Rights groups: Torture persists under PNoy

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David Lozada | Rappler.com
June 26, 2013

MANILA, Philippines – Torture and illegal detention are still being committed by government forces in the Philippines, and they must be stopped, human rights groups said on the occasion of the United Nations International Day in Support of Torture Victims, June 26.

Around 200 activists and human rights advocates marched from Avenida to Mendiola to protest the Aquino administration’s alleged use of torture to extract information from illegal detainees.

Torture is still prevalent despite the administration’s good governance campaign, according to Karapatan chairperson Marie Hilao-Enriquez, a victim of torture during the Martial Law years.

“No matter how the Aquino government denies the use of torture, state security forces in the Armed Forces of The Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) resort to and apply it to their victims, inside and outside prison,” Enriquez said.

Members of the non-governmental organization Karapatan led the rally attended by militant organizations including Desaparecidos, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and Bayan.

Torture incidents

Citing a few cases, Karapatan and Desaparecidos maintained that torture and enforced disappearances are happening nationwide.

In Quezon City, security guard Rolly Panesa was reportedly mistaken for a top-ranking leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). He was taken to Camp Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna, where he was detained and allegedly tortured.

On February 28, 2012, ten soldiers of the 87th infantry brigade of the Philippine Army (IBPA) in Samar allegedly tortured suspected gun owners Richard Oblino, a 25-year-old farmer, and 16-year-old nephew Orlan.

Meanwhile, Cesar Garganta of Macalelon, Quezon was beaten up for 3 hours by soldiers of the IBPA. The soldiers insisted that Garganta was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Anti-torture law

During the first half of the Aquino administration, Karapatan claimed it has documented 76 incidents of torture. These numbers registered more than half of the 128 recorded cases under former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration, the group said.

Families of Desaparecidos for Justice secretary-general Lorena Santos said that 16 cases of disappearances have been recorded.

“In fact, two incidents of enforced disappearances were reported right after the enactment of the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012,” Santos added.

Enriquez further accused the government of violating its own laws.

“The Anti-Torture Law…has not prevented the government to use torture to extract information from detainees or abducted persons,” she added.

Criminalizing torture

Karapatan and Desaparecidos accused the government of using Oplan Bayanihan, the government’s counter-insurgency program, as a tool to illegally detain suspects.

“The government cannot fool the people by simply dishing out pro-human rights hype in media…Aquino cannot dismiss the torture victims as isolated cases,” Enriquez said.

Rappler tried to get the side of the Palace but still has not gotten a reply as of late Wednesday evening.

The Anti-Torture Law of 2009 was enacted to criminalize torture and other inhuman treatment and punishment of persons. It seeks to eliminate impunity and abuse of power in the Philippines.

The bill took 23 years in the House of Representatives before it was enacted into law.

On December 21, 2012, President Benigno Aquino III signed the Desaparecidos Bill into law, making the Philippines the first country in Asia to have such a legislation. The bill makes the crime of enforced disappearance punishable by life imprisonment.

Filipinos must do their part in condemning and stopping such violations of human rights, Enrique stressed.

“The people must remain ever vigilant of the intensification of fascist attacks by this government just like the struggle the people waged against the fascist attacks of former dictator Marcos,” Enriquez added. –With reports from Mark Demayo/Rappler.com

A letter to Tatay**

Dear Tatay,

I am writing you again a letter that I am not sure if you will be able to read.

I guess I am still writing you, even after six years of your disappearance, for my own comfort. I’d like to think that maybe somehow my message will reach you. I would like to imagine that while reading my letter, you’ll smile and maybe, just maybe, you’ll answer this.

Because I want to tell you that you have a very handsome and healthy grandson. His name is Ron Eliseo. I named him after Nanay, Elizabeth and of course, you, Leo. ELISEO. Do you like his name? Then you’ll probably smile and say, “best name.”

Eliseo just turned one year old this month. You don’t know how much I want you to meet him. I’m sure you’ll fall in love with him, too, like so many of his Titos and Titas do. I hope that he grows up to be as smart, compassionate, humble and as happy as his Lolo Leo.

Yet, it pains me that he does not have the chance to meet you. He could have learned so much from you, like I did.LEO VELASCO

Six years, Tay. Six long years. I have not stopped fighting for justice since then. Together with other families of the desaparecidos, we continue this struggle even if it takes 10, 20, or more years.

I would like to tell you that finally a law criminalizing the act of enforced disappearance was just enacted. Our group, Families of Desaparecidos for Justice, was a part of the committee that wrote its Implementing Rules and Regulations. Families of victims of enforced disappearances can now file a case in court under this act. And because this is considered as continuing crime, those who were disappeared before the enactment of this law who are still missing can still file a case in court.

I can now work for the prosecution of your abductors, Tatay. I can make all of them rot in jail. But how? I don’t know who they are. Witnesses to your abduction are too afraid to be involved. All I know is that you were abducted by the Arroyo government and that this current government is still hiding you.

I do not want keep my hopes high that this law will bring you back home. I know, from what you had taught me, it takes more than an enactment of a law to bring about justice.

I spend this day with pain and sadness because six years ago, the State took you away from us, and we had to live our lives without your hugs, your voice and most of all without you.

I realize, now that I am a parent too, that this society is too violent for Eliseo to grow up in. I cannot bear the idea of him suffering because of the illnesses of this society, yet I know I will not be there to protect him at all times. Like you, I would have to trust that he will learn to have strength and courage to face hardships. And like you and Nanay, we continue to be part of a movement for a real and meaningful change for our children’s and grandchildren’s future. Now I understand the choices you took earlier in life and why you stayed with held on to those principles.

Take care, Tatay.

