In early May 2007, the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians carried out a mission to the Philippines where six opposition members of parliament had been charged with rebellion and attempts to unseat the country's President. Widely recognized as a unique and authoritative mechanism for the protection of parliamentarians against violations of their fundamental rights, the IPU Committee had been seized with the case of six members of the House of Representatives of the Philippines: Mr. Crispin Beltran, Mr. Satur Ocampo, Mr. Teodoro Casiño, Mr. Liza Maza, Mr. Rafael Mariano and Mr. Joel Virado.
One of the parliamentarians, Mr. Beltran, was arrested in February 2006 on the basis of a warrant that had been issued back in 1985 under the Marcos regime and long since quashed. New rebellion charges were brought against him as he was kept in detention.
Rebellion charges were also brought against the other five parliamentarians. Knowing that they faced arrest, they sought protective custody in the House of Representatives, which granted it to them and affirmed their right to due process. The parliamentarians had to spend over two months in the protective custody of Parliament, until charges against them were dismissed by the court.
That was not the end of the story however. A new rebellion charge - largely based on the one just dismissed by the court - was soon brought against them again. The charge linked the parliamentarians and their political parties to the Communist Party and the New Peoples Army and to events that had happened many years ago. Mr. Casiño, for example, was two years old when the crimes of which he was accused were allegedly committed. On 5 June 2006, the Supreme Court issued a Status Quo Order ordering the police and judicial authorities to refrain from conducting any further investigation pending further orders from the court.
The rebellion case brought against the parliamentarians was not the only reason for concern to the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians. Several times, the Secretary of Justice of the Philippines attempted to prevent Representative Ocampo from travelling abroad. In advance of legislative elections of May 2007, a case was filed with the Commission of Elections to obtain the deregistration of the political parties to which the six parliamentarians belonged. Lastly, Mr. Beltran, who is 73 years old, remained under police surveillance in the Philippine Heart Centre, where he was detained due to his poor state of health. The IPU has consistently called for his release, pending the proceedings against him.
The delegation of the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians which went on a mission to the Philippines was led by the Committee’s Vice-President, Senator Sharon Carstairs of Canada. The delegation was able to meet with the authorities concerned, including the Secretary of Justice and the National Security Adviser. During the discussion, the latter agreed that Representative Beltran should be released and undertook to raise that issue with the national security cluster within the government. Shortly after the delegation left Manila, governmental authorities declared publicly that the government would no longer oppose Mr. Beltran’s release.
At the end of May 2007, the Supreme Court dismissed the rebellion charges against the parliamentarians, paving the way for Mr. Beltran’s release. It is expected that, at the time the next IPU Assembly meets in October, the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians will be able to close this case altogether, owing to its satisfactory settlement.