Philippines: Strong government leadership required to set up National Preventive Mechanism

Sunday, November 26, 2017

While the Philippines ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) in April 2012, thereby agreeing to set up an independent National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to monitor all places of detention, the NPM designation process is stalled. Among other reasons, the challenging political climate and the prolonged process of adopting an NPM law leading to uncertainties on the most appropriate NPM model to adopt for the country. But at the end of the day, it is the government’s responsibility to establish a functioning NPM.

On 17 April 2012, the Philippines deposited the instrument of accession to the OPCAT, becoming the 64th State Party to this essential torture prevention treaty. Five years later, not much has changed. Like Cambodia and Nauru, who acceded to the OPCAT respectively in March 2007 and September 2012, the Philippines is on the SPT’s “blacklist” of State parties that have not fulfilled their main obligation of establishing an NPM.

Setting up an NPM is never an easy task. Numerous questions arise, including which model of NPM would be the most appropriate for the country. Should the NPM mandate be given to the Philippines’ National Human Rights Institution, the Commission on Human Rights (CHRP), or to a new body? Could an interim NPM be set up until the legislatures finally adopt an NPM law?

“While the legislatures need to pass the NPM law and the CHRP is leading the national consultations on NPM designation, at the end of the day, the government is the one responsible for establishing an NPM,” highlighted APT’s Programme Officer for the Asia-Pacific region, Shazeera Zawawi, during her meeting with the CHRP in Manila in November.

In addition to engaging the CHRP, the APT also met with representatives from the civil society, the United against Torture Coalition (UATC) and the House of Representatives, reiterating similar message.

To ensure that all torture prevention efforts by the CHRP, relevant governmental agencies, law enforcement can be carried on effectively, the Philippines government should take concrete steps towards designating its NPM. A functioning NPM will not only benefit the country’s oversight mechanism, administration of justice and detention system. It will also send an exemplary message to other South East Asian countries, on the Philippines’ long time commitment to prevent torture and ill-treatment.