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“Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT)”

December 13, 2011

I have the honor to seek approval of Senate Resolution No. 664, entitled “Resolution Concurring in the Accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” prepared and submitted by the Committee on Foreign Relations on 12 December 2011 per its Committee Report No. 92.
Torture is a violation of human rights and human dignity. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. The Philippine Government’s position on torture is very clear. We condemn its use as a matter of fundamental principle. The Philippine Government is committed to the protection and promotion of human rights under the 1987 Constitution.
As a founding member of the United Nations and a member of the Human Rights Council, the Philippines reiterates its deep commitment to actively support, protect and promote Human Rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the core human rights treaties and other international instruments to which it is a state party.
It is propitious that I stand here today – three days after the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day and five days before the ninth anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture by the United Nations — to report out the Committee on Foreign Relations’ endorsement of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture or OPCAT.
Chronology of Events
The Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment or CAT was adopted by the UN General Assembly by Resolution 39/46 of 10 December 1984 and was ratified by the Philippines on 18 June 1986.
CAT is the primary international anti-torture mechanism.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) is a subsidiary instrument of the Convention Against Torture.
The OPCAT was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2002 at the 57th session of the UNGA by resolution A/RES/57/199 and entered into force in 22 June 2006.
Today, I ask that we give flesh to our human rights declarations. I strongly recommend that the Instrument of Accession for OPCAT be concurred in and signed by this august body.
Main Features of the Treaty and Obligations Upon Accession
What does this instrument seek to achieve?
The OPCAT seeks to prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment through an international mechanism that will conduct regular visits to places of detention within State Parties. This mandate is carried out by the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
It is a treaty obligation for State Parties to the OPCAT to accept visits from the Subcommittee and grant it access to all places of detention within its jurisdiction.
The OPCAT forwards the idea that through a system of regular jail visits by independent international and local monitors, torture and other forms of ill-treatment can be prevented in jails and that jail conditions can be improved. Visitorial powers are very important in the observance of human rights because the sheer process of observation will naturally change what is being observed.
States Parties to the OPCAT have to create or designate National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) which will work with the UN Subcommittee to conduct regular visits to all places of detention and make recommendations on the establishment of effective measures to prevent torture and ill-treatment and to improve the conditions of detention of all persons deprived of liberty.
The OPCAT also enables States Parties to benefit from advisory, technical and financial assistance.
Statement of Deferment
In endorsing the OPCAT, the Department of Foreign Affairs, under Article 24 thereof, informed the Committee on Foreign Relations that it will request the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture for a deferment of the implementation of the obligations in Part III of OPCAT to allow for completion of the Government’s reform programs for jails and detention facilities.
I support this request for such a deferment.
The deferment gives the Philippines 3 years to improve prison, detention and custodial facilities before the Subcommittee can perform visits. This declaration is an integral part of the Instrument of Accession signed by the President on 9 December 2010.
I wish to emphasize that the deferment refers only to requests for visits by the Subcommittee and not on the establishment of the National Preventive Mechanism which is required by the OPCAT to be established within one year after accession.
Hence, despite the declaration, torture and ill-treatment can immediately be prevented because of the establishment of a national body that can undertake visits to prisons and other detention and custodial facilities.
This is not an exceptional request for even the United Kingdom has delayed its notification for the establishment of a National Preventive Mechanism, a requirement under the OPCAT.
The bases for the request for a Philippine deferment of implementation after the accession of the OPCAT are three main realities in the country’s current penal system, namely: (1) overcrowding primarily traced to slow processing of cases, (2) outbreak of diseases, and (3) need for better jail environments that allow the rehabilitation and eventual reintegration of detainees.
The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), with its limited resources, has been struggling to meet the standard minimum rules for treatment of prisoners set forth by the United Nations.
Rule 10, Part I of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states that:
“All accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health, due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation.”
In that light, the BJMP has set an accommodation space of three (3) square meters for each inmate.
