THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE PHILIPPINES
on the Occasion of the International Training Course on the Investigation and Prosecution of Extra-judicial Killings, Enforced Disappearances and Torture for Public Prosecutors, Human Rights Workers and Legal Practitioners in Central Luzon
Subic Bay, Philippines, 16 June 2008
ATTY. LEILA M. DE LIMA
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines thanks The Center for International Law, the American Bar Association and The Asia Foundation for this opportunity to make a contribution to the development of our legal professionals and human rights advocates from Central Luzon.
The Philippine State Obligation on the Right to Life and the Campaign against Impunity is a vital obligation found both in international instruments and our own fundamental law. It is an obligation that is deeply regarded by the framers of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, in the wake of the protracted dictatorial regime that preceded it. However, the obligation to protect all human rights in general has long been in existence and it transcends our own laws. This obligation and duty to uphold human rights is valued by all nations as one community.
In the realm of International Law, the Philippines is a state-party to all eight (
core Human Rights Instruments. Of the eight, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which entered into force on 23 March 1976, is fundamental to the Right to Life and the Campaign Against Impunity. Article 6, paragraph 1 of the ICCPR reads, “Every human being has the inherent right to life.” The United Nations Human Rights Council considers that State parties should take measures not only to prevent and punish deprivation of life by criminal acts, but also prevent arbitrary killing by their own security forces. Thus, “the deprivation of life by the authorities of the State is a matter of utmost gravity” (General Comment No. 6, paragraph 1, ICCPR).
Enshrined as well in the ICCPR are the right to life, liberty and security of persons, the protection of an individual’s physical integrity, procedural fairness, the right to self-determination, individual freedom of belief, speech, association, freedom of press, right to hold assembly and the right to political participation, among others. In civilized nations, these protections leave no room for the crimes of torture, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings. In fact, those are among the non-derogable rights under international human rights law.
Torture is addressed specifically in the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), in force since 26 June 1987. As for more refined instruments on enforced disappearances, EJKs and as additional protection against torture, we, as a nation, look forward to the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), the ASEAN Charter and the Rome Statute. Additionally, we must urge the Government to sign the Convention against Enforced Disappearance and to actively participate in the adoption of an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
We, however, are not without our own means to carry out the campaign against impunity, EJKs, enforced disappearances and torture. Our own Constitution, in broad strokes, declares that “[t]he State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights” (Sec. 11, Art. II, Philippine Constitution). To quote the former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga; “Those who have less in life should have more in law” and a vision of “a country wherein the weak shall be strong and the strong shall be just”. Given our country’s own experience during the dark days of Martial Law, it is only right that we as a country and our democratically elected government uphold human rights with fervor and vigilance.
Of late, our national consciousness has been directed to examine, nay, re-affirm the Right to Life and the Campaign Against Impunity. The three branches of government have responded with resolute initiatives to both internal and international pressure to address and eradicate EJKs, enforced disappearances and torture.
The Judiciary has promulgated the Writs of Amparo and Habeas Data. Regional Trial Courts are designated to take cognizance of cases of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. Relevant training for judges has been done accordingly.
The Legislature ensures that domestic and international laws are in harmony through the ratification of international covenants. However, without waiting for the ratification of more refined international instruments that address State Impunity, the Legislature has been pre-occupied with the passage of new bills designed to criminalize EJKs, enforced disappearances and torture. There remains a pending bill on torture, and new consolidated bills on enforced disappearance which hopefully will be enacted within the next two years. Finally, bills on EJKs have also been filed and are the subject of legislative inquiries.
The Executive is continually monitoring international instruments to further consolidate our resolve to stamp out Impunity. It is also from the Executive where you, the honorable public prosecutors, must combat the crimes of Impunity. You, the public prosecutors, are at the forefront of our criminal justice system. You are there on the frontlines and are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of our system. Day in and day out, you are all there in the trenches, trying in your own way to make the system work and make a difference in the process. You, the public prosecutors, are in a unique situation wherein you are given the opportunity to make judgment calls according to law on what cases to bring to the courts. You, the public prosecutors, decide what cases need to be highlighted so that we as a people can develop our own institutional memory and thus have a national sense of right and wrong.
Cases of EJKs, enforced disappearances and torture, are not simple cases of murder, kidnapping and assault and physical injury. These are cases that show a malaise that will be a cause for the breakdown of a civilized society. These cases are crimes committed not only to a person or his family or his organization; this is a crime that is committed against our national soul. It tugs at the nobility of the Filipino race, a race that prides itself in hospitality, gentleness, gender awareness, communitarianism, a sense of family, deference towards elders; it treasures its children and nourishes its heritage. These crimes have no place in a civilized country such as ours. You, the public prosecutors, human rights advocates and legal practitioners must despise these crimes and bring the criminals to justice. You must also be stakeholders in the promotion and advocacy of human rights.
From 2001 to the present, there have been four hundred seventy-five (475) reported cases on alleged EJKs or political killings involving six hundred twenty-two (622) victims. These incidents are docketed in the Commission as Arbitrary Deprivations of Life and include the high-profile cases of the death of Grecil Buya on 31 March 2007 in Compostella Valley and the 7 November 2005 “Ortigas Rubout” case which involved the death of Anton Cu-unjieng, Francis Manzano and Brian Dulay.
As Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, had observed, the measures taken by the Philippine Government to address these crimes are encouraging, but as of the moment, there have been exactly zero convictions. It is this staggering number that must serve as a reminder that no number of laws, forum or international conventions will deter the commission of EJKs, enforced disappearances or torture if no one will be held accountable in the courts of law.
To address our country’s dismal record in delivering justice to victims of these crimes, the Commission on Human Rights is more eager than ever to work on the frontlines of human rights cases in cooperation with all of you, the human rights workers, legal practitioners and the public prosecutors. We are in the process of refining our procedures to produce litigation-ready reports through our staff of investigators and lawyers. We are also pushing for an independent forensic center to serve suppletorily to the evidence gathered by the prosecutors. It is through this cooperation that we in the Commission hope to fulfill our mandate to protect and promote human rights, and for you, the public prosecutors, to fulfill your duty to deliver justice.
In closing, it is befitting to look back in our recent history to see the context of our present aspirations. It has been twenty-two years since our beloved country’s deliverance from a regime that systematically desecrated the rights of the Filipino people. Twenty-two years when we should have progressed from a country in the grips of tyranny and a culture of fear. Twenty-two years wherein extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture should have been relegated to Philippine History books; these subjects only to be discussed in academic circles, human rights seminars and other fora. Who would have known way back in 1986, amidst the euphoria of EDSA 1 that twenty-two years later, we as a people would still be staring at these atrocities and obscenities? It is like a lingering cancer in our national soul.
Alas, the task continues and that the challenges are enormous. It would take the whole of the Filipino Nation to overcome these obstacles and adversities. By Nation, I mean government institutions, private agencies, the academe, professional organizations and the common man.
Remember the thousands, the best and the brightest of a generation who have fallen during the dark night of Martial Law, those who fought and died on both sides of the insurgency. They fought and died in order that the Filipino be free and that the Filipino will enjoy the right to a peaceful and free existence, not to suffer from abusively wielded state power. They endured the suffering so that future generations need not suffer any longer. Let not their sacrifices be for naught.
Thank you. Mabuhay ang Malayang Pilipinas!