Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Torture Club

By Siesta-friendly

Boy George! The Philippine military just can’t stop! Now a Filipino-American has accused them of abducting and torturing her.

Now why would someone lie about our military torturing her? What would she gain by going public – international even – with her allegations? Everyone knows what a cruel dictatorship can do, why risk its wrath?

Let’s say we forget about her story for the moment and see what others have said in the past.

2007 Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions[1]

“Since 2001 the number of politically motivated killings … has been high and the death toll has mounted steadily. These killings have eliminated civil society leaders, including human rights defenders, trade unionists, and land reform advocates, as well as many others on the left of the political spectrum … those killed appear to have been carefully selected and intentionally targeted. The aim has been to intimidate a much larger number of civil society actors, many of whom have … been placed on notice that the same fate awaits them if they continue their activism.”

The report was made by the UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) after visiting the country, interviewing “key Government officials, including the President, the Cabinet Secretary [sic], the Secretaries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Defense, and the National Security Adviser … the Chief Justice, the Ombudsman, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission … and with numerous members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and of the Philippines [sic] National Police (PNP) … many civil society representatives from across the political spectrum … witnesses to 57 incidents involving 96 extrajudicial executions … and, reviewing “detailed dossiers regarding 271 extrajudicial executions.”

It’s significant to note that the UNSR reckons 2001 as the beginning of the rise in extrajudicial killings. It’s the same year Gloria Arroyo assumed the presidency.

In his report, the UNSR tracked the history behind most extrajudicial killings and found its beginnings with the counter-insurgency activities of the AFP against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the latter’s military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA), and civic arm, the National Democratic Front (NDF). He found that “victims have disproportionately belonged to organizations that are members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), … or that are otherwise associated with the “national democratic” ideology also espoused by the CPP/NPA/NDF”.

The UNSR found that due to its nationwide presence, the CPP/NPA/NDF have been deemed by the AFP as the biggest threat to national security. Never mind that communism has proven a failure worldwide or that the evidence against the victims are flimsy. The AFP’s strategy is to dismantle what they consider communist “fronts” regardless of whether they are actual communist fronts or communist at all. Whether it means scaring, torturing, raping or murdering people, the AFP doesn’t seem to care.

“There is impunity for extrajudicial executions” claims the UNSR. He determined that:

  • the establishment of the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) whose “central purpose is to prosecute and punish members of the CPP and its purported front groups”,
  • the PNP’s “fear [or] tacit understanding that crimes by the AFP should not be investigated [or] the personal bonds felt among senior AFP and PNP officers, and the solidarity fostered by current cooperation in counterinsurgency operations”,
  • the fact that the “Ombudsman’s office has done almost nothing in recent years to investigate the involvement of Government officials in extrajudicial executions”,
  • the slowness of the justice system,
  • the fact that the “executive branch has stymied the legislature’s efforts to oversee the execution of laws” (especially by claiming executive privilege to prevent any investigation of military officers), and,
  • the legislature’s failure “to exercise its constitutional authority to block the promotion of military officers implicated in human rights abuse”,

all conspire to leave extrajudicial executioners virtually untouchable.

The Manalo Brothers’ Writ of Amparo

The first ever petition for a writ of amparo was filed inevitably against the government (against not just one or a group of officials or one department but many, leaving little room to doubt the government-wide policy on extrajudicial punishment). We know of no petition to date ever filed against a private individual. Makes sense really since the rule on the writ of amparo was made precisely to address the rising number of desaparecidos and extrajudicial killings.

The Supreme Court decision on the petition is replete with accounts of abduction, torture, rape and murder. But don’t take our word for it, here are excerpts of brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo’s court testimonies after their escape from military detention:

“The next day, Raymond’s chains were removed and he was ordered to clean outside the barracks. It was then he learned that he was in a detachment of the Rangers. There were many soldiers, hundreds of them were training. He was also ordered to clean inside the barracks. In one of the rooms therein, he met Sherlyn Cadapan from Laguna. She told him that she was a student of the University of the Philippines and was abducted in Hagonoy, Bulacan. She confided that she had been subjected to severe torture and raped. She was crying and longing to go home and be with her parents.


