Updated: January 01, 2013 06:25 PM GMT
Families of missing activists have urged the government to immediately implement a new law that criminalizes enforced disappearances.
Bayan Intise, son of a couple believed to have been abducted by state agents, said the challenge for the government is to prove that it can end abductions of people its agents brand enemies of the state.
President Benigno Aquino signed the "Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012" on Friday, two months after it was passed by Congress.
The law criminalizes the arbitrary "arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state."
State officials could face up to life imprisonment if found guilty of involvement.
Enforced disappearances are defined as the detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the detention or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.
People held in secret are especially vulnerable to torture and other abuses.
Human rights group Karapatan say more than 1,000 political activists and suspected supporters of insurgent groups have disappeared since the 1972-1986 Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. This includes more than 200 under the administration of former president Gloria Arroyo.
The group has also documented 12 cases of enforced disappearance since 2010.
Human Rights Watch said the new law is the first in Asia to criminalize enforced disappearances and challenged Aquino to "move quickly to enforce" it.
"Effective enforcement of this new law by the Philippine government will deter enforced disappearances and address the deep-seated problem of impunity for human rights abusers," Brad Adams, the group's director for Asia, said in a statement.
Intise said the signing of the law should translate into something concrete, and send a message that the government can act against its own agents, especially within the military.
Intese’s parents were allegedly abducted by government agents in Sarangani province in 2006.
“Can the government counter its own program against people whom they tag as enemies of the state?" Intise asked.
“This [new law] could be just for propaganda purposes, nothing more,” he said.
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