UN WGEID urged to reject PH move to delist more than 600 cases of enforced disappearances

In a recent news release of the Department of Foreign Affairs on February 15, the Philippine government, through government officials led by those in the Presidential Human Rights Committee has moved to delist at least 625 cases of enforced disappearances, mostly attributed to State forces from 1975 to 2012, reported to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UN WGEID). The news release cited the country’s “strong legal framework and institutional mechanisms to address enforced disappearances.”  

“We strongly denounce this move by the Duterte government to delist cases of enforced disappearances, as this is tantamount to an outright whitewashing of these hideous crimes. Dinukot at nawawala pa nga ang biktima, binubura nyo pa ang mga hakbang na ginawa ng kanilang mga pamilya para sa hustisya (The victims have been abducted and are still missing, and yet the government even wants to obliterate their families’ efforts to seek justice). The Philippine government is desperately trying to deodorizing the stench of the atrocities that its state forces have committed, at the expense of the victims and their families! This can only be an extension of the grave injustice that the kin of desaparecidos have gone through, and fueling impunity beneficial to the perpetrators,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

Karapatan said that the cases reported to the UN WGEID were products of the relentless efforts of the victims’ families and rights groups to hold accountable the perpetrators of such crimes before the international community. “Since domestic mechanisms have failed in attaining justice, families of the disappeared have sought redress through international mechanisms such as UN WGEID to underscore the fact that their loved ones remain missing, that the victims’ and the crimes against them should be recognized, and that the State remains accountable for these crimes,” Palabay said.

According to reports of human rights groups, there have been at least 759 individuals disappeared during the term of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, while there are 821 desaparecidos under Corazon Aquino’s term. At least 39 cases of enforced disappearances have been recorded during the term of Pres. Fidel Ramos, while 26 cases have been documented under Joseph Estrada’s presidency. Karapatan documented at least 206 victims of enforced disappearances under Gloria Macapagal Arroy, while 29 were recorded missing under Benigno Aquino III. Under Duterte, the human rights alliance have documented eight cases.

Palabay emphasized that the enactment of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearane Law of 2012 (Repulbic Act 10353) and the  Human Rights Victims Recognition and Reparation Act of 2013 (Republic Act 10368) was mainly due to the efforts of the Filipino people, kin of victims of enforced disappearance and other rights violations, human rights organizations and progressive legislators.

“The intent of these laws was to acknowledge and recognize the injustice done to the victims. To even use the said laws as an excuse to justify the delisting of the more than 600 cases is a serious transgression to the victims, their families, and the people who lobbied tirelessly to pass these laws. The so-called “strong and legal framework and institutional mechanisms” was not a result of the government abiding by its obligations and mandate, but resulted from a strong movement for justice and accountability from the ground,” Palabay reiterated.

Palabay also added that the government’s claim that these laws are working flawlessly are far from the truth. “As with laws, what remains a barrier is the government’s denial that such forms of human rights violations continue to this day. We have faced one brick wall after the other even in obtaining substantial responses of government agencies on the whereabouts of disappeared persons. Many of these cases, such as that of Jonas Burgos, remain unresolved and without justice,” she said.

Karapatan also cited the recent case of Bayan Muna organizer Joey Torres Sr., who had been missing since September 2018. “His family and colleagues have gone to all the camps, police stations, hospitals, morgue, and funeral parlors in Nueva Ecija, and yet not one among officials in the said places have given a substantial answer on the whereabouts of Torres,” Palabay said.

“What is the real intention behind this? Unfortunately for the Duterte government and its predecessors, they do not deserve a clean slate. They deserve a strong and consistent reminder of the crimes and atrocities committed against the Filipino people. We strongly urge the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to reject this move by the Philippine government. It is one thing to acknowledge the laws and mechanisms put in place, especially as a result of the efforts of a strong civil society, but quite another thing to erase the narratives of desaparecidos,” Palabay concluded.

References: Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General, +639173162831 

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790580