Photographs of victims of enforced disappearances are displayed on a sidewalk in Philippine capital Manila in this file photo. (Photo: J.L. Burgos)
As the human rights community starts to commemorate National Human Rights Consciousness Week from Dec. 4-10, it is meaningful to pay tribute to the hundreds of desaparecidos in the Philippines.
To mention a few names, we remember Father Rudy Romano, Father Nilo Valerio, Romeo Legazpi, Jonas Burgos, Darryl Fortuna, Karen Empeno, Shirley Cadapan and Elena Tijamo. The list is endless.
Today is the National Day of Prayer for the Disappeared and the week culminates with International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.
For and to the desaparecidos, we pray for truth, for justice and for an end to this scourge. We likewise pray for a human rights culture to reign in our land, especially during this time of pandemic.
On this Day of Prayer for the Disappeared, let us adore the desaparecidos for their patriotism that caused them to lose their lives and liberty.
With grateful hearts, let us thank them for their selflessness and heroism that serve as our inspiration as we tread the path of attaining a Philippines without desaparecidos and a world without desaparecidos.
With contrite hearts, we ask for pardon for the things we failed to do to promote a human rights culture and for forgiveness for whatever sins we committed that may have contributed to oppression and injustice;
We continue to ask for strength and spiritual guidance that may enable us to continue their lofty mission for human rights.
And for them, we pray that the Philippines and the more than 90 countries affected by this global malady of enforced disappearances, whose situations are worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, may one day savor the much-awaited power of truth against lies, justice against injustices, reparation against devastation, and memory against forgetting.
It has been almost eight years since President Benigno Aquino signed the anti-enforced disappearance law on Dec. 21, 2012. Yet cases remain unresolved and continue unabated with many undocumented drug-related cases occurring during the present Duterte administration. Lamentably, the Philippines remains the country in Southeast Asia that submitted the highest number of cases to the United Nations Working Group of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
Lest we forget, a decade has passed since the entry into force of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Convention).
With other representatives of organizations of families of the disappeared from various continents, I participated in the drafting and negotiation process of the convention from 2002-05 at the UN in Geneva.
A major victory for families of the disappeared and all the disappeared the world over, this important international human rights treaty provides the right to truth and the non-derogable right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance.
The entry into force of the convention after Iraq deposited the 20th instrument of ratification ushered in a ray of hope to all victims of enforced disappearances. Yet, almost totally absent during the three-year negotiation process from 1992-95 and present only during the last sessions when a decision was to be made, the Philippines continues to deprive all victims of enforced disappearances — from the Marcos period until the succeeding administrations of Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the present Rodrigo Duterte government — of the benefits this important treaty could offer.
The much-awaited signing and ratification of the convention by the Philippines could have complemented the first and only comprehensive anti-enforced or involuntary law in Asia, which is the Republic Act 10353 or the Philippine Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.
Why is it that as a party to all the other international core human rights treaties, the Philippines continues to refuse to sign and ratify this remaining treaty? The convention could have complemented its already existing domestic legislation against enforced disappearances.
Among the obstacles to the signing and ratification by the Philippines include fear of loss of sovereignty, international scrutiny and a lack of will to comply with requirements of reporting to international organs.
It also has reservations about the definition of enforced disappearance in the convention, specifically on the element mentioning that it is perpetrated by agents of the state. Security forces believe the convention places high liability on the Philippine president as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Not signing and ratifying the treaty is a sin of omission the Philippines has committed against the desaparecidos.
During this National Day of Prayer for the Disappeared, our most meaningful prayer for the desaparecidos is to continue to tread the road less traveled — the road to a Philippines without desaparecidos and to a world without desaparecidos.
They are gone but not forgotten.
Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is president of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.