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NEWS RELEASE
23 SEPTEMBER 2008

“NOBODY HAS THE AUTHORITY TO PREVENT US TO VISIT DETENTION CENTERS”-- CHR CHAIRPERSON LEILA M. DE LIMA

Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Leila De Lima today strongly condemned the act of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in denying the entrance of representatives of the independent constitutional body whose mission was to visit one of the detainees held inside the Philippine Marine Corps Headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

In a protest letter sent to Lt. Gen. Alexander B. Yano, Chief of Staff of the AFP, the CHR head said the incident resulted in the denigration of the visitorial powers of the Commission, a constitutionally mandated power provided in Article Xlll, Section 18 (4) of the 1987 Constitution.

“The Commission on Human Rights shall have the following powers and functions:

xxx

“Exercise visitorial powers over jails, prisons or detention facilities.

Xxx

The letter read:

“The CHR contingent of doctors, lawyers and special investigators were armed with a Mission Order dated September 16, 2008 to visit detained military officers Capt. Dante Langkit, ISG, Philippine Army and Lt. Berlinda Ferrer at Fort Bonifacio. However, the Team, along with Representatives Lorenzo Tañada lll, and Reps. Teofisto Guingona, lll, Satur Ocampo, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Roman Romulo, Rozzano Ruffino Biazon and Luzviminda Ilaga were prevented by a certain Lt. Col. Iluminado Lumakad, Commanding Officer of the Philippine Marine Corps Battallion, from proceeding with its mission, and was denied the exercise of its visitorial powers.”

“The AFP has a lot of explaining to do. They do not have any authority in any capacity to prevent the CHR from conducting jail visitations. We need not have clearance from the `higher ups' just so we could visit detention cells throughout the country. Our constitutional mandate is clearly stated and that is what matters most,” the visibly disappointed CHR Chairperson added.

According to Chairperson De Lima, she was about to join the group but had to attend to previous commitment. On her way to join the Composite Team, she was advised by Dr. Renante Basas, Director of the Assistance and Visitorial Office (AVO) not to proceed anymore as said Lt. Lumakad refused to respect the CHR's constitutionally mandated visitorial powers. Both the CHR Composite Team and members of the Congress literally had to plea and appeal to Lt. Col. Lumakad as the latter insisted that the groups had to seek clearance from the higher ups before they'll be able to enter the military premises.

“Certainly, we need not assert our visitorial power as mandated in the Constitution everytime we need to check the condition of detainees. These personnel at the AFP as well as the Philippine National Police (PNP) must always be briefed by their superiors on how the CHR functions under the Constitution.

Chairperson De Lima said that the intended visit to the concerned military officials under custody at Fort Bonifacio was just a continuation of part of the congressional inquiry of the Committee on Human Rights of the House of Representatives. She added that the more these AFP personnel deny the CHR access to see the condition of these individuals, the more the public suspects that something is going on.

Despite her obvious disappointment on the September 16 incident, the CHR head is hopeful that the unfortunate situation will not happen again in the future. “I will not take it sitting down,” the Chairperson warned.

“We need the full cooperation of our government officials, whether civilians or men in uniform. In the first place, men in uniform should serve as protectors of the people and not the other way around. We report what we see, no more, no less and that's what these people should inculcate in their minds.”

Despite the disappointing incident, the CHR Chairperson vowed that her Office will continue to do its duty and responsibility as mandated by the Constitution. She also asked the AFP Chief to honor visitorial powers of the CHR, as was the case during the initial visit on June 25, 2008 where the CHR Composite Team visited Col. Miranda and five other AFP detainees.xxx

(Click here for PDF format of Letter)