The Use of Torture in the Philippines
What is Torture?
The term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for ant reason based on discrimination on any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Article 1, UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)
Torture is abhorrent. Torture is illegal. Yet torture is inflicted on men, women and children in the Philippines and well over half the countries around the world.
Despite the universal condemnation of torture, it is still used to extract confession, to interrogate, to punish or to intimidate. In police stations and prison cells, on city streets and remote villages, torturers continue to inflict physical agony and mental anguish. Their cruelty kills, maims, and leaves scars on the body and mind that last a lifetime.
The victims of torture are not just people in the hands of the tortureers. Friends, families and the wider community all suffer. Torture even damages and distorts the hope of future generations.
Methods of Torture
Despite international and domestic legal safeguards, torture in the Philippines continues to be a widespread practice. Over the past three decades the consistency of the specific techniques of torture has been marked:
Placing a plastic bag over the head and holding it tightly at the back to induce suffocation (known as “dry submarine” or “sinupot”)
Giving electro-shocks either directly onto the skin, or with water poured over the body and bare electric wires touched against the genitals, lips, ears, arms or legs.
Placing or tying a cloth over the face and pouring or dripping water over the cloth to induce gradual suffocation (known as “water cure”) while interrogators stand or place weight on the stomach. Water is also poured directly into the nostrils or mouth, or the head forced down toilet bowls or into water containers.
Assault, including being punched with fists (at times with bullets held between the interrogator’s fingers), beaten with rifle-butts or batons wrapped in newspaper or other material (known as “mauling”) concentrated in the stomach area, which tends not to leave any visible bruising.
Burning the skin (including the lips, nipples and ears) with cigarettes.
Forcing the suspect to drink urine, stagnant water, etc.
Placing chili peppers on the suspect’s eyes or genitals, or inserting the detainee’s penis into bottles containing gasoline mixed with chili.
Torture or ill-treatment by law enforcement bodies has been reported in more than 140 countries since 1997. Law enforcement agencies are responsible for upholding the law and protecting the rights of all members of society. However, they are by far the most common state agents of torture. Many of the victims come into contact with the law because they are suspected of committing a crime; others are members of groups targeted by prejudiced security forces. Often those most at risk of abuse are members of racial or ethnic minorities. In most countries, the number of prosecution for these brutalities represent only a tiny fraction of the complaints made; convictions are rarer still.
In the Philippines, despite of the safeguards in the constitution, the practice of torture and ill-treatment are still continued. Despite of the safeguards against violence and unnecessary force, authorities still use such techniques to assert authority, instill fear, inflict immediate punishment, disorient and coerce. The air of impunity for torturers in endemic: evidences are covered up, victims are denied access to remedies, investigations are ineffective, complicity of fellow officers are rampant, the legal framework for punishing torture is inadequte, judicial rulings are flouted, impunity is sometimes enshrined in law and there are no sure mechanisms to ensure accountability.
No law enforcement official may inflict, instigate, or tolerate any act of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, nor may any law enforcement official invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat to national security, internal political instability or any other public emergency as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 5, UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials
No person under any form of detention or imprisonment shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. No circumstance whatever may be invoked as a justification for torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Principle 6, UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All
Persons Under A
The Use of Torture in the Philippines
Torture is one of the most abhorrent assaults on human dignity. Torture is a violation of human rights. In whatever form or manner torture is committed from beating to electro shocks, from physical injuries to sexual abuse torture leaves a deep and lasting scar not just on the flesh and psyche of the victims and their families but on the very foundations of our society. Torture brutalizes everyone in society.
Philippine history is replete with accounts of tortured citizens who are either alleged members or suspected sympathizers of armed opposition groups. Even ordinary suspects in criminal cases and members of marginalized communities including women and children, alleged to have committed criminal offenses are subjected to torture to extract confessions or admissions that will be used against them.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provide that no person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Philippines committed itself to this principle as a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and eventually by reiterating it in Article III, Section 19 (2) of the Philippine Constitution which provides that “the employment of Physical, psychological or degrading punishment against any prisoner or detainee or the use of substandard or inadequate penal facilities under subhuman conditions shall be dealt with by law”.
Furthermore, as a member of the UN, the Philippines is also bound by the principles set out by other long time instituted international instruments on the protection of human rights and the prevention of torture. The failure of the Philippine government to fulfill its obligations to these instruments is time and again confirmed each time it directly or indirectly commits an act of torture or consents to its widespread practice.
Each state party to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading treatment or Punishment (CAT). is supposed to furnish the United Nations a report on the torture situation in its territory every four years. The Philippines has time and again failed to hand over a report to the CAT. It has only done so once since it ratified the convention in 1989.
Two Methods of Addressing Torture
The struggle against torture has since the 1970¹s developed in two opposite directions. The first approach is based on combating impunity by prosecuting perpetrators of torture. The philosophy is that through legal proceedings one can break the vicious cycle of impunity, which would in itself have a preventive effect. A proponent of this Philosophy is the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT). The second approach is based on independent visits to places of detention. The philosophy is that torture is best prevented by establishing a relationship of trust with the relevant authorities. The Optional Protocol to the UNCAT is based on the latter philosophy.
12 Point Program on the Prevention of Torture
1. Condemn Torture
The highest authorities of the Philippine government should demonstarte their total opposition to torture.
2. Ensure access to prisoners
The practice of incommunicado detention should be ended.
3. No secret detention
The Philippine government should ensure that prisoners are held only in officially recognized places of detention.
4. Provide safeguards during detention and interrogation
All prisoners should be immediately informed of their rights.
5. Prohibit torture in law
The Philippine government should adopt laws for the prohibition and prevention of torture.
All complainants and reports of torture should be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by a body independent of the alleged perpetrators and the methods and findings of such investigations made public.
Those responsible for torture must be brought to justice.
8. No use of statements extracted under torture
The Philippine government should ensure that statements and other evidence obtained through torture may not be invoked in ant proceedings, except against a person accused of torture.
9. Provide effective training
It should be made clear during the training of all officials involved in the custody, interrogation or medical care of prisoners that torture is a criminal act.
10. Provide reparation
Victims of torture and their dependants should be entitled to obtain prompt reparation from the state.
11. Ratify international treaties
The Philippine government should ratify without reservations international treaties containing safeguards against torture.
12. Exercise international responsibility
Use all available channels to intercede with the governments of countries where torture is reported.