On November 22, 2006, respondents, along with Sherlyn, Karen, and Manuel [Merino], were transferred to a camp of the 24th Infantry Battalion in Limay, Bataan. There were many huts in the camp. They stayed in that camp until May 8, 2007. Some soldiers of the battalion stayed with them. While there, battalion soldiers whom Raymond knew as “Mar” and “Billy” beat him up and hit him in the stomach with their guns. Sherlyn and Karen also suffered enormous torture in the camp. They were all made to clean, cook, and help in raising livestock.”


Raymond narrated what he witnessed and experienced in the camp, viz:

Isang gabi, sinabihan kami ni Donald (Caigas) na matulog na kami. Nakita ko si Donald na inaayos ang kanyang baril, at nilagyan ng silenser. Sabi ni Donald na kung mayroon man kaming makita o marinig, walang nangyari. Kinaumagahan, nakita naming ang bangkay ng isa sa mga bihag na dinala sa kampo. Mayroong binuhos sa kanyang katawan at ito’y sinunog. Masansang ang amoy.

Makaraan ang isang lingo, dalawang bangkay and ibinaba ng mga unipormadong sundalo mula sa 6 x 6 na trak at dinala sa loob ng kampo. May naiwang mga bakas ng dugo habang hinihila nila ang mga bangkay. Naamoy ko iyon nang nililinis ang bakas.

Makalipas ang isa o dalawang lingo, may dinukot sila na dalawang Ita. Itinali sila sa labas ng kubo, piniringan, ikinadena at labis na binugbog. Nakita kong nakatakas ang isa sa kanila at binaril siya ng sundalo ngunit hindi siya tinamaan. Iyong gabi nakita kong pinatay nila iyong isang Ita malapit sa Post 3; sinilaban ang bangkay at ibinaon ito.

Pagkalipas ng halos 1 buwan, 2 pang bangkay ang dinala sa kampo. Ibinaba ang mga bangkay mula sa pick up trak, dinala ang mga bangkay sa labas ng bakod. Kinaumagahan nakita kong mayroong sinilaban, at napakamasangsang ang amoy.

May nakilala rin akong 1 retiradong koronel at 1 kasama niya. Pinakain ko sila. Sabi nila sa akin na dinukot sila sa Bataan. Iyong gabi, inilabas sila at hindi ko na sila nakita.

xxx xxx xxx

Ikinadena kami ng 3 araw. Sa ikatlong araw, nilabas ni Lat si Manuel dahil kakausapin daw siya ni Gen. Palparan. Nakapiring si Manuel, wala siyang suot pang-itaas, pinosasan. Nilakasan ng mga sundalo ang tunog na galing sa istiryo ng sasakyan. Di nagtagal, narinig ko ang hiyaw o ungol ni Manuel. Sumilip ako sa isang haligi ng kamalig at nakita kong sinisilaban si Manuel.

Kinaumagahan, naka-kadena pa kami. Tinanggal ang mga kadena mga 3 o 4 na araw pagkalipas. Sinabi sa amin na kaya kami nakakadena ay dahil pinagdedesisyunan pa ng mga sundalo kung papatayin kami o hindi.

Tinanggal ang aming kadena. Kinausap kami ni Donald. Tinanong kami kung ano ang sabi ni Manuel sa amin. Sabi ni Donald huwag na raw naming hanapin ang dalawang babae at si Manuel, dahil magkakasama na yung tatlo. Sabi pa ni Donald na kami ni Reynaldo ay magbagong buhay at ituloy namin ni Reynaldo ang trabaho. Sa gabi, hindi na kami kinakadena.”[2]

There’s so much more to the Manalo brothers’ ordeal and a reading of the complete SC decision is highly recommended just to have an idea of what they went through or what others may have gone through but are no longer able to tell their tales. The above accounts even barely discuss the role of The Butcher (as he is popularly known), now Congressman (Ret. Major-General) Jovito Palparan. There’s more about the congressman in the lengthy case decision. Although he really does deserve a case (or more) of his own.