There is not a day that I didn’t miss you.
Love and kisses,
Aya and Eliseo

**“Tatay” is Leo Velasco, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) who was abducted in Cagayan de Oro City on February 19, 2007, under the Arroyo government. Today, he remains missing, almost three years after Noynoy Aquino assumed presidency. Velasco is among the 11 NDF consultants and staff who were abducted and forcibly disappeared, despite being protected under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees or JASIG signed between the GPH and the NDFP in 1995.



Lorena “Aya” Santos - Secretary General
Contact Number: 09229393824

Statement of Desaparecidos on the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 and its IRR

February 13, 2013

Yesterday, February 12, 2013, Desaparecidos co-signed the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the newly-enacted law called, the “Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.” We participated in the crafting of the IRR, after long years of advocacy and lobby work for the enactment of the law, because we view this engagement as part of the over-all enduring struggle for justice and human rights of victims and relatives, human rights advocates, and the Filipino people.

The Philippine government, through the law, officially recognized the criminal nature of the act of enforced disappearance – that enforced disappearance is a crime against persons, and that the perpetrators should be criminally liable and must be put to jail. Most importantly, the law’s acknowledgement that the said crime can only be perpetuated by State agents is an official admission and recognition that indeed, the State is most responsible in the commission of the crime of enforced disappearance. The law likewise recognizes that it is the State’s responsibility to provide compensation, restitution and rehabilitation to victims of enforced disappearances and their families.

Since Marcos’ Martial Law and the series of administrations after it, including the present Noynoy Aquino government, such crime was and is being committed with impunity, with much brazenness and with full use of government resources against the very people whom government has supposedly sworn to protect.

After thousands of disappearances, anguish and immeasurable pain we bear as we waged a resolute, determined struggle for justice for our loved ones, finally, the country’s recognition of this heinous crime proved us, families of the disappeared who fought and are still fighting, the correctness of our struggle for justice and human rights.

We commend progressive legislators led by Bayan Muna Reps. Teodoro Casiño and Neri Colmenares, and allies in Congress who stood with us against those who tried to deny the State’s responsibility on this heinous crime by twisting the definition of enforced disappearances. Our progressive legislators took a hard stand in asserting that it is the State which has the obligation, authority, and machinery to protect the rights of its people.

But by using these machinery and authority to commit enforced disappearance to maintain the powers-that-be, the gravity of this act is incomparably heavier than those who committed the same but are private civilians or non-state agents. It is well that these sound and grounded arguments prevailed over those of some legislators posturing as human rights crusaders who would have wanted to dilute the State’s role and responsibility and defeat the whole purpose and principle of the measure.

Our organization, Desaparecidos, is determined to stand for this principle: that enforced disappearances is a systematic act and is perpetrated by State actors.

Another notable positive provision of the law is the cognizance of the use of the Order of Battle (OB) lists that have been made to justify enforced disappearances. Although the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has denied its existence, the Order of Battle has become a hitlist of persons to be “neutralized” by different battalions in far flung provinces. Many of those whose names were in the OB have been victims of extrajudicial killings and/or enforced disappearances. The law considers the use of the OB as unlawful.

However, we note the provisions of the law and the IRR, and the process by which these were crafted, that we find questionable and reprehensible such as the following:

  • The presence and participation of the representatives of the AFP and the Philippine National Police in the meetings of the committee that was tasked to draft the IRR is an irregular, questionable, and insensitive practice. Representatives of Desaparecidos questioned their personality in the said meetings, as they were not mandated in the law, and their participation in the meetings is not crucial for the drafting of the IRR. Moreover, it undermines the spirit of the law as it clearly should hold in primary consideration the rights and welfare of the victims and their relatives.

In the meetings for the drafting of the IRR, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, through its Human Rights Office Director Gen. Domingo Tutaan, tried to twist the definitions of crucial terms such as “enforced disappearance” and “command responsibility.”

The AFP also insisted on lengthening the number of hours before they are to provide immediate certification to human rights organizations, Commission on Human Rights, or relatives of the disappeared whether the military has a disappeared person in their custody.

The AFP likewise remains malicious as to who they give access to their camps in situations of search operations invoking the “national security” issue.

  • In the law, and as reflected in the IRR, it is stated that any person, not being a principal, accomplice or accessory, who has or shall learn of any information about any incident or case of enforced or involuntary disappearance, has the duty to report to human rights organizations, relatives of the victims and government agencies.

However, as much as we want to be enlightened on the whereabouts of our disappeared loved ones, we find it inappropriate to consider person/s who may not be able to fulfil such duties for fear of reprisal; this does not provide an enabling environment for the witnesses or whistleblowers to come out later and report because of the penal provisions. Penalties should be rightfully imposed to those state agents who have such kind of information and failed to report it.

  • The law also effectively disregards the need to provide restitution of honor and reputation to victims of enforced disappearances who remain missing and who may later on be found dead, as it only provides such for victims who surface alive. While compensation is provided for the victims who remain missing or who are found dead and their relatives, it denies them a crucial component of justice that is restitution.

On the whole, Desaparecidos welcomes the new law and the IRR with guarded optimism, for while the long overdue enactment of the law is an important, albeit small victory, we believe that the struggle for justice and genuine protection and realization of human rights goes beyond working for enactment and enforcement of laws.

As long as repressive and anti-people counter-insurgency programs such as Oplan Bayanihan exist, the rights of the poor and marginalized are trampled upon, and dissenting voices are silenced, our struggle for justice and human rights will continue, as we look forward to the day without enforced disappearances and other forms of injustice. 

References:   Concepcion Empeño, Chairperson, 0928-2884623
              Aya Santos, Secretary General, 0922-9393824