With total cell area of its jails at 56,982 square meters, BJMP should be able to accommodate only 18,944 inmates. As of August 2009, BJMP facilities hold a total of 57,007 inmates nationwide, translating into a 201% congestion level.
From January to August of 2009, a monthly average of 3,411 has been committed as compared to 3,309 released, for a net monthly addition of 102 inmates.
The Philippines has a ratio of about one guard to every forty-eight prisoners, while the international standard is one guard for every seven prisoners.
As for allowance of an inmate’s meals, the government provides fifty pesos per inmate each day. The budget for medicines is a meager three pesos per inmate per day.
Similar problems also exist in our provincial jails which, pursuant to R.A. 6975 are under the direction, supervision and control of the provincial governors. As of August 2009, there are 75 provincial jails and 27 sub-provincial jails nationwide housing 26,618 inmates. These inmates are under the custody of 2,999 provincial guards which results to a custodial ratio of 1 jail officer to 9 inmates.
On the part of the Philippine National Police, many police stations, mostly small and cramped, still do not have separate cells for male and female detainees. Likewise, police stations lack the necessary holding rooms for children in conflict with the law (CICL) who are awaiting transfer to the DSWD or to responsible persons and institutions involved in the diversion program as provided for by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. (RA9344).
Article 2 of OPCAT provides that the Sub-Committee shall carry out its work within the framework of, inter alia, “norms of the United Nations concerning the treatment of people deprived of liberty,” including norms for women and children. It is imperativethat all Philippine prisons, detention and custodial facilities must meet UN norms and standards. Thus, the need for us to declare a deferment in the implementation of the OPCAT to allow us to upgrade our custodial facilities to UN levels.
There is a basis for the National Preventive Mechanism under our present laws. The Commission on Human Rights undertakes, as a regular function, jail visits and assistance to detainees. In fact, last June 23, 2009 a Memorandum of Undertaking was signed between the CHR and the PNP upholding the former’s visitorial powers over all police lock-up cells and jails.
Internal Inspections of jails also continue to be carried out by the DOJ and the DILG. There are also judicial inspections made by judges and court officials.
The Law on Custodial Investigation likewise allows visits by certain accredited civil society organizations, such as the Balay Rehabilitation Center, the Medical Action Group (MAG), and other NGOs within the Philippine Network Against Torture (PNAT). The International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) has its own regular visits and even shares with Government the results of their work and recommends measures to improve conditions of our facilities.
State Parties to OPCAT
To date, there are 61 State Parties, and 22 additional State Signatories to the instrument. 37 States have designated their National Preventive Mechanisms.
Executive Endorsement
The country’s accession to the OPCAT has the support of relevant Government agencies. In the hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on 16 February 2011, the following agencies endorsed the country’s accession to the OPCAT namely DFA, DOJ, DILG, PHRC, CHR, AFP, PNP, BJMP, NBI, and PDEA.
Benefits of Accession
As a State Party to all eight core UN Human Rights Treaties, and as an internationally recognized champion of human rights in the region, it naturally follows that we accede to OPCAT. Our accession will help put into action our commitment to human rights and to the Government’s constitutionally mandated obligation to ensure that the rights of our citizens are upheld and protected.
OPCAT cuts across several international human rights instruments to which the Philippines is a Party due to specific or related provision on torture such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
I ask for the Senate’s concurrence in the country’s accession to the OPCAT, confident that this will strongly assist in keeping in check, acts of torture, as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of detainees. We are hopeful, that by our accession to this instrument, our jail conditions will finally be improved, making them conducive to promote the rehabilitation of its residents.
For these reasons, I humbly recommend that the Senate approve Resolution No. 664, entitled: “Resolution Concurring in the Accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.”
By this recommendation, I also endorse the Declaration, integral to the instrument of accession signed by the President, requesting deferment of the implementation of the obligations in Part III of the OPCAT to allow for completion of the Government’s reform programs for jails and detention facilities before the Subcommittee can perform visits.
Thank you.