Tête-à-tête on the OPCAT
Volume 22 Number 2
Tuesday, 19 January 2010 14:14
Sofitel Hotel
3:00 – 6:00 p.m., August 29, 2008

  • A Tête-à-tête on the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was conducted on August 29, 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City.  The activity was spearheaded by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) in partnership with the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation, Inc. (PLCPD), through the support of the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Philippine Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mr. Edgardo Cabalitan, TFDP Campaign Staff, served as the activity’s moderator.

Ms. Clarissa Azeron, representative from the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, delivered the welcome remarks.  She reiterated that the Embassy supports the campaign for the ratification of the OPCAT because the Netherlands believes in the value of respecting human rights which is reflected in its own human rights policy.  Further, she mentioned that this campaign is being supported because it is an important instrument of the Dutch foreign policy: “A Life and Human Dignity for All”.

She ended her welcome remarks by expressing that the swift ratification of the OPCAT and the finalization of a national anti-torture law would not only set an example in the region, but would also send a strong and positive signal to both the Philippine society and the international community.

The second part of the tête-à-tête was the sharing from different stakeholders regarding the OPCAT.

Mr. Victor Caguimbal, a representative from the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), opened his talk by saying that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed the OPCAT on April 22, 2008 and transmitted it to the Senate for concurrence.

He also stressed that the PHRC believes in the worth of the OPCAT and thus supports its ratification, subject to the ongoing capacity building activities of agencies that are responsible for its effective implementation.  He also shared that the crafting of the Philippine Human Rights Action Plan (PHRAP) is underway.  He said that the thematic cluster meeting on the CAT was held on August 21, 2008.

Mr. Max de Mesa, Chairperson of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and a Board Member of the TFDP, discussed the challenges and opportunities for Philippine civil society in campaigning for the ratification of the OPCAT.

He stated the reasons behind the urgency in ratifying the OPCAT. He then mentioned various challenges faced by civil society:

  • Reservations raised by the Department of National Defense (DND) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) regarding the provision of the OPCAT that allows unrestricted access to all places of detention without the need for previous authorization
  • Giving the ratification of the OPCAT priority
  • Developing public awareness regarding the importance of ratifying the OPCAT
  • Reluctance of the government to establish mutual cooperation with civil society groups

Despite these challenges, Mr. De Mesa mentioned the following opportunities:

  • Strong and dynamic civil society
  • Support from pro-human rights members of the Philippine Senate
  • Pressure from the international human rights community
Recommendations made by member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the Philippines and different UN bodies asking the Philippine government to ratify the OPCAT  

Atty. Leila de Lima, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), emphasized the CHR’s mandate of visiting detention centers.  She expressed the CHR’s support for the ratification of the OPCAT and the CHR’s desire to be part of the National Preventive Mechanisms.

She also explained that while the accession of the Philippines to the OPCAT is a welcome development especially because of the involvement of international bodies in the monitoring of cases and the assistance it provides in capacity building, the problems that have beset the full implementation of the progenitor convention which is the CAT remain the same.  She added that, indeed, the OPCAT itself may be fully implemented down to every last word, but the long protracted delay in the passage of the anti-torture bill to law renders the Philippines incapable of carrying out the full intent of ending torture.  

She concurred with Mr. De Mesa as she mentioned the reasons for the ratification of the OPCAT.  She believes that the Philippines is encouraged to ratify the OPCAT in order to set the tone in the Asian region and position the country as a regional leader in the field of torture prevention.  She reiterated that the CHR shall continue to push for the immediate ratification of the OPCAT.  

A brief open forum followed the inputs of the representatives of the various stakeholders.  

After questions and comments from Sr. Crescencia Lucero of TFDP, Dr. Amaryllis Abcede of the Medical Action Group (MAG), and Ms. Auxilium Olayer of the Balay Rehabilitation Center regarding visitorial powers, Atty. De Lima discussed further the CHR’s mandate.  She also mentioned various cases related to the concerns raised.

After the open forum, Sr. Crescencia Lucero thanked all the guests for taking time to participate in the tête-à-tête on the OPCAT.  She said that there are still a lot of work to be done and everyone must work together to place the ratification of the OPCAT as the top priority of the government.

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