Friday, May 1, 2009


Just as when torture is becoming a hot-button issue in the United States today with the debate on whether to prosecute Bush officials for their alleged involvement in the torture of terrorist suspects, the House of Representatives recently passed a bill penalizing torture.

The bill entitled "Anti-Torture, Anti-Enforced Disappearance and Internal Displacement of Persons" was introduced by Representative Lorenzo "Erin" Tañada III, grandson of the revered nationalist Sen. Lorenzo Tañada, not only to comply with our treaty obligations under the UN Geneva Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), but to strengthen our laws against the cruel and abusive practices of government authorities in dealing with prisoners or detainees.

Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Leila De Lima and Representative Tañada have just attended the 42nd session of the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva to report on the Philippine's compliance with the terms of the CAT. In a clear blow to the government, De Lima revealed during her speech at the session that there are numerous cases of torture being investigated and prosecuted in the Philippines which apparently establish a systematic practice in the country. She also mentioned the CHR's experience in being denied access or visitation to military detention facilities.

The Philippines became a signatory to the CAT in 1987, which under its terms the government should pass enabling legislation to carry out the provisions of the CAT. It is only now, however, that a substantial step is taken to realize our treaty obligation. But again, we are not even talking here yet of a law, since the Senate will still have to act on the matter. At any rate, the bill passed by the Lower House is a positive sign and Atty. De Lima appears to be up to the task of giving meaning to the protection of human rights.

Given the persistent cases to this day of forced disappearances or desaparecidos, extra-judicial killings of media practitioners, torture and other human rights violations, which alarmed even the Supreme Court causing it to institutionalize the writ of amparo (a court remedy to protect a person's personal safety, liberty and security chiefly against acts of government authorities), we need in addition to an anti-torture law an independent government agency like the CHR to be given more powers to address human rights violations with efficiency and dispatch. As it now stands, the CHR is merely an investigative body with no prosecutorial powers and is thus subject to the whims and caprices of the Department of Justice, which we know of course to always toe Malacañang's line.

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