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An Open Letter to Commissioner Leila De Lima of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
September 17, 2009

Basil FernandoMs. Leila De Lima
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg.,
Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman
Quezon City

Dear Commissioner De Lima:

The Commission on Human Rights is urged to initiate a dialogue with President Arroyo asking her to sign the Anti-Torture law promptly.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes to express its appreciation of the recent developments that the bill, which seeks to criminalize torture, has been ratified by the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives on August 17, 2009. Though the bill has already been ratified, it has yet to be signed by the President into law.

The bill would make it possible to prosecute members of the security forces and state agents for committing acts of torture, as defined by the Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Since the Philippines is a signatory to the CAT, it is incumbent upon the state to ensure domestic legislation in compliance with the Convention.

The AHRC is aware that your office is one of the government agencies monitoring this legislation process.

As you are aware, freedom from torture has long been recognized under the Article 3 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. This is a Constitutional right; thus, this measure criminalizing torture, once signed into law, would certainly uphold the Constitutional right of the victims and facilitate the possibility for them to seek legal redress, compensation and rehabilitation, of which they have been deprived for decades.

However, a month after the legislative body ratified the bill there has been no substantial progress. In fact, the bill has yet to reach the Office of the President (OP) in order for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to sign it into law. Furthermore, even before the bill reaches her office for signature there has been an 'unofficial announcement' that it might be vetoed.

Once again, the AHRC expresses its deep concern about this delay merely, as it appears, due to the 'procedural issues'. After over two decades of failing to have a domestic law on torture legislated, and now that the legislative body has come out with a commonly agreed version and has ratified it, any further delay merely on the 'procedural issues' cannot be tolerated.

The AHRC is aware of the CHR's proactive measures in recent times. An excellent example is the investigation about the vigilante killings in southern Mindanao and there have been others which have often yielded positive results. We are of the opinion that your office can play an important role, in addition to monitoring the legislation process, by lobbying to ensure that this bill is signed into law promptly.

Thus, we are once again urging the CHR to use your power and authority by way of taking the lobbying further. We urge you to exercise your power under section 3 of Executive Order No. 163, in particular, of "request(ing) the assistance of any department, bureau, office or agency in the performance of its functions".

The CHR, as an independent body, would have had enormous weight in terms of influencing policy made on the part of the executive branch. Thus, we urge you to initiate a direct dialogue with President Macapagal-Arroyo so as to emphasise to her the importance and necessity of having this law signed promptly.

The AHRC shares your observations that the lack of domestic legislation criminalizing torture is one of the obstacles as to why victims cannot obtain legal remedies and prosecute the perpetrators who violate their rights. To have this bill signed into law is a crucial step, fundamental to the protection of human rights in the country.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission,
Hong Kong