AHRC-ETC-015-2011,May 23, 2011,
Torture in the Philippines & the unfulfilled promise of the 1987 Constitution
OVERVIEW: The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is publishing from today interviews conducted with victims of torture. This series of interviews will discuss, not only about how torture victims suffers while in the custody of the security forces, but the real obstacles in pursuing legal remedies within the system of justice.
Apart from torture victims themselves, the interviews will also include the families of the victims, human rights defenders and legal practitioners, who are helping torture victims–not only in pursuing the prosecution of cases in court–but also for their treatment and rehabilitation from the trauma that they experienced.
Interview 1: “My experience frightens other farmers”
In this first interview, a torture victim who led a farmer organisation speaks about his and his colleagues’ experience of torture while in police custody. Upon his request, we are withholding his personal identity and other details for his safety. This is the unofficial translation of his interview done in Filipino:
Victim: I am 67 years old, married, and had three children and five grandchildren. I was arrested in August 30, 2007 and taken to the Camp Vicente Lim. They blindfolded and tied my hands.
For 36 hours, I was not given water to drink and food to eat. I only had food on the third day of my detention with the help of my lawyer. I was lucky because my colleagues were so quick in locating me after I was arrested.
When I was in police custody, I was tortured physically, psychologically and also threatened with death. Most of the time, they (the perpetrators) assaulted me. They hit my chest hard if I refused to answer their question; they also threaten to harm my family if I refused to confess to them the ‘truth’ that they want me to confess.
I believe that what the police and the military are doing in the way of torture is a criminal offense because they are using torture to force a person to admit to a crime that they did not commit. They usually torture activists and peasant leaders. Even in other organisations, if their colleagues are unable to respond quickly to locate their colleagues following his arrest, most of them would disappear; others, their bodies would only be found elsewhere.
In my case, had my colleagues failed to respond to quickly, I could have also been dead at this time.
Q: Could you elaborate more about how you were physically tortured?
Victim: They punched my chest hard once.
Q: What question they usually asked from you?
Victim: They were asking whether I am a communist, if I am a member of the New People’s Army (NPA). I denied all their allegations. I know that I am only a leader of a farmer’s organization.
Q: Could you tell us more about the threats on your family?
Victim: They told me they would make trouble with my family. They told me they will also arrest them. They told me many (other) things. Even on the last night of my detention, they made noise on purpose by shaking the padlock of my detention cell. I heard them saying: “we will take that elderly person and kill him (ung matandang nandiyan dukutin natin at atin ng patayin)”.
That is what they did to me. They really did it on purpose for me to hear. I had to awake my fellow detainees when I hear it. But had it happened (being taken out his cell) I would definitely make noise to draw the attention of my colleagues.
Q: How about on your first day of detention, what else did they do to you while you were blindfolded?
Victim: Many things. They told me they kill me in lieu of a farmer leader that they were not able to kill. That was what they did to me. While I was blindfolded, they shone the flashlight on purpose to my eyes. What I could see is a very bright light. That is what they did to me; again they repeatedly told me that they would kill me because they were not able to kill that leader. They said that said since I am a leader, they would also kill me.
I think it was early dawn (because I could hear a crowing chicken). When I was blindfolded, I heard a child crying. They told me, when I heard the child crying, that: “you see, you’re the father of this child”. When I heard this, and after they (supposedly told the child) that I was there, the child cried even more. I was really extremely frightened because I thought that they had already taken my whole family with them. I thought of this because at first they told me that they would also take my family. I was really extremely frightened at that time. I thought the one who was crying was my grandchild.
After I was release from their custody, I was traumatized due to this experience.
Q: Did you know whether the one crying was a boy or a girl?
Victim: I was certain it was a child. But I thought it was pre-recorded and they played it to frighten me even more.
Q: Could you tell us what trauma you have experienced?
Victim: Every time I hear a loud noise, for example battle scenes; or I see a person wearing military uniform on television, I ask someone else to turn it off. That was the fear that I had experienced. But now I think I have recovered.
Q: After you were abducted, torture, falsely prosecuted in court and after having your case dismissed, how do you feel now? How did you get on with your family members and with the farmers as well?
Victim: In terms of my family, I did not have a problem. But it is more of my own fear, my experience which also created fear amongst the farmers’ organisation (in my community) that they (some of his colleagues) were already refusing to let me enter in their homes unlike before that they were very accommodating. They were frightened that what had happened to me could also be done to them. That was the effect on me and for my work.
Q: After the incident, was your life ever normal again like what it used to be? Were you still able to do things that you usually did before you were arrested and tortured?
Victim: Not anymore! I was not able to return to our homes for over a year. I had to live in somebody else’s houses. I choose not to return home until I was finally exonerated from the false charges. In those days, I lived in fear and had to be in hiding.
Q: Could you tell us your opinion about the torture that you have experienced? About what the police and the military had done to you?
Victim: I thought it (torture) was a doing of criminals. Firstly, because they forced me to admit to an offense I did not really commit. They hurt you to force you to admit whatever allegations they would have on you.
Q: Now that we already have a law against Torture, what is your opinion on this?
Victim: I think it would be better if the law would be strictly implemented. But if the law is not be implemented it is also meaningless. I think there should be an effective implementation of the law, if there is really such a law.
Q: What do you mean about how to implement the law?
Victim: I mean the government must implement it because it is also the government (and those who are in the government) who violate this law.
Q: If you would be given a choice, had the torture on you happened when the law took effect, would you be willing to file a case in court?
Victim: Perhaps not anymore.
A: In my experience, of course you can file a case in court if there are violations, but until I can see that something really happens to these cases in court, it would not be able to convince myself to pursue my case. I must see that someone could be punished first. I’m not sure if you have seen on television about the torture video case of (Darius Evangelista). Were the policemen involved punished?
Q: Do you have any further message to victims of torture like you, to the Philippine government after the Anti-Torture Act have been enacted?
Victim: To my colleagues, that they should continue their work with caution. They should show to others that there is nothing wrong in what they do; and that what the police do in illegally arresting person is wrong. They (the police) have no proof that those persons whom they are arresting had committed wrongdoings, but they still continue to arrest them. And those in the government, they should implement the law in real sense and they should not punish persons that they are not sure had committed wrong doing.
Q: How about a message to victims of torture?
Victim: This is just a test on them as (human rights and political activists) leaders. We have already expected this to happen to us and it does happen. As long as those in the government do not serve us in real sense, this will continue to happen. We should continue to take precautions always.
The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
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