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Rights body assures dialogue with President Arroyo on signing torture law

September 22, 2009

HONG KONG    The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) welcomes the assurance given by the chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in the Philippines (CHR) that she would initiate "direct communication" with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the signing of the law on torture.

In her September 22 email to Basil Fernando, executive director for the AHRC, Commissioner Leila De Lima, assured him of "our institution's (CHR) continued and relentless efforts, including the undersigned's direct communication to the President, for the immediate realization of the anti-torture law".

De Lima's email was received five days after Fernando wrote her a letter [read open letter] asking her to initiate a direct dialogue with President Macapagal-Arroyo in explaining the importance of having domestic legislation on torture passed.

Fernando wrote that "The CHR, as an independent body, would have had enormous weight in terms of influencing policy made on the part of the executive branch".

The AHRC's appeal was made after unconfirmed reports about the possibility that the proposed legislation might be "vetoed" due to the exclusion of non-state actors from prosecution.

The Office of the President (OP), however, has so far not made any official announcement about the reports of a "possible veto by the President of the bill".

However, the CHR, also express concern over the delays in the signing of domestic legislation by the President, a month after the Senate and the House of Representatives have ratified the final version of the bill. The ratified bill has also not been transmitted to the President's office for her signature.

Under the Philippines legislative procedure, the President could only act either signing or vetoing the proposed legislation once it received the ratified bill. Once the bill is received by the President's office, she would have 30 days to act on it.

"We share your advocacy for the immediate signing of the long overdue and much needed anti-torture law. Like you, we are deeply concerned about the rumoured possible veto by the President of the bill, reportedly due to the exclusion of NSAs (non state actors) from its coverage," wrote De Lima.

In addition to the CHR's assurance, the AHRC is also encouraging torture victims, their families and the non-governmental organisations inside and outside the Philippines, to continuously put pressure, particularly on the executive branch asking for the immediate signing of this bill into law.

Torture victims and their families are encourage to write petitions and appeals letters addressed directly to President Macapagal-Arroyo to act on the measure promptly.