KASAMA Vol. 21 No. 2 / April-May-June 2007 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Giving Face to the Desaparecidos

The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances


Thursday, May 10, 2007

In light of the recent disappearance of Jayjay Burgos, two things come to mind. One, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances and two, House Bill 4959, the consolidated bill criminalizing enforced disappearances.

Philippines has been one of the many countries in Asia perpetrating enforced disappearances, defined by the United Nations 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 the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by the refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”

Since the Marcos dictatorship to the present administration, the number of cases has soared to 1,918. (FIND, 2006). Under the Arroyo government, The Philippine Daily Inquirer updates showed that from 2001 to June 2006, 224 activists were killed while 140 were made to disappear. These violations come in the context of a continuing counter-insurgency campaign waged by the government against their own perceived “enemies of the state.” Now, given Arroyo's continuous effort to preserve her administration amidst the turmoil caused by the general public's questions of its legitimacy and loss of confidence upon its governance, the counter-insurgency was reinforced, given a new face and a new name – ‘Human Security Act 2007’. This anti-terrorism law promises “to protect life, liberty, and property from acts of terrorism as inimical and dangerous to the national security of the country and welfare of the people, and to make terrorism a crime against the Filipino people, against humanity, and against the law of nations.”

Inasmuch as the government seems to be bent in combating terrorism in whatever face or form it deems as “terrorist”, there is an apparent failure to recognize its own pitfalls; its own acts of terrorism against the very people they have sworn to protect. The European Parliament warns that the Human Security Act would be “liable to further increase the incidence of human rights violations by the Security Forces because it will allow arrest without warrant and arbitrary detention.” It is therefore crucial to put in place human rights laws, as safeguards for the people against the abuses of the state and its agents.

We, therefore, come to the two crucial international and national instruments at hand concerning enforced disappearances.

Project Disappeared Logo Through the intense lobbying of human rights organizations, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was finally adopted by the UN General Assembly and signed by 57 states around the world last year. In Asia, the region which needs the Convention the most due to its notoriety in continuously perpetrating enforced disappearances and its lack of a regional human rights mechanism, only four countries signed: Japan, India, Mongolia and Azerbaijan. The Philippines, despite its boasts of standing on democratic principles and believing in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, remains elusive in signing and adamant in recognizing its responsibilities to address the worsening state of human rights in the country.

This Convention considers the widespread practice of enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity. It contains important provisions such as the right not to be disappeared under any circumstances, i.e. state of war or threat of war, internal political stability or any other public emergency; the right to truth of the relatives regarding the fate and whereabouts of their disappeared; the right to form and participate freely in organizations and associations supporting the cause of the disappeared; and most importantly, the right to justice. Each State Party which signed and ratified the Convention is obligated to establish and implement a national legislation criminalizing enforced disappearances.

Even prior to the formation of this Convention, the Philippine civil society has already been lobbying for the bill criminalizing enforced disappearances. Since 1995, human rights organizations supporting the cause of the victims of disappearances have been urging Congress to pass the bill into law. In June 1 of last year, the House of Representatives passed the bill on third reading. The bill's movement, however, lagged in the Senate. Over 12 years have gone yet this crucial instrument still struggles in Congress. As disappearance continues to take its toll on the people's right to life, liberty and dignity, never has a law penalizing disappearances become more urgent than today. However, the Congress', the Senate especially, slow action has deprived the families once again of truth and justice. With the new set of incoming congressmen after the May elections, lobbying for the passage of the bill will again have to start from level one.

The release of the Melo Commision's report and UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston's report on the Philippine state of human rights alarmed members of the international community. The European Parliament has already called upon the Arroyo administration to “show real commitment” in investigating these human rights violations. On the International Day of the Disappeared last year, the French government not only urged but also challenged the Philippine government to lead the Asian countries in ratifying the Convention. Once it does, this will further strengthen the bill's push for approval in both houses of Congress.

Confronted with this weighing pressure from the international community, the disappearance of Jayjay Burgos has further compounded pressure on the government as the people have again become awakened to the horrors of enforced disappearances. Jayjay Burgos, the son of press freedom icon Jose Burgos, Jr., has given face to the many victims of disappearances once more. The cries of his family have given voice again to the cries of over a thousand families, years before them: the cries for Truth, Justice and Redress.

AFAD is a new coalition of organizations that work for the “disappeared” in several South Asian Countries. Its core members include the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances from the Philippines, the Organization of Parents and Family Members of the Disappeared (OPFMD) from Sri Lanka, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) in the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the KONTRAS of Indonesia.


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