Today, the whole nation will be sitting on the edge of the seat as we listen to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III deliver his second State of the Nation Address (SONA).
We are all expecting PNoy to go beyond mere rhetoric of promised change. Leaving out human rights from the government’s top agenda during his first SONA has become a major blunder that brings the nation way off his “daang matuwid” (straight path) in over a year in office.
In as far as human rights are concerned, it has been a crooked trail from the start. The president did not only fail to fulfill his promise to end serious human rights violations in the country, but his inaction has led to more transgressions with brazen impunity.
The continuing commission of enforced disappearances highlights this untenable fact. As of September 2010, the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) has documented 2,314 cases of disappearance since the dark days of Martial Law up to the present administration. Eight new cases have been reported under the present Aquino administration according to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Most of these cases are attributed to state security sectors. To note, the recent Supreme Court decision ordered the military to release two missing UP students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan and their farmer companion, Manuel Merino and named members of the Armed Forces of thePhilippines, including retired Major General Jovito Palparan responsible for their disappearance in 2006. Yet until now, no single perpetrator has been brought to justice.
This situation mirrors the dismal state of human rights in the country under the Aquino administration.
But it is not late. PNoy still has time to improve his performance on human rights. He can do this by combating impunity. Certifying the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2011 as priority legislation and the signing and ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance are the first concrete steps towards attaining justice.
The bills criminalizing enforced disappearance have been filed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives since the 9th Congress. The House approved the substitute bill on third and final reading in the past two Congresses but in the current 15th Congress, the six bills pending before the Committee on Justice are yet to be consolidated.
The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), and other human rights groups have been lobbying for the Philippine government to fulfill its voluntary pledges and commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Council to sign and ratify the International Convention For the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. But until now, the government has not made any positive step towards achieving this promise.
The Aquino administration has not pushed for the enactment of the bill and accession to the treaty. In the meeting with AFAD, FIND and human rights groups and representatives of victims’ families on 6 October 2010, President Aquino promised to study the matter. But after nine months, the government still has an ambiguous position on the issue even after the follow-up meeting of AFAD, FIND and some foreign representatives of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED) with the Office of the Executive Secretary last week.
It is about time for PNoy to walk the talk. Being a son of a human rights victim himself, he should know better that a society free from enforced disappearance and other forms of human rights violation is an integral part of the straight path where he should lead the nation.
The Filipino nation deserves no less than respect for, protection and fulfillment of their human rights more particularly the right not to be disappeared whose transgression violates practically all human rights.
ASIAN FEDERATION AGAINST INVOLUNTARY DISAPPEARANCES (AFAD)
FAMILIES OF VICTIMS OF INVOLUNTARY DISAPPEARANCE (FIND)