set a precedent for cases like ours. It might encourage more families of victims to come out and file a case,” said Oscar Empeno, father of Karen, who recently travelled to London to raise awareness of enforced disappearances in the Philippines.
Mr. Empeno, whose family has been seeking justice in court since 2006, also urged the government to properly implement the new law with an independent body that could objectively investigate cases beyond the control of the police, military and officials.
The Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 was passed by Philippine Congress in October 2012, and was later signed by President Aquino in December 2012.