Image via WikipediaPhilippine Anti-Torture Law
Unknown to many and caught in many political headlines was the passage into law two weeks ago of Republic Act 9745, or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, which criminalizes all forms of torture and prohibiting state authorities from using secret detention center.
The Philippines, which has been fighting communist and Muslim insurgencies, has come under severe criticism from international rights groups, the U.S. State Department, and a U.N. investigator on extrajudicial killings in the deaths of hundreds of left-wing activists.
The announcement came as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was visiting the country.
The law defines torture as acts consisting of systematic beating, food deprivation, electric shock, cigarette burning, rape, among others. Mental and psychological torture, meanwhile, refers to acts such as blindfolding, prolonged interrogation, maltreating a member or members of a person's family, and denial of sleep, among others.
It provides penalties of up to life imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the offense, and renders evidence obtained through torture as inadmissible in any proceeding.
The law also requires the military and police to submit a monthly report listing all detention centers to the independent Commission on Human Rights.
The new statute also put emphasis on the command responsibility of superiors over the acts committed by their subordinates.
Numerous cause-oriented groups and organizations have documented hundreds of cases where members of left-leaning political groups and the clergy as well as outspoken activists and journalists were either kidnapped or killed since 2001. A number of cases of extrajudicial killings, torture and harassment have been blamed on the police and the military, but families of victims have complained that no one has been prosecuted yet.
The bill had languished in the legislative mill although the Philippines was a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The measure actually took 22 years in Congress before it was passed.
Under the law, the Commission on Human Rights will see through its implementation and, together with the Department of Justice and in consultation with human rights groups, it will draft the implementing rules and regulations.
Under the law, wars, political instability and other public emergencies could not be invoked as a justification for torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading forms of treatment or punishment.