AFAD Statement on the 10th Anniversary of PICOP 6
A LASTING TRIBUTE TO ALL DESAPARECIDOS
Today as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of the six PICOP workers, we are reminded that with courage and perseverance, justice is possible.
The victorious prosecution and conviction of an army corporal, Rodrigo Billones on 18 July 2008 as accomplice for the case of kidnapping and serious illegal detention of the six workers of the Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) who were abducted at gunpoint, tortured, killed and their bodies burnt to ashes ten years ago by members of the 62nd Infantry Battalion, 8th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, has no less proven that nothing is impossible to those who strongly will.
The case has always been an uphill battle from the very start, with victory almost nowhere in sight. But with the help of an army sergeant who took pity on the families and who voluntarily testified after four years of silence, the case eventually scored a breakthrough. The families are now more resolved to continue their quest for justice by filing a multiple murder case before the Office of the Provincial Prosecutors in Patin-ay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur.
Unfortunately, our existing legal measures are not sufficient to warrant individual responsibility and punishment for the commission of enforced disappearance, since there is still no law defining and penalizing it as a separate and autonomous criminal offense. This is so despite legislative efforts for almost sixteen years to file and re-file this proposed law aimed at combating this despicable scourge, punishing the perpetrators and providing truth and justice to the victims and their suffering families.
Thus, the much-needed law criminalizing enforced disappearances should finally see the light of day. Moreover, it is imperative for the Philippine government to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. This new human rights treaty is an effective tool that will help strengthen States’ obligations to prevent the commission of enforced disappearances and to help realize the demands of victims and their families for truth and justice.
To date, already 86 states have signed and 19 States have ratified the Convention. Only one more ratification is lacking for the treaty’s entry into force. Up to this day, despite its voluntary pledge before the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2007 to sign and ratify this important human rights treaty, the Philippine government has not yet fulfilled its promise. The most recent meeting of FIND and AFAD with President Benigno Aquino lll last 6 October, two days before the end of his first l00 days in power unfortunately did not result in a clear commitment of the Philippine government to enact the most-awaited anti-enforced disappearance bill into law and to sign and ratify the said treaty without further delay.
The disappearance case of the six PICOP workers demonstrates the fact that enforced disappearance spares no one. It is not just an act of state repression against political dissenters but a threat to the whole society and the greater humanity.
The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance (AFAD) laments the unabated commission of enforced disappearance with the chilling climate of impunity in the country and all over the world. Enforced disappearance is considered as the cruelest form of human rights violation. It goes against the very existence of the human being and denies the person of the basic legal protection to which every man and woman is entitled to. It also brings untold sufferings to the families of the vicitms who are left with uncertainty of the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. As we pay tribute to the six PICOP workers and to all desaparecidos of the world, we also salute the organizations of the families of the disappeared, human rights defenders, lawyers and like-minded individuals who work untiringly and often in difficult circumstances to denounce cases of enforced disappearance so that this odious practice will eventually be eradicated from the face of the earth.
The AFAD also takes this opportunity to once again urge the Philippine government to follow the example of Indonesia and many states which have already signed the UN Convention of Enforced Disappearance as an expression of its moral commitment to human rights and which will serve as a significant contribution to the global fight against enforced disappearance.
As Numeria Orcullo, mother of Romualdo Orcullo, one of the 6 PICOP victims said, “ We do not accept compensation. We need justice.” Indeed, the Aquino government must make true its declaration that “for reconciliation to happen, justice must be rendered first.”
Putting an end to enforced disappearance is the most apt and lasting tribute to all desaparecidos and its noblest form of service to humanity.
MARY AILEEN BACALSO Secretary-General