Aquino missed the chance of making Human Rights Day meaningful

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Commentary

By Ellen Tordesillas

Malacanang's enumeration of its human rights initiatives last Monday, International Human Rights Day, would have been more meaningful had President Aquino signed the proposed "Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012″ which had been on his table for almost three weeks.

Families of those who just "disappeared" from the face of the earth, most of them for their political beliefs, were fervently hoping for an early Christmas gift for the President. But alas, there was no such gift from the President.

Fernando "Butch" Fortuna, a taxi driver, tearfully appealed to the President to help find his son Daryl who was forcibly taken, with an female companion , Jinky Garcia, and Ronron Landingin, one evening in Masinloc, Zambales by men suspected to be members of the 24th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine ArmyB-PA while he was in an outreach activity in connection with his thesis. At that time, Daryl was a graduating student of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

"Naghahanap pa rin kami. Hindi namin alam kung ano ang aming gagawin (We are still looking. We don't know what to do," Fortuna said.

Come January 8, they will again observe the birthday of Daryl, who would be 25. "Hirap na kami We are suffering)."

Sana matulungan kami ni Presidente. Sana pirmahan na ni Presidente ang (anti-Enforced Disappearances) bill para hindi na mangyayari sa iba. (I hope the President would help us. I hope he would sign the bill so that (what happened to my son) would not happen to others."

(A human rights worker said they learned later that Landingin is now a member of the military.)

In a statement, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances,Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance, and the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, said "Enforced disappearance is considered as one of the cruelest forms of human rights violations. It violates practically all basic human rights of the disappeared including some of the civil, political and socio-economic rights of their families."

The practice of enforced disappearance was rampant during the Marcos dictatorship but sad to say, it persisted even after Marcos was gone and is still being done. The more known cases in recent years were the disappearance of farmer-activist Jonas Burgos, son of press freedom icon Joe Burgos; and University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno.

It is to credit to the Aquino administration that it has set a political environment that made possible the passage of the bill that had languished in six congresses.

The bill, if signed into law, would made enforced disappearances a crime.Under the proposed law, enforced or involuntary disappearance is defined as "the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with 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 places such person outside the protection of the law."

It's a consolation that even if the President won't sign the bill, it will lapse into law 30 days after it was sent to Malacanang which was last Nov. 20. Unless, he vetoes it which, given his family's experience with human rights violations, is unthinkable.

Malacanang listed eight human rights initiatives of the Aquino administration:

1. Launching of the AFP Human Rights/International Humanitarian Law Handbook , which serves as a soldiers' guide during the conduct of operations.

2. Freeing of the Morong 43.The President ordered the DOJ to withdraw the information filed before the court against health workers suspected as members of the New People's Army. The President's order made possible the release from prison those among the 43 who have no other standing warrants in other courts.

3. Establishment of the AFP Human Rights Office headed by Gen. Domingo Tutaan.

4. Created a Special Task Force on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances.

5. Efforts against human trafficking earned for the Philippines an upgrade to Tier 2 in the U.S. Department of State's 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report Watch List.

6. Campaign against Illegal Recruitment and Trafficking in Persons.

7. On media and activist killings,the PNP-Task Force USIG has recorded 41 validated cases of slain media practitioners and 125 validated cases of slain activists since 2001. Of these cases, 103 have been filed in court, 62 are under investigation, and one case has been dropped due to the demise of the suspect.

8. Created the Inter-agency committee on extra-legal killing, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life and security of persons.

At yesterday's second national summit on International Humanitarian law held in Malacanang, lawyer Harry Roque Jr. acknowledged an improved climate as far as respect for human rights is concerned. But he said "There are unfinished businesses that the P Noy administration must address. "

Some of those he mentioned were the cases of the comfort women of Candaba, Pampanga and the Al Barca and Tampakan massacres in Basilan where soldiers were mutilated.

Roque also mentioned Jovito Palparan, former Governor Joel Reyes and his brother, and former Congressman Ecleo. "They must all be found and prosecuted in Court, " he said.

"In the same light, the fact that it has taken more than three years to arraign former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan for 58 counts of murder when he only has the statutory period of 90 days within which to challenge the existence of probable cause against him- should never again be sanctioned," Roque said.