A LONG OVERDUE REPORT: A long list of Failures to Respect, Protect and Fulfill
April 27 to 29, 2009 will be the time for the Philippine government to submit its overdue report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. The Philippine Report covers the period from June 1989 to June 2007, seventeen (17) years late, a clear neglect of State obligations under Article 19 paragraph 1 of the Convention Against Torture (CAT).
After 17 years of backlog the government will be submitting their long tale of lies and parables to the United Nations.
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 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.
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 were subjected to torture and ill-treatment before they were brought to a judicial authority. Hence the need for necessary protection to the arrested person during this stage is considered to be crucial to prevent torture and ill-treatment.
The widespread and systematic use of torture in the Philippines could be mainly attributed to the unwillingness of the government to protect, promote, and fulfill the provisions stipulated under the CAT.
The government’s dereliction of its obligations under the CAT could be seen primarily through its failure to enact a law criminalizing acts of torture. As a result, torture perpetrators have to be charged with lesser crimes under the Revised Penal Code (RPC) such as maltreatment, mutilation, physical injuries, administering injurious substances or beverages, grave coercion and/or violation of RA 7438. This situation contravenes the CAT because the Committee emphasized that in comparison to torture, ill-treatment differs in the severity of pain and suffering; consequently, it would be a violation of the Convention to prosecute conduct solely as ill-treatments where elements of torture are also present.
Worse, the government itself through its counter-insurgency campaign, war on terrorism and dysfunctional administration of criminal justice system has further set the stage for the culture of torture and impunity in the Philippines to persist.
The SC upheld the 26 December 2007 decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) which granted the privilege of the writ of amparo to brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo who escaped from their abductors after 18 months of detention. Dr. Benito Molino of MAG, the examining physician, prepared a written report on his findings. The report described the ordeal suffered by the two, their present complaints, physical findings, remarks and recommendations. It being well-nigh obvious from the testimonies of Manalo brothers they were tortured by military officials, at the acquiescence of retired Army General Jovito Palparan, Jr., former chief of the Army’s 7th Infantry Division.
The Philippines has ratified major international human rights instruments that in one form or the other prohibit the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment. As a State Party to the CAT, the Philippines commits itself to ensure that under its criminal law all acts of torture, at any stage of commission, are offense punishable by appropriate law. The CAT establishes a regime of absolute prohibition on torture under any circumstances. Prohibition of torture is “absolute and non-derogable” and “no exceptional circumstances” whatsoever may be invoked by a State to justify acts of torture as stated by the CAT. Given these, the Philippines as a State Party is in breach of its duties and obligations under the CAT. It must take expeditious and decisive steps to correct this situation beginning with the passage of legislations criminalizing torture and invoking command responsibility of superior officers for the acts of their subordinates.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT:
The Philippine civil society, in the spirit of helping improve State Party compliance with the CAT and defending the rights of the citizens to be free from torture, submitted 21 recommendations to the Philippine Government through the UN Committee Against Torture. Some of these are:
a. To enact a law criminalizing acts of torture in accordance with the provisions of the CAT, criminalizing enforced disappearance; and imposing severe penalties on perpetrators;
b. To immediately ratify and effectively implement the Optional Protocol Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT);
c. To ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance;
d. To strengthen the Witness Protection Program under the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act (RA 6981) that will guarantee the safety of witnesses to torture incidents and other human rights violations. The government must give the highest priority to the funding of said program;
e. To repeal the Human Security Act of 2007 (RA 9372) as it authorizes preventive detention, expands the power of warrantless arrest and violates other basic constitutional rights;
f. To amend the Philippine National Police Law (RA 6995 or PNP Law) to ensure thorough and impartial investigation by an independent body of police officers accused of committing human rights violations;
g. To enact a law strengthening the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) with respect to its acquisition of quasi-judicial powers, enhanced investigative authority, other ancillary capacities, full-operational autonomy and independent nomination procedures in order to increase its ability to promote and protect human rights and improve its compliance to the Paris Principles;
h. To ensure that all reports and complaints of torture against the police and military are investigated promptly, impartially and effectively, there must be a body independent from the PNP and the AFP who will conduct the investigation;
Until this government undertakes to implement these recommendations, torture and the culture of impunity will persist. This government can break free from the culture of impunity by decisively bringing perpetrators before the bars of justice. It can very well begin by filing cases against the notorious butcher of human rights activists and defenders, Jovito Palparan.