BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The chairman of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) on Thursday lauded the Philippine Government for taking the initiative to clarify the 625 “desaparecidos (disappearances)” cases lodged before the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“For your delegation to come over to Sarajevo with such a detailed and complete set of documents, this is extremely appreciated by the working group,” said Bernard Duhaime, chair of the WGEID.
Speaking to the seven-member Philippine delegation headed by Undersecretary Severo Catura, Executive Director of the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat (PHRCS), during the 117th Session of the five-member WGEID in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Duhaime said this is the first time that the Philippines brought the entire docket of the 625 cases.
Starting point of cooperation
“In the spirit of cooperation, this is a good starting point and I hope we can pursue this further,” he said. “This is extremely important for us to be able to fully understand the contexts and challenges your government is facing in implementing such obligations.”
He added that the Philippine Government is not only facing the challenges but doing a great deal to address the cases.
“This is living proof and we appreciate the complete information on the 625 cases. The timing is perfect for us to now undertake a visit so we can sit down with you and not only clarify the cases but mainly to address the positive steps undertaken by the state,” Duhaime said.
Catura said the meeting in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina is the first time the Philippine Government tried to settle the matter directly and in a face-to-face dialogue with the WGEID.
The Philippines has commenced work with the United Nations to clarify each of all 625 cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances mostly attributed to government forces between 1975 and 2012. It has assured the WGEID that it has put in place a strong legal framework and institutional mechanisms to address this issue.
The WGEID welcomed the Philippine delegation and its efforts to engage and prepare detailed documentation.
The process of clarifying these cases with the UN is supported by, and runs parallel to, domestic mechanisms being implemented by the Department of Justice (DOJ), such as that established by the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Law of 2012 (Republic Act 10353) and Administrative Order 35.
Catura emphasized before the Working Group that these domestic mechanisms involved close cooperation between the government, and the victims and their families, non-government organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations.
WGEID support and cooperation
“We would like to refer to you some of the cases which, as we say, we are facing blank walls, dead walls, so please compel the sources to provide us with details as they do not want to communicate with us,” Catura told the Working Group.
Duhaime, on the other hand, vowed to cooperate with the Philippine Government towards the resolution of all the cases.
“I appreciate the call for cooperation, help and exchange of expertise. It is our job to supply you with the support and cooperation, as part of our mandate to do so,” he said as he commended the Philippines for the announced efforts to strengthen the thrust and obligation.
“Hopefully, we will work with you to solve all these cases of enforced disappearances and prevent future ones,” Duhaime added.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) informed the WGEID that 105 of the 625 cases have already been taken up and related claims for reparation were granted under the Human Rights Victims Recognition and Reparation Act of 2013 (RA 10368).
Lawyer Maria Theresa Sindico-Guillaume of the DOJ provided the WGEID with information on the cases where perpetrators had been tried and convicted or acquitted; victims had been compensated through RA 10368; the whereabouts or fate of disappeared persons have been reported; and cases were erroneous duplicates, possibly fictitious, or had been closed.
The meeting in Sarajevo firmly establishes a channel of cooperation and dialogue between Philippine government agencies and the Working Group as the delisting process for the 625 cases, which involves a thorough methodology, is expected to continue.
The WGEID welcomed, in a previous report, the Philippines' RA 10353, which provides preventive mechanisms, remedial measures, and protection of victims through restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation of victims, and reflects salient provisions of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
“The fact that the Philippines has adopted its law in 2012, as far as I know in the region, is a remarkable step forward and with it being followed by the ratification of the convention, this can be a mark in leadership in the region,” Duhaime said.
PH’s sincere commitment
Catura also underscored during Thursday’s meeting the Philippine Government’s sincere commitment to work with the UN human rights mechanisms and affirmed the policy of the Duterte administration to implement a human approach to development and governance. He also emphasized that the Philippines had always welcomed dialogue on the issue of enforced or involuntary disappearances.
The Philippine delegation likewise assured the WGEID that the government would continue to assist families of the missing persons.
The delegation also expressed concern over false information submitted to the Working Group, including some cases that were not supported by facts and were reported without obtaining the required consent from families of victims.
Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, presented information indicating that many of the cases took place at the height of the internal purging by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
The killings during the periods 1983 to 1986, he said, were clearly acknowledged and admitted by the CPP-NPA based on their published anniversary statements.
Catura, in a separate interview after the meeting, said the 625 cases have been festering for so long in the UN and all of them are actually cases during past administrations.
“By the way, these are not under the present administration, and we do not have any case of enforced and involuntary disappearance under the Duterte administration. So it is out of good faith, and it’s out of sincerity of the President to really give justice to the victims, as well as to the victims’ families,” he added.
The Philippine delegation and the UN Working Group agreed that the Sarajevo dialogue was an excellent starting point in taking forward work on addressing cases of enforced disappearances and in promoting Manila’s efforts to further strengthen its national mechanisms to serve justice to victims and their families.
The WGEID, which was established by a Commission on Human Rights resolution in 1980, paid a working visit to the Philippines in August 1990.
Its primary task, in a humanitarian capacity, is to assist families in determining the fate or whereabouts of their family members who have reportedly disappeared. Its members consist of five independent experts appointed from different regions.
It also engages governments on a regular basis to clarify cases reported to it and shares technical advice on how national mechanisms can be strengthened. (PNA)