Who would ever imagine that a secret torture squad attached to the Philippine National Police would use a crudely made “wheel of fortune” to select the torture technique they would use on their victims? Torture is outlawed by international convention and the Philippine Penal Code yet in 2009 a special law Republic Act 9745 was passed to totally ban it. However, it is still common practice.
The recently launched investigative report by Amnesty International stated that police torture “is commonplace in the Philippines and impunity for it is the norm . . .” Titled “Above the Law: Police Torture in the Philippines,” the Amnesty International researchers with local human rights defenders uncovered secret detention centers and the notorious “Wheel of Fortune” in a torture chamber in Laguna, south of Manila.
The shocking discovery indicated that this trained squad used torture for a sordid and sick kind of entertainment. While the suspects screamed through their gags from the excruciating pain of electric shock the torturers laughed.
The US Senate report on torture and disappearances of suspects details shocking torture and abuse and many of the torture techniques detailed in the report are similar to what the Philippine Police use also. The Philippine Police trained in Fort Bragg and elsewhere in the USA may have learned their torture techniques from their US trainers. We sincerely hope not.
As many as forty three prisoner survivors, some rescued by Filipino human rights campaigners who risk their lives to help the victims, said they suffered grave torture. Twenty three of them were courageous and defiant enough to file criminal charges against the police.
There is not much hope either among them that justice will ever be seen. The police enjoy a high level of impunity. Death squads also murder suspects. They are set up by military and local mayors, governors and other powerful politicians to protect their interests, eliminate political rivals or protect their secret criminal enterprise from take-over by a rival. They also sow terror among the people and ensure the reelection of the politician.
In May 2014 this year Human Rights Watch published a 71-page report titled “One Shot to the Head: Death Squad Killings in Tagum City, Philippines.” It documented interviews with the killers who said they received text messages from the former mayor about whom and when to kill someone. They got paid as little as a hundred dollars. This week on December 11 we honor Rogelio Butalid, a broadcast commentator, shot at point blank range outside his radio station in Tagum City, Mindanao, just one of many journalist murders over the past ten years by death squads.
No one has been held responsible or accountable for the many deaths. Human rights advocates are calling for a law to hold the local mayors responsible and blame-worthy. They will be penalized by being removed from office for gross incompetence and dereliction of duty for torture and death squad killings in their town or city.
The Amnesty International report on torture is no less horrific. It reports that with the help of local human rights defenders and advocates they interviewed as many as 55 torture victim-survivors, 21 of them were children when abused and tortured. Two victims of torture were then shot and left for dead but miraculously survived.
As many as 36 cases were referred to the Office of the Ombudsman but unsurprisingly none were indicted. The investigating officers were likely to have been threatened with a “shot to the head.”
The survivors of torture reported having been beaten, kicked, punched, water-boarded (a near drowning torture technique), nearly suffocated with plastic bags over their heads, given electric shocks, deprived of sleep and forced to take stressful physical squatting. In one videotape, one old man was seen naked with wire tied around his genitalia being pulled by a police officer. The victim was later found beheaded.
Children too have been tortured, starved and killed in jails and prisons that are renamed “Juvenile Homes” where the children are neglected, abused, mistreated and jailed behind bars and metal screens.
A shocking and horrible photo of abused children was taken in the Manila Reception Action Center (RAC), a place described as a Auschwitz-like concentration camp in the heart of Manila five minutes from the office of Mayor Estrada. The photo is that of a boy we named Francisco. His naked, emaciated skeletal body was left thrown on the ground, allegedly left to die without medical help. He was found with facial bruises when rescued by charity workers.
The excuse of the staff is that they had no money to help him, that is a lie and fabrication. Its the story line to get more money which is disappearing in mysterious ways and too little going to feed, clothe and support the children. The boy Francisco only had to be given a t-shirt and shorts and taken to the hospital with other children in a similar half-starved condition. The truth is that the money is allegedly misappropriated and the Commission on Audit (COA) need to audit the facility. Also they need a clean, well managed facility in the countryside under the supervision of the trusted office of Secretary Corazon Soliman of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Manila is so rich it could build and maintain two such centers.
Other children too were left in similar conditions. The report documents 21 children who were tortured. All this is difficult to read and comprehend how humans can inflict such terrible cruel torture on children and adults. The psychological torture of threats and fear is equally abhorrent. One thing is clear, we cannot remain inactive, silent, non-supportive and indifferent to these grim realities exposed by children’s rights and human rights defenders working with Amnesty International.
The truth is there for all to see and read .We have to act as best we can to save more victims and put an end to these evil practices. We can help by speaking out, joining campaigns for human rights, join a rally, by taking a stand with victims of illegal detention and children in jails. We can inspire others by showing respect for the rights of others. That’s what Jesus did and taught. That’s why we have Christmas.
Also published in The Universe, UK, The Sunday Examiner, HK. various magazines and On-line