After hearing the report of the Philippine government and the testimonies of two torture victims, the United Nations Committee against Torture expressed its grave concern at the “routine and widespread use of torture” and the “climate of impunity for perpetrators of acts torture, including military, police, and other State officials”.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
The United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) refused to believe the Philippine government delegation’s assertion that torture is not practiced by state security forces in the country.
The CAT monitors the compliance of state parties to the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Philippine government, as a state party to the Convention, presented its second periodic report, April 28 to 29 to the UN CAT’s 42nd session in Geneva, Switzerland.
In its 12-page concluding observations, a copy of which was provided to Bulatlat by human rights group Karapatan, the UN CAT expressed concern over the ‘routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody.’
The Committee also noted the ‘credible allegations of torture and/or ill-treatment committed by law enforcement and military services personnel.’
These observations are contrary to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita’s statement that the Philippine government neither engages in nor encourages acts of torture. As chair of the Presidential Human Rights Committee, Ermita headed the 27-member Philippine delegation to the UN CAT’s recent session.
Torture survivors farmer Raymond Manalo and Pastor Berlin Guerrero of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) debunked Ermita’s statement, recounting their ordeal before the Committee members. Both were part of the delegation of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Watch. Karapatan and international organization OMCT (World Organization Aganist Torture) also presented a joint report to the CAT. Karapatan documented 1,016 victims of torture from 2001 to March 31, 2009.
The Committee said the Philippines’s second periodic report, submitted 16 years late, lacks statistical information and practical information on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention and relevant domestic legislation.
The Committee also reiterated its grave concern 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.’
The Committee noted that state agents who allegedly commit torture are seldom investigated and prosecuted. “The perpetrators are either rarely convicted or sentenced to lenient penalties that are not in accordance with the grave nature of their crimes,” the Committee said.
Anti-torture law, OPCAT
The Committee also expressed concern that the Philippine government has not incorporated into national law the crime of torture, noting the delay in the passage of the Anti-Torture Bill.
Several bills criminalizing torture and providing safeguards for detainees have been filed in both Houses of Congress.
The Convention mandates each state party to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
The Committee also encouraged the Philippine government to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) as soon as possible. The OPCAT allows the United Nations and other international and national bodies to visit and seek facts in places of detention to prevent torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detained persons.
The Committee also expressed concern that the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP), in a number of instances, has been denied entry into jails and detention facilities mostly under the jurisdiction of the military.
Human Security Act
The Committee urged the Philippine government to review and amend, if necessary, the 2007 Human Security Act or RA 9372 ‘to bring it into conformity with international human rights standards.’
The Committee cited the law’s ‘overly broad’ definition of “terrorist crimes” and the provision allowing the detention of suspects without warrant or charge for up to 72 hours.
The Committee expressed its grave concern at the number of extrajudicial killings in the past and at reports that, “although the total number of killing has declined significantly, such killings as well as enforced disappearances continue”.
It also noted the numerous documented reports of harassment and violence against human rights defenders.
The Philippines is invited to submit its next periodic report by 15 May 2013.