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As it observed the International Day of the Disappeared on Monday, an alliance of human rights organizations urged President Aquino to criminalize acts of enforced disappearances in accordance with a United Nations’ resolution on the issue.

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) urged the President to certify as urgent the passage of a bill seeking to make enforced disappearance a crime and the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

In a statement, PAHRA said enforced or involuntary disappearances are grave human rights violations that must be criminalized, and that any delay in the passage of a law to that effect would only embolden perpetrators of such acts. 

PAHRA chairperson Max de Mesa said this day – August 30 – ought to be observed by all to remember those who suffered the terrible fate of being forcibly disappeared.

He cited the enforced disappearance of six workers of the Philippine Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) in October 2000, and lamented that the convicted perpetrator, Army Corporal Rodrigo Billones, has been sentenced to “light penalties." 

In July last year, a Regional Trial Court in Agusan del Sur province found Billones guilty of kidnapping and illegal detention of six workers. Billones was sentenced to life imprisonment.

But De Mesa said Billones’ punishment should have been in accordance with several counts of illegal detention and kidnapping that the non-commissioned officer had committed.

He added that national laws should conform with the UN Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which seeks to define international standards so that this inhumane act should be prevented and eradicated.

Also, PAHRA stressed that the right to the truth should be enjoyed by all the kin and friends of the victims of enforced disappearances.

PAHRA lauded the relatives of victims, human rights defenders, non-governmental organizations, lawyers and other individuals and groups who work untiringly – and often in difficult circumstances – to denounce cases of enforced disappearance, discover the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared, and work to eradicate this inhumane practice. — Jerbert Briola/LBG/JV, GMANews.TV