Senator Manny Villar recently filed a bill (Senate Bill 1228) that will hold department heads responsible for human rights violations committed by their subordinates. This is a good step in promoting the human rights performance of government. In effect, the proposed bill forces department heads to ensure that people in their department respect human rights. [see Bill Defining Liability of Department Heads Pushed ] This means, for example, that the superiors of the Tondo police accused of torture would also have to answer for their subordinates’ misbehavior.
Isn’t this already covered by existing laws?
Well, yes and no. Command responsibility is an integral part of International Human Rights laws, and since the Philippines has ratified these, it constitutes a part of Philippine laws. However, it is not specified in any Philippine law. So, cases of human rights violations in the Philippines usually involve only the perpetrators, and not their superiors. So, I think it is a good idea to specifically include command responsibility in a Philippine law. It is time for us to pass a specific Philippine law on command responsibility.
“Gross Violations”? One thing about the bill is that it only establishes command responsibility in cases of “gross violations of human rights”. It does not clarify, though which acts would constitute a “gross violation” of human rights. For example: if a policeman punches the suspect in the face during interrogation, is this a “gross violation” or merely a “minor violation” of human rights? Is the line drawn where the police or military tortures the suspect by electrocuting their testicles? or by subjecting him to “water boarding”? Or is it when the military kills a suspect extra-judicially?
I think the law should simply say that all human rights violations by police/military/government officials are covered by command responsibility. And, of course, the relatively minor violations carry lower sanctions than the gross violations.
Department Heads. I think the law should specify what a “department head” is. In the police force, does this mean the police chief of the city? In the military, the commander of the company (Captain) or of the brigade (General)? And if city hall bureaucrats commit human rights violations, is the mayor answerable? or merely the direct superior of the offending bureaucrat?
It would be good to specify how far up the “chain of command” would be accountable for the human rights violation.
I believe that this is a good bill, and that it would go a long way in reducing human rights violations in the country.