Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Philippine government not complying with the UN Convention Against Torture

This April 27 to May 15 the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture (CAT) will held its 42nd session to examine State Party’s report in compliance with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Philippines as a State Party to the Convention Against Torture submitted its report in time for the consideration of the Philippines’ consolidated 2nd to 5th reports by the CAT. The Philippines has been a State Party to the Convention since June 18, 1986.
The Philippine Report covering the period from June 1989 to June 2007 is seventeen years late, a clear neglect of State obligations under the provisions of the Convention. The CAT last reviewed the Philippines in 1989.
The Philippine Report contains inaccurate and incomplete information on the practice of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and on measures to prosecute the perpetrators. The report states that the Philippines has always been conscious of its obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights of its citizens, and it has not been remiss in its responsibility to prevent torture but the reality on the ground indicates otherwise.
Imagine for a moment what it’s like if, you are blindfolded and tied to a ceiling, your head was covered with a plastic bag while electric shocks administered to your genitals. Ruben Dionisio, a 60-year old member of Union of the Masses for Democracy and Justice (UMDJ) suffered this harrowing experience. Dionisio is one of the so-called UMDJ 5 who was arrested on May 22, 2006 without warrant by the intelligence agents on the suspicion they were plotting to destabilize the government. They were released three days after the arrest and various forms of torture took place.
UMDJ 5 experience shows how the military continue to use torture in order to extract information or coerce a confession from victims. This shows torture is an easy way out of an investigation. And what exacerbates more is that torture usually happened right after arrest or abduction like what happened to many political prisoners and ordinary civilians suspected of committing crimes.
Reports and documentation of human rights groups establish the existence of “persistent and widespread use of torture” in the country. Nothing has changed. Although more than thirty years have passed since the Marcos dictatorship was overthrown, the police and the military still use the same torture methods employed during Martial Law. From February 1982 to October 1992, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) recorded a total of 3,171 torture cases. The same group also documented 179 cases during the Ramos administration (1992-1998), and 53 cases during the Estrada administration (1998 to January 2001).

The decreasing trend in the occurrence of political torture from Marcos to Estrada administration was reversed during the present Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government because of its war on terrorism and heightened counter-insurgency strategy. During the period of January 2001 to December 2008, TFDP documented 139 torture cases affecting 285 individuals. What irony to hear the police and the military keep saying that they are “advocates of human rights” while they remain dumb to the human rights violations inflicted on the people they supposed to protect.
While prohibition of the use of torture is enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, there are clear patterns that torture mainly occurs starting from the point of arrest, through interrogation and detention. The period between arrest and presentation of the arrested person before a judicial authority is a period conducive to torture and ill-treatment on the person arrested. It is a well-known fact that most of the persons arrested are subjected to torture and ill-treatment before they were brought to a judicial authority.
We believe that the country’s malfunctioning criminal justice system also strengthens the reigning culture of impunity of which torture is a major component along with extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations. Ironically, this distorted judicial system has increasingly focused on prosecuting the victims of torture instead of the torturers and perpetrators.
Now it becomes even more urgent for the Philippine government to prove to the international human rights community that they are complying with the Convention by enacting anti-torture and anti-enforced disappearance laws and conducting impartial investigation on allegations of torture and hold perpetrators accountable, through competent, independent and impartial prosecutorial and judicial authorities. And not by looking for ways to get more from their hides.
Edeliza P. Hernandez, RN
Executive Director
Medical Action Group
129-D Matatag Street, Barangay Central, 1101 Quezon City
Telephone no. 433-15-94
E-mail address:,
April 28, 2009

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