The Philippines may soon become the first country in Asia to pass a law against enforced disappearances after Congress ratified measures seeking to punish such act.
On Tuesday night, the Senate and the House of Representatives separately approved the bicameral conference committee report reconciling differences in House Bill 98 and Senate Bill 2817, or the measures defining and penalizing involuntary disappearances.
These proposed legislations impose the punishment of life imprisonment for persons directly involved in the crime of enforced disappearances.
The crime is also considered imprescriptible, or immune to the effect of the lapse of time which bars victims to sue alleged offenders.
Under these bills, persons found guilty of committing enforced disappearances could not be granted any form of amnesty.
The measures also acknowledge the principle of command responsibility, which makes superior officers culpable of violations committed by their subordinates.
The proposed law likewise entitles victims of involuntary disappearances, or their family members, to compensation, restitution and rehabilitation.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the House bill’s primary author, said the enactment of this law will be the “culmination” of more than 20 years of militant advocacy for desaparecidos, or victims of enforced disappearances.
“Enforced disappearance was an atrocious tool of the Martial Law regime to silence protesters and human rights advocates and continues to be employed by subsequent administrations after the end of the Martial Law regime,” Lagman said in a statement.
Lagman's brother, labor lawyer and activist Hermon, was among the victims of forced disappearances after then-President Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under Martial Law in 1972.
The organization Families and Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (Find) pegs the number of cases of enforced disappearances in the country since Martial Law to 2,201.
The human rights group Karapatan, meanwhile, recorded 11 cases of enforced disappearances under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.
After its ratification in Congress, the proposed law now awaits the signature of the President for its final approval. Aquino, however, may also choose to veto the bill. — RSJ, GMA News