By Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:06:00 08/09/2010
Filed Under: Torture, Human Rights, Crime and Law and Justice
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga —The nongovernment Medical Action Group (MAG) began here on Sunday a forensic verification on what may be the first set of “medically documented” torture victims under the Aquino administration.
Due for filing at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Monday, the case of Lenin Salas, Rodwin Tala, Jose Gomez, Daniel Navarro and Jerry Simbulan will be the first to test the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 (Republic Act No. 9745) that former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law last year, said MAG spokesperson Edeliza Hernandez.
The five men were detained at the Pampanga provincial jail after the Regional Trial Court Branch 48 issued a writ of amparo on Aug. 4 to Senior Supt. Petronilo Retirado, Pampanga police director; Col. Ernesto Benitez, 703rd Infantry Brigade deputy commander; and Provincial Prosecutor Jesus Manarang.
The court issued the writ, the first in Pampanga based on court records, on the petition of relatives who said they had not seen the five men for almost 18 hours since the police and Army soldiers arrested them at 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 3.
The writ placed the five men and their immediate relatives in the protection of the National Bureau of Investigation, said lawyer Ricardo Sagmit, who represented the relatives.
The five men were arrested on suspicion they were leaders and members of the communist group Rebolusyonaryong Hukbong Bayan, an allegation they denied. The government reported recovering several firearms from the men.
The MAG sent two doctors to examine them.
The acts of torture have been separately documented by the human rights advocacy group Defend-Central Luzon (Defend-CL) and the Commission on Human Rights in fact sheets.
A medico-legal report prepared in Camp Olivas, the regional police headquarters, documented various degrees of bruises, cuts and swelling on different parts of the bodies of the five men, especially on Salas.
Salas said when he asked Supt. Madzgani Mukaram, commander of the police’s provincial public safety company, to respect their rights, the official reportedly replied: “Walang human rights sa amin (There is no such thing as human rights to us).”
“We would kill and bury every one of your contacts in the media and other groups,” Salas quoted Mukaram as saying.
Mukaram denied maltreating Salas and his four companions.
“They might have gotten those [bruises and wounds] during our encounter,” Mukaram told the Inquirer.
He was referring to a clash in nearby Mexico town four days before the arrest of Salas’ group. The five men, he said, were among the nine rebels who fled.
Asked why the relatives, lawyers and reporters had no access to the five men, he said: “We still had follow-up operations. We did not want to jeopardize those.”
Writ of amparo
Mukaram said the writ of amparo had been rendered “moot and academic” because the five men had been presented on Aug. 4 to the provincial prosecutor for investigation.
He said the arrest was legitimate because it was covered by a warrant issued by judge who he did not name.
Salas told CHR investigators that during the supposed torture, his interrogators tried to force him to admit to having committed several killings, including the murder of the brother of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. and two other men in June.
Salas, 29, is a musician-composer. Gomez and Simbulan are construction workers while Tala and Navarro are tricycle drivers who take on occasional farm work.
Hernandez said making government forces accountable for torture has been difficult due to insufficient documentation.
She said the case of the five men was different because their relatives were able to seek immediate help from the CHR and the Defend-CL.