2009 Observations of the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT)

The Philippines is a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[3] This April 2009, the UNCAT listed the following concerns in its “Consideration Of Reports Submitted By States Parties Under Article 19 Of The Convention”:[4]

“7. Notwithstanding the assurances provided by the [Philippines] to the Committee that “torture or ill-treatment on suspects or detainees is not tolerated or condoned by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and that erring PNP personnel are dealt with accordingly”, the Committee is deeply concerned about the numerous, ongoing, credible and consistent allegations, corroborated by a number of Filipino and international sources, of routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody, especially to extract confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings …


9. ... The Committee reiterates its grave concerns over the climate of impunity for perpetrators of acts of torture, including military, police and other State officials, particularly those holding senior positions that are alleged to have planned, commanded or perpetrated acts of torture …

10. … the [Philippines] has not incorporated into national law the crime of torture as defined in article 1 of the Convention. While noting information provided as to the recent passage of the Anti-Torture Bill in the House of Representatives, the Committee is concerned at the delay in legislating on this matter…

11. The Committee is deeply concerned about the de facto practice of detention of suspects by the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in detention centers, safe houses and military camps. Although authorities are required to file charges within 12 to 36 hours of arrests made without warrants … lengthy pretrial detention remains a problem, due to the slow judicial process. The use of arrests without warrants is reportedly extensive, and criminal suspects are at risk of torture and ill-treatment …

15. … the Committee is concerned at the high number of complaints of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, the limited number of investigations carried out by the State party in such cases, and the very limited number of convictions in those cases which are investigated. Additionally, these bodies lack independence to review individual complaints about police and military misconduct.


And these findings were just this April when the government first made its report to the UNCAT, 16 years late as the UNCAT noted.

Extrajudicial Punishment and Culture of Impunity

Why the culture of torture and impunity? Well, there’s apparent unprofessionalism in the military leadership and among its ranks. The military seems to focus on a dying and shrinking group of ideologues. The CPP/NPA/NDF members are likely just fighting poverty and oppression like most Filipinos. It is communism that may be the ‘front’ not the other way around. But the ‘communists’ seem to be the easy targets. Those tagged as ‘communists’ or ‘leftists’ are usually peasant farmers and laborers, you know, the common folk.

Why don’t we hear of suspected Abu Sayyaf detainees? There are bombings and kidnappings regularly linked to them. Could it be that the Muslim extremists are the real menace to peace and order and, therefore, more difficult to fight?

Next, the government is beholden to the military. It continuously needs the military to crush any budding people power revolution against its regular excesses (not to mention Arroyo’s gratitude for the military support she got in order to grab power in the first place).

So, after reading the above accounts and findings, who can still believe that Fil-Am Melissa Roxas is lying about her allegations of abduction and torture? We’ve long needed some impetus to pry us from our jadedness towards the government and its military’s abuses. Is the time now? Or will we continue our fatalism and just pray for their karma, karma, karma …

As Melissa Roxas has complained to her own government, it does seem ironic that we could be looking towards the U.S. to help rein in our military. The Americans’ policy of extraordinary rendition as well as practices at Abu-Ghraib and Guantanamo are quite known. Who knows? Our military might just end up being welcomed to the club.

[1] U.N. General Assembly. Human Rights Council, Eighth Session. Promotion And Protection Of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social And Cultural Rights, Including The Right To Development: Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,

Philip Alston (A/HRC/8/3/Add.2). 16 April 2008.

[2] The Secretary of National Defense, et al. vs. Manalo, G.R. No. 180906, October 7, 2008.

[3] Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (adopted 10 December 1984, entered into force 26 June 1987) 1465 UNTS 85.

[4] Committee against Torture, Forty-second session. Consideration Of Reports Submitted By States Parties Under Article 19 Of The Convention: Concluding observations of the Committee against Torture (CAT/C/PHL/CO/2). 14 May 2009.


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