MANILA, Philippines – An alliance of organizations against torture appealed yesterday to the government to declare a policy of “total elimination” of acts of torture in the country in the wake of the concluding observations of the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), which pressed for the enactment of the Anti-Torture Bill.
The United Against Torture Coalition (UATC) Philippines and Joint Civil Society Report on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in the Philippines, which is composed of several local and international human rights groups, also urged the Philippine government to take all necessary measures to implement the recommendations of the UN body.
The groups expressed concern over the government’s alleged penchant of not complying with its obligation and commitment to the international human rights conventions, citing for instance the Philippines’ second periodic report on the implementation of the provisions of the UN against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was submitted 16 years late.
“The government must focus its attention to take all necessary actions on the implementation of UN Committee Observations and refrain from making excuses on its clear neglect of duty and obligation to the international human rights conventions,” the groups said in a statement.
According to the groups, the government must prove to the international community that they are complying with the provisions of the Convention by enacting House Bill 5709 and Senate Bill 1978, otherwise known as Anti-Torture Bills, and ratifying as soon as possible the Optional Protocol Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
They likewise said that it is equally important for the government to educate the public as well as law enforcement agencies, including all members of the judiciary and prosecutors, on the UN Committee Concluding Observations.
They added that law enforcers must also be given training on the absolute prohibition of torture.
“The follow-up and continuity of the process is therefore a crucial component of effective measures in ensuring that the Concluding Observations are promptly and effectively implemented by the government,” the groups noted.
“The UN Committee Concluding Observations should be used as a tool to lobby the Congress and the Executive Department on specific reforms such as certify as an urgent legislation the passage of Anti-Torture Bills and to enter into a dialogue with relevant government agencies aimed at discussing and mapping out plans of action to implement those observations on the elimination of torture in the country,” they also said.
The UN body dealing with cases of torture has recently urged the Philippine government to enact “as soon as possible” the Anti-Torture Bill, as it raised concern that the government has not incorporated yet into a national law the crime of torture as defined in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The UNCAT also said that it is “deeply concerned” about reports on “numerous, ongoing, credible and consistent allegations” of torture incidents, which were corroborated by a number of Filipino and international sources.
The UNCAT described the alleged incidence of torture in the country as “routine and widespread” that includes ill-treatment of suspects under police custody, which usually reportedly occurs when authorities extract confessions or information from them to be used in criminal proceedings.
Moreover, the UNCAT said that legal safeguards for detainees are “insufficient” despite the enactment of the Law on the Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained or under Custodial Investigation (RA 7438).
The UNCAT noted that there is failure to bring detainees promptly before a judge, thus keeping them in prolonged police custody; absence of systematic registration of all detainees, including minors, and failure to keep records of all periods of pretrial detention; restricted access to lawyers and independent doctors and failure to notify detainees of their rights at the time of detention, including their rights to contact family members.
The observations and recommendations of the UNCAT came notwithstanding the assurances provided by the Philippine government, which reported to the UN body in April, that “torture or ill-treatment on suspects or detainees is not tolerated or condoned by the Philippine National Police and that erring PNP personnel are dealt with accordingly.”
The Philippine government likewise told the UN Committee that the country’s Revised Penal Code (RPC) guarantees that all acts of torture are classified as criminal offenses with corresponding penalties under Philippine laws.
(Source: Philippine Star, Philstar.com