PHILIPPINES: “Wheel of torture” symbolizes culture of torture impunity in the Philippines

The existence of “wheel of torture” game at a Philippine National Police (PNP) detention facility in Biñan, Laguna where detainees are reportedly tortured by authorities and its discovery by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP) last week only shows of what it seems everywhere before you is a sight of impunity.
The United Against Torture Coalition (UATC)-Philippines, while noting the action by the CHRP in its inspection of the PNP lock-up cell in Laguna, is deeply concerned on the existence of such detention facility which only confirms the consistent and on-going allegations of routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody.
In light of this situation, the government and even the CHRP seemed to have overlooked one thing: zero-tolerance of torture and full implementation of the Anti-Torture Law. More importantly, the discovery of the secret detention facility has further set the stage of existing culture of torture impunity in the Philippines.
The UATC- Philippines stressed that this lamentable situation reinforces the need for a more systematic and diligent implementation of the Anti-Torture Law to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice, that torture survivors receive medical and legal services and other forms of redress, and that the authorities and the public are made aware of such practices in order to ensure zero-tolerance of torture.
When all we have to go by to measure the effects of authorities’ periodic boasting of “zero-tolerance” of torture and other forms of human rights violations, one must be doubtful about this message when one considers the existence of “wheel of torture” and secret detention facility. Likewise, one wonders in light of this if the policy of “zero tolerance” is just all for show to draw away the attention of the public and international community of the government’s failure to eliminate torture in the country.
The existence of secret detention facility indicates the government’s reluctance to ensure full implementation of the Anti-Torture Law. In this case, the CHRP should carry out random inspection of police station lock-up cells and conduct unannounced inspection of all detention facilities as mandated by law and ensure implementation of the PNP Memorandum-Directive of 4 November 2008 concerning inspection of lock-cells.
The UATC- Philippines emphasized that “suspension and dismissal of from service of the 10 suspected torturers are not enough. Cases should be filed against the alleged perpetrators under the Anti-Torture Law and prosecute perpetrators.”
The adoption of the Anti-Torture Law in 2009 is a significant improvement to the legal environment in torture prevention in the Philippines. However, four years since the law took effect the number of cases brought to court against perpetrators remains a drop in the bucket.
The experiences of members of the UATC- Philippines and other human rights groups from documented torture cases e.g. Lenin Salas et al., Ronnel Victor R. Cabais and Abdul-Khan Ajid, provides valuable information on some of the obstacles faced by the authorities in implementing the Anti-Torture Law. While some of the problems appear to be systemic others differ from case to case. The main obstacles identified by the UATC- Philippines are: delayed and ineffective investigations; problems in identifying and locating perpetrators; access to prompt, thorough, impartial and independent medical evaluation; and the risk of reprisals against victims, witnesses and investigators.
These problems are highlighted when one looks at the practical situation on the grounds where there is lack of effective monitoring and reporting of cases of torture cases and the lack of competence of authorities to effectively investigate and prosecute these cases.
While the UATC- Philippines recognizes the number of policy actions which the government had undertaken such as the enactment of the Anti-Torture Law and the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), but none of these measures stands alone which requires changes need to be made both at the legal and political levels in order for the proper mechanism to be in place to prevent torture and for survivors to even begin their pursuit of justice.
The UATC- Philippines urges the CHRP to immediately convene the Oversight Committee (as mandated by the Anti-Torture Law, Sec.20) in order to initiate reform in ensuring effective implementation of the Anti-Torture Law, and to take all necessary measures to implement its visitation mandate which include unhampered and unrestrained access to all PNP detention facilities, including those under the jurisdiction of the military.
The UATC- Philippines calls on the PNP to fully comply with the Anti-Torture Law and to comply with its “zero-tolerance” policy on the use of torture among all its rank and file, and conduct inventory and inspection of all PNP custodial facilities from regional, provincial, city to municipal police units and lock-up cells nationwide.
The UATC- Philippines is composed of more than thirty (30) human rights organizations led by Amnesty International-Philippines, Balay Rehabilitation Center, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), Medical Action Group (MAG), and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP).