• Command responsibility of the President


    In September 2009, an affiliate of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) was abducted by the military. Dressed in civilian clothing, the military forced him into a car where he was held at gun point and beaten. He was brought to a remote area where they held him captive in a camp that belonged to the 17th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. Here, he was continously interrogated and tortured for twelve (12) days to obtain a confession that he was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). Torture included being beaten, starved, and electrocuted. He was also threatened to be killed if he did not give the location of the NPA camp.

    Despite all this, he remained silent. During the latter part of his detention, he was forced to sign different documents declaring that he had surrendered to the military in an encounter, that he was never maltreated or tortured, and that he was a military asset giving information about different individuals who belonged to NPA and the different NPA locations.

    On the day of his release, he was given a shower, a new set of clothes, and food which he ate alongside military officials. Throughout the day’s activities, the military took pictures of him being well-treated. He was repeatedly reminded not to disclose to the media his experience in the camp and to say that he had surrendered. His family picked him up that afternoon. Two (2) months after his release, however, he noticed that he was constantly being followed so he applied for writs of amparo and habeas data against the government to protect him from the violation of his right to life, liberty and security. Among the respondents was President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (PGMA), based on the doctrine of command responsibility. The Court of Appeals granted the writs but found the doctrine of command responsibility inapplicable to amparo and habeas data cases.

    The Supreme Court (SC) disagreed and found the doctrine of command responsibility applicable in amparo and habeas data cases since it now constitutes a principle of international law in our jurisdiction. Citing Rubrico v. Arroyo, command responsibility pertains to the “responsibility of commanders for crimes committed by subordinate members of the armed forces or other persons subject to their control in international wars or domestic conflict.” It clarified that the doctrine is applicable not only in criminal cases but in civil cases for human rights abuses to ascertain the government’s responsibility and accountability in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances without making a determination of criminal, civil, or administrative liabilities.

    The SC also held that the president can be held responsible or accountable for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances since as commander-in-chief of all armed forces, he necessarily possesses control over the military that qualifies him as a superior. The following elements must be present: (1) the existence of a superior-subordinate relationship between the accused as superior and the perpetrator of the crime as his subordinate; (2) the superior knew or had reason to know that the crime was about to be or had been committed; and (3) the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent the criminal acts or punish the perpetrators.

    Nevertheless, the SC found that PGMA could not be held responsible for the abduction as there was not enough proof offered to establish her responsibility for the abduction, that she had any knowledge of the violations of the right to life, liberty, or security, or that she failed to investigate, punish or prevent it (In the Matter of the Petition for the Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data in Favor of Noriel H. Rodriguez, G.R. No. 191805, 15 November 2011, J. Sereno).


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