Press Release
July 26, 2011

Senate approves bill on enforced disappearances

The Senate approved today a bill that penalizes perpetrators of enforced or involuntary disappearances.

Senate Bill No. 2817, otherwise known as "an Act defining and penalizing the crime of enforced or involuntary disappearance," imposes a jail term of 20 to 40 years on perpetrators of involuntary disappearance.

Involuntary disappearance refers to the deprivation of liberty committed by state authorities such as the military, police or other law enforcers or by persons or groups of persons bearing authorization or the consent and support of public officers.

Senator Chiz Escudero, principal author of the bill and chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, explained that there is no law at present that defines and penalizes enforced disappearances.

Currently, complaints filed against perpetrators of involuntary disappearance are lodged as kidnapping, murder or illegal detention.

Escudero said the measure, in tandem with the recently approved Anti-Torture Law, provides strong "muscle" against abuse of state power.

"The crime of involuntary disappearance is not yet considered a crime under our laws so we are endorsing this bill to institute mechanisms and strengthen existing policies in favor of human rights," he said.

The enactment of the bill, he added, will guarantee that the person under detention can immediately inform his/her family, relatives, lawyer or human rights organization of his/her whereabouts and condition.

Section 5 of the proposed bill prohibits the issuances of "orders of battle" or other similar issuances by the police, military or any law enforcement agency to justify an enforced or involuntary disappearance.

According to human rights advocates, the rate of enforced disappearances has steadily increased since the administration of the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

The Franciscan International (FI) for instance, an organization founded by the Franciscan Order, revealed that the United Nations' Working Group on Disappearances transmitted to the Philippine government a total of 781 cases of disappearances since it was established. Out of the 781 documented cases, 35 have been clarified based on the information received from the source, 126 cases have been clarified based on the information received by the Philippine government while 620 cases remain unsolved.

Majority of the targets, FI said, were left wing and community activists who expressed criticisms against government policies and programs, especially those related to economic, social and cultural rights, including land issues.

In 2009, Karapatan, a human rights group, estimated that more than 900 activists, journalists, street children, petty thieves and outspoken clergy were victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Escudero said the imposition of penalties on perpetrators of enforced disappearances would drastically reduce the number of involuntary disappearances and extra-judicial killings in the country.

Meanwhile, Section 14 of the proposed law also states that persons who directly force, instigate, encourage or induce others to commit the act of involuntary disappearance will be meted life imprisonment.

The same sentence will be meted to officials who allowed involuntary disappearances or those who abetted in the consummation of enforced disappearances when it is within their power to stop or uncover the crime. Persons who cooperated in the execution of enforced disappearances by previous or simultaneous acts will also meted life imprisonment.

Imprisonment of 12 years to 20 years awaits those who attempted to commit the crime of involuntary disappearance as well as those who assisted the offenders by destroying evidence to prevent its discovery and assisting their escape.

Imprisonment from six years to 12 years will be imposed against persons who defy, ignore or unduly delay compliance with any order duly issued or promulgated pursuant to the writs of habeas corpus or amparo on their respective proceedings.

SBN 2872 is a consolidated version of legislative measures filed by Senators Escudero, Manny Villar, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan.

News Latest News Feed