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Forum paves the way for local protection mechanisms in Asia

Collective endeavor. Key representatives from the government, diplomatic community, civil society and the academe address relevant issues in the implementation of the anti-disappearance law. From left: Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, AFAD Secretary General; Dean Carolyn I. Sobritchea (UP Asian Center); Sec. Leila De Lima (DOJ); Rep. Edcel C. Lagman (HOR); Comm. Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing (CHR).]

Close to 200 individuals and representatives from the government, diplomatic community, academe, media, sectoral and civil society organizations attended the Forum-Workshop on Effective Implementation of Republic Act 10353: A Collective Endeavorheld at the GT Toyota Auditorium of the UP Asian Center in Diliman, Quezon City last March 6.

Co-hosted by the UP Asian Center, the forum was jointly organized by the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED) and supported by the Embassy of Canada in the Philippines. The activity formed part of the efforts to disseminate to various stakeholders and to the general public the issue of enforced disappearance and the value of the special penal law to address it.

Republic Act (R.A.) 10353 otherwise known as “An Act Defining and Penalizing Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance,”  the first domestic anti-disappearance law in Asia, is a product of 16 years of a hard-fought struggle of human rights advocates and families of the disappeared. The law was signed on December 21, 2012. In recent years, Asia the continent submitted to the United Nations the highest number of cases of enforced disappearance. Ironically, Asia has the lowest rate of accession to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, no strong regional protection mechanism, and, before RA 10353, had no domestic protection mechanisms in place.

Partner and host institutions delivered welcome messages. In his speech, H.E. Christopher E. Thornley, Ambassador of Canada to the Philippines, said the enactment of R.A. 10353 is a positive step in human rights protection and promotion of democratic governance and the rule of law. He recognized that there is still much to be done and assured that the Government of Canada will monitor and support relevant efforts.

Dr. Carolyn I. Sobritchea, Dean of the UP Asian Center welcomed everyone to UP, many of whose constituencies, she cited, have been hapless victims and survivors of state misuse and abuse of civil liberties and human rights. She appealed to her colleagues from the academe and civil society for continued vigilance in monitoring the law’s implementation and in ensuring that critical engagement with all stakeholders will be pursued in the most ethical, respectful and responsible manner.

Hon. Edcel C. Lagman, a member of the House of Representatives and a principal author of the law, delivered the Keynote Speech. It centered on the historical background of legislative deliberations and passage of the law as well as the objectives, guiding principles, and salient provisions of the law. He called on everyone “to uphold human dignity and the rule of law” specifically in collectively ensuring the effective implementation of the law. He further stated that the forthcoming election is an opportune time to challenge the candidates “to commit to a human rights-based approach to governance”.

Key executive officials from the government provided input presentations on various issues that relate to the implementation of the law. From the Department of Justice (DOJ), Secretary Leila de Lima talked on the Prosecution of the Crime of Enforced Disappearance; Commissioner Cecilia Rachel V. Quisumbing of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) discussed the Role of the Commission in the Implementation of R.A. 10353. Representing the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Director Dulfie Tobias Shalim from DSWD’s Protective Services Bureau gave a presentation on the Reparative Remedies and State Protection for Victims of Enforced Disappearance.

The following comprised the panel of reactors from the academe, the government enforcement agency and the families of the desaparecidos: Atty. Ricardo Sunga III, a professor and law reform specialist from the University of the Philippines Law Center; Mr. Louie G. Crismo, brother of Romeo G. Crismo—a desaparecido and P/Supt. Henry Q. Libay from the ranks of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Participants discussed three topics in relation to the implementation of the law: investigation, prosecution and rehabilitation, results of which are important bases of advocacy plan for information dissemination and engagement with government agencies tasked in the implementation of the anti-disappearance law. AFAD ‘s Mary Aileen D. Bacalso gave the synthesis and closing remarks.-- Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance Secretariat