House and Senate Agree on Philippines’ Version of International Humanitarian Law

Today marked another important milestone for the promotion of the International Humanitarian Law in the Philippines. At 9:00 this morning, the Bicameral Conference Committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate met to approve the Philippine’s version of observing International Humanitarian Law.

The House contingent, led by Chair of the Committee on Human Rights, Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III met with the Senate Chair on Committee on Justice and Human Rights Senator Francis Escudero and approved the Act Defining and Penalizing Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity, Organizing Jurisdiction, Designating Special Courts and for other related purposes.

In approving the bill, Rep. Tañada said that “ The country is on its way to finally doing our part in observing International Humanitarian Law as defined in existing International conventions such as the Geneva Convention of 1949, and other UN Conventions of which the Philippines is a signatory.”

He also opined that, “This law is of particular importance to the country because of the long existing armed conflict between the government and the CPP/NPA and between the government and the MILF specially now that there is no real progress in the peace negotiations with the armed revolutionary movements. Among others, it is hoped that this bill will help protect civilians and non-combatants especially women and children against violations of human rights whether by the military or private entities.”

The bill’s declaration of principles emphasized the importance of ensuring effective prosecution on all perpetrators of Human rights violations, in order to put an end to the impunity of crimes being committed in the country and contribute to the prevention of such crimes at a national level.

The International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict. IHL is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare.

Other important aspects of the bill:
1.Defines and penalizes crimes against International Humanitarian Law, genocide and crimes against humanity. (Sections 4,5 and 6)
2.Provides for criminal and administrative liability of commanders and other superiors under the principle of command responsibility. (Sections 10 and 12)
3.Provides protection to the civilians, non-combatants and witnesses as well as reparations to the victims. (Section 13 and 14)
4.Provides that the crimes defined in the law are not subject to prescription. (Section 11)
5.Provides for the universal jurisdiction over persons, whether military or civilian, suspected or accused of the crimes defined and penalized under bill, and designates the RTC as having original and exclusive jurisdiction over the international crimes punishable under the law. (Section 17).

Salient provisions of the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and other Crimes Against Humanity:

Sections 4,5 and 6. Definition of War Crimes, Genocide and Other Crimes against Humanity.
Section 7. Penalties. Penalty ranges from reclusion temporal in its medium to maximum period and a fine ranging from 100K to 500K. “When justified by the extreme gravity of the crime, especilly where the commission of any of the crimes specified results in death or serious physical injury, or constitutes rapes, and considering the individual circumstances of the accused, the penalty of creclusion perpetua shall be imposed and a fine of 500K to 1M.
“Section 10. Responsibility of Superiors. – In addition to other grounds of criminal responsibility for crimes defined and penalized under this Act, a superior shall be criminally responsible for such crimes committed by subordinates under his/her effective command and control, or effective authority and control as the case may be, as a result of his/her failure to exercise control properly over such subortinates, where:
a) that superior either knew or, owing to the circumstances at the time, should have known that the subordinates were committing or about to commit such crimes;
b) that superior failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures within his/her power to preven or repress their commission or to submit the matter to the competent authorities for investigation and prosecution.”
“Section 11. Non-presciption. The crimes defined and penalized under this Act, their prosecution, and the execution of sentences imposed on their account, shall not be subject to any prescription.”
“Section. 12. Superior Orders. The fact that a crime defined and penalized under this Act has been committed by a person pursuant to an order of a government or a superior, whether military or civilian, shall not relieve that person of criminal responsibility unless all of the following elements concur;
a) The person was under a legal obligation to obey orders of the government or the superior in question;
b) The person did not know that the order was unlawfull”
Section 13. Protection of Victims and Witnesses – In addition to existing provisions, the Courts are mandated to take appropriate measures to protect the witnesses and victims including their privacy. Electronic evidence and other special means may be allowed.
Section 14. Reparations to victims. This provision includes restitution, compensation and rehabilitation.
Section 17. Jurisdiction. The State shall exercise jurisdiction over persons, whether military or civilian, suspected or accused of a crime defined in this Act, regardless of where the crime is committed, provided, any one of the following conditions is met:
a) The accused is a Filipino Citizen
b) The accused, regardless of citizenship or residence, is present in the Philippines; or
c) The accused has committed the said crime against a Filipino citizen.

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