By CHARMAINE LIRIO
Human Rights Watch
QUEZON CITY — During its 42nd session recently, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) heard two contradicting reports about the state of human rights in the Philippines. The first boasted of the country’s long list of laws protecting human rights; the other depicted the state’s long list of violations.
As a state party to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Philippines has agreed since 1986 to follow the rules set by the convention. As such, the government has to act by means of legislative, administrative and other measures to prevent torture. It is also prohibited from using torture; no exceptional circumstances can justify such act.
Led by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, the country’s official delegation to the UNCAT, held from April 28 to 29, included 27 officials from different agencies such as the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Human Rights Commission, and the Bureau of Corrections. Ermita presented the government’s report, which covered the period from June 1989 to June 2007.
In a “rare” opportunity at the UNCAT, two Filipinos who survived torture were allowed to speak before the committee and share their experiences in the hands of the military.
One of the two survivors, farmer Raymond Manalo, called Ermita’s presentation a “lecture” since it contained laws and policies heavy with legal jargon and evaded the real issues of human-rights violations by the state.
“The Philippines has always been conscious of its obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights of its citizens,” Ermita’s report said.
After that, Ermita began citing laws and bills that aim to protect citizens against torture. He went on reading sections of these laws, including definitions, punishments and even the functions of different government agencies.
One law mentioned by Ermita was the Human Security Act of 2007, or Republic Act 9372, which was opposed by progressive groups and even by the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“The Anti-Terrorism Act does not derogate the right against torture of persons suspected of committing acts of terrorism,” Ermita said.
Critics had earlier pointed out that HSA contains a broad definition of terrorism and vague provisions that may endanger citizens on the basis of mere suspicion by authorities that they are terrorists or linked to any organization tagged as terrorist.
The Ermita report also contained proud pronouncements that “the chief law enforcement and investigative bodies of government, namely, the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the National bureau of Investigation (NBI), have organized and activated their respective Human Rights Offices.”
In addition, Ermita said the personnel from such bodies received training and education on human rights.