Tuesday, October 13, 2009

OPCAT undergoes Public Hearing

OPCAT undergoes Public Hearing

The Committee/Public Hearing on the OPCAT finally took place this morning. Government agencies such the AFP, NBI, DOJ, PNP, BJMP and the DILG were present during the consultations. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita led those who were present in behalf of government. He officially announced government plans to defer (declaration to opt-out) the Philippines' obligation to part IV of the OPCAT for 3 years upon adhesion to the instrument (4 years actually, since one year is already given to States to prepare for its implementation). Except for some government agencies which claimed minor inconsistencies between our constitution and the OPCAT (which were quickly debunked by the Committee on Foreign Relations Chairperson, Sen. Miriram Defensor Santiago), there were no objections to the OPCAT whatsoever (which surprised the Senator) and most government agencies and Executive Secretary Ermita even reaffirmed their approval and support for the instrument.

I can safely say that it was obvious that Sen. Santiago was biased in favor of the Philippines' adhesion to the OPCAT. She asked Executive Secretary Ermita where the budget for the establishment and operation of the NPM will come from. He categorically said that it would have to be worked out through the proposed national budget. The resource persons from the human rights community also mentioned the possibility of accessing the special funds from the UN which was established specifically for OPCAT states parties in need of capacity building and other concerns.

Sen. Santiago also asked the executive branch which institution they were recommending to take on the role of the NPM in the Philippines. Executive Secretary Ermita said that government was considering the DILG to act as the central agency in the NPM system. Sen. Santiago was quick to rectify the intent saying that state agencies, most especially executive departments do not qualify to be designated as NPMs since the domestic visiting body needs to be functionally independent and therefore should be detached from any government institution.

Only a handful of civil society representatives and the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights were asked to present their positions on the OPCAT. Sen. Santiago chose a good lineup of human rights defenders to draw insights from during the deliberations. Human Rights stalwart Madam Loretta Ann Rosales intensely defended the OPCAT enumerating its benefits to the people while CHRP Chairperson Leila De Lima as always upheld the necessity of the OPCAT in the prevention of torture and improvement of conditions in places of detention in a superb manner. BALAY's Chairperson, Ms. Loreine Dela Cruz also imparted the institution's position on the OPCAT and its value in the protection of the rights of those deprived of their liberty.

Sen. Santiago said she is soon to deliver her sponsorship speech on the OPCAT and that we would all be invited to the sessions.

Our friends from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations are optimistic that the OPCAT will be ratified by the Philippine Senate soon.

The passage of the Anti-Torture Law, Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law, IHL Law and the CHRP Charter are also in sight.

In the words of our friends from the CHRP, it has been a good year for human rights legislation.

Warmest regards to all!

Ellecer Ebro Carlos
BALAY Rehabilitation Center, Inc.

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