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Law needed to stop torture and systemic negligence in the Philippines

Law needed to stop torture and systemic negligence in the Philippines

The brutal police torture and filing of supposedly fabricated charges against 11 persons--including two minors--in Buguias, Benguet on 14 February 2006 is yet another instance of the arbitrary use of authority by the police and military in the Philippines. As the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reported earlier, the group were arrested in the north of the country while hitchhiking on a truck, and allegedly beaten and kicked by members of the 1604th Police Provincial Mobile Group. Back at the police camp, they were accused of being part of a February 10 raid on a military base, and again allegedly subjected to extremely cruel torture, including genital beating, suffocation and electrocution. They have been in custody since, and the trial against them is now getting underway.

Despite the gravity of the victims' allegations against the police, there is no way for them to lodge complaints or obtain redress as envisaged by common article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment--both of which the government of the Philippines claims to uphold. There is no law prohibiting torture in the Philippines, even though it is outlawed by the 1987 Constitution. A 2005 bill to introduce the Anti-Torture Act (HB 4307) has been stalled in parliament. The failure to enact a law to criminalise torture violates the government's international obligations, especially under the Convention against Torture.

Not only are torture victims in the Philippines denied the possibility of making complaints, they are also denied medical treatment. One of the Benguet victims, Rundren Lao, managed to escape--while the police were drunk, he says. Naively, he sought help from the Department of Welfare and Development (DSWD). Instead of attempting to verify his story and making arrangements for the physical and mental care that he needed, the department turned him over to law enforcement officers, who in turn returned him to his original captors, after they issued an arrest warrant. So an obviously damaged and traumatised man was placed back in the hands of his alleged torturers. 

The law requires that minors and adults be confined and treated separately. However, even in this respect the DSWD has proven itself unwilling to fulfil its mandate and protect human rights. In the Benguet case, a department spokesperson said in a television interview that it is difficult for the department to transfer the victims to juvenile detention due to the nature of the charges. This outrageous position assumes, without any basis, that there are crimes for which children should be treated as children and others for which they should be treated as adults. It is a blatant denial of the responsibilities of the DSWD, and the Philippines' obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which it is also a party. The department's failure to secure the detention of the two juveniles at a separate facility and properly assess the conditions under which the other nine were taken into custody amounts to blatant negligence on its part, and another violation of international law. 
The absence of a law on torture means that neither the police nor the DSWD feels beholden to torture victims. The police cannot be charged for having committed torture. The social welfare staff cannot be held liable for their negligence or inaction.

The AHRC supports Senator Aquilino Pimentel's call that the chief of police Gen. Arturo Lumibao conduct an investigation into the victims' allegations. The Police Regional Office of the Cordillera Administrative Region and Provincial Police Office of Benguet must answer the accusations against them. The accused officers should be immediately suspended until an investigation is concluded, and a decision made regarding the filing of charges before quasi-judicial bodies and the courts if probable cause is established.

The police and military in the Philippines will continue to use torture as their primary means of investigation until a law makes their practices illegal, and perpetrators are prosecuted. The constitution and the Convention against Torture will only have meaning in the Philippines when the government recognises its obligations under these laws to treat torturers as criminals. The government's delay in introducing such a law is completely unacceptable and without justification.

The Asian Human Rights Commission again calls on the president of the Philippines to place the passing of a law to criminalise torture among the government's top priorities. Members of parliament too must ensure that this law is passed without delay, so that no more Filipinos are denied the possibility of remedy and redress.  The enactment of this law is a precondition to the protection and improvement of all human rights in the Philippines.

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About AHRC The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984

Posted on 2006-03-31



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