De Lima slams gov’t for call to delist 625 ‘desaparecidos’ from UN list

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has chided the government for urging a United Nations panel to remove from its official list more than 600 cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances in the Philippines.

De Lima filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 1032 calling for an inquiry into the Philippine government’s action calling for the removal of 625 names from the list of enforced or involuntary disappearance cases from the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) records.

“There is a need to strongly reconsider this motion by the government as this is a grave injustice not only for the victims of enforced disappearances themselves, but also for their families and loved ones who have longed for the proper closure to these pending cases for the longest time,” she said.

Last Feb. 14, in a meeting in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Philippine Mission led by Undersecretary Severo Catura of the Presidential Human Rights Committee formally asked the UN-WGEID to delist 625 names of Filipinos from its list of victims of enforced disappearances.

In justifying such action, the Philippine government officials reasoned out that the country has put in place a strong legal framework and institutional mechanisms to address the issue of enforced disappearances in the country.

“Despite the passage of the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law, not a single state agent has been convicted and punished for carrying out enforced disappearances, which may seriously challenge the main cause and grounds cited in the Philippine government’s move to delist certain cases of enforced disappearances from the official records of the [UN WGEID],” she said.

Signed in December 2012, Republic Act No. 10353, also known as the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act, criminalizes the practice of enforced and involuntary disappearances.

De Lima explained the length of the disappearance, which is also a cited ground for the delisting by the Philippine government, is unacceptable “because the act constituting enforced disappearance is a continuing offense.”

As a member and party to the UN and the Human Rights Council, she underscored the country’s commitment to all international agreements and optional protocols for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

“Despite the government’s avowed declaration for human rights, we have yet to see the end to systematic killings, abductions and enforced disappearances, mostly of activists,” she said.

Commission on Human Rights Chairperson (CHR) Jose Luis Martin Gascon earlier proclaimed that the Philippines has yet to end the “troubling” phenomenon of the forcible removal of people even as they persistently deny that the victims are held captive by state authorities.

The government’s motion asking the UN panel to remove 625 cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances – mostly attributed to government forces between the period 1975 and 2012 – from its official records was strongly opposed by the CHR, several human rights groups, such as Karapatan, and the families and loved ones of the victims.

In December 2018, De Lima filed SR No. 969 urging Mr. Duterte to ratify the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance to strengthen access to justice and the right to effective remedy. Enforced disappearance is defined by the UN as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared persons which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”

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