‘Probe gov’t inaction on torture, killings’

Ayee Macaraig
Santiago calls on the Senate to investigate reports of government inaction on torture and extra-judicial killings

‘WHEEL OF TORTURE.’ Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago calls on the Senate to investigate reports of government inaction on torture and extra-judicial killings. Photo courtesy: CHR/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Even before the so-called police “wheel of torture” hit international headlines, lawmakers called for an investigation into government inaction in torture cases.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago filed a resolution urging the Senate to look into reports that the government “lacks meaningful action” to end impunity.

In the resolution she filed on January 23, Santiago cited New York-based Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2014 that demanded government action on the country’s “entrenched rights problem.”

“Congress should prioritize passing legislation ensuring the safety of every Filipino from falling victim to extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances,” Santiago said in Senate Resolution 464.

Santiago noted that these human rights violations remain rampant “despite numerous resolutions and investigations from both houses of Congress.” Congress also passed the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act in 2012.

“[These violations are] made more worrisome not by reports from the media but the possible number of cases that remain unreported to this day,” she said.

Senate justice and human rights committee chairman Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said he will prioritize the investigation. 

“I will schedule a committee hearing or series of hearings on this issue, and find out why this illegal practice has persisted,” Pimentel said. 

In its report, Human Rights Watch said the so-called “superbody” the government created in 2012 to expedite the investigation and prosecution of cases of extrajudicial killings remained inactive in 2013 even as domestic human rights groups reported new cases.

President Benigno Aquino III created the Inter-Agency Committee on Extrajudicial Killings and Human Rights composed of the departments of justice, interior and local government, and defense, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police (PNP) and other agencies.

Human Rights Watch said 12 journalists were killed in 2013, bringing to 26 the number of journalists killed under the Aquino administration. In only 6 of these 24 cases have police arrested suspects.

The group said convictions were secured in only two cases – the killing of radio commentator and environmentalist Gerry Ortega in 2011, and journalist Rowell Endrinal in 2004. Still, the masterminds remained at large.

Human Rights Watch also pointed to the torture and use of human shields that occurred during the September 2013 Zamboanga siege.

“The Aquino administration has said all the right things about ending abuses in the Philippines, but what’s missing is the political will to translate those promises into action,” said Phelim Kline, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch

‘Despicable, abhorrent’

Just days after Santiago’s resolution, another international rights group Amnesty International condemned police’s torture of inmates “for fun” using a so-called “wheel of torture” in a secret cell in Biñan, Laguna.

These reports prompted Senate public order committee chairperson Grace Poe to back Santiago’s resolution.

“I will support any investigation on existing practices of torture and extra-judicial killings, especially if perpetrated by state authorities. What I envision is the enhancement of the capabilities of the police force in preventing and/or solving crimes without violating human rights,” Poe told Rappler.

Poe said the report highlights the need for police reforms, focusing on training, continuing education, and swift justice for victims of abuse. 

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) discovered the “torture roulette” table during a routine visit to the police facility in Laguna. Police officers spun the wheel to choose forms of torture to extract information from detainees and “for fun.”

The discovery led to global condemnation.

“For police officers to use torture ‘for fun’ is despicable. These are abhorrent acts. Suspending officers is not enough. Errant police personnel and their commanding officers should be held accountable in a court of law,” said Hazel Galang-Folli, Amnesty International’s Philippines Researcher. – Rappler.com