A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
The widely publicised video of a police torture has drawn mixed reactions and opinions from the public, including lawmakers, lawyers and human rights groups, who have all joined in the chorus condemning such a barbaric and cruel act. Most of them share the opinion that ‘lack of education of the law enforcers’ is to blame for it happening but the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) strongly argues that this is not the case.
While educating law enforcers about the content of the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 is necessary the lack of education of this law cannot be used as an excuse to justify the said incident. If there is anyone who are ‘experts and well-educated’ on the use of torture, it is the law enforcement officers themselves. Torture is not something so new that one has to be told that it is abhorrent and prohibited.
The enactment of the Anti-Torture Act in December 2009 did not mean that the term ‘torture’ just came into existence and was an alien concept to the law enforcers. The term torture itself has been widely used and understood to refer to violence and cruelty perpetrated against a person. Before the right not to be tortured was included in the 1987 Constitution, the police and the military had already been practicing it, particularly during Martial law period against political dissenters. Therefore, it would be too naïve to argue that the lack of education amongst law enforcers is to blame as to why it continues to persist. For any police officer who thinks with reason, torture is absolutely a condemnable act undeserving of those who wear the uniform of the Philippine National Police.
Some of the authors of the Anti-Torture Law were victims of torture themselves during the Martial Law regime. It is their experience, and that of countless others, that made the enactment of this law possible. It was also after the Marcos regime that the concept of the right against torture was first introduced in the Philippine Constitution. The torture victims, most of them in disbelief as to how cruel people of their own nationality could become, felt the depth of what torture really is. It meant being a witness of their own suffering long before this was written into law. Those who ‘survived’ have to suffer and live with the trauma of having been tortured for the rest of their lives.
Torture is not a result of ignorance and lack of education by the law enforcers. It is the absence of an effective mechanism that would hold them accountable. It is also this absence that breeds and develops a culture of violence amongst the law enforcers. When a law enforcer or torturer cannot be held accountable for torture or any other form of violence he would commit, this becomes an accepted norm which we know to have been thriving in the police force for decades. This is what happened in the Philippines. The policeman who tortured the suspected thief in the video did not become a torturer overnight, but had learnt and developed his expertise of using torture and the accompanying mindset to an extent that has become acceptable to him because it is a commonplace practice.
Filipino policemen also do not become police officers overnight. The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM), two agencies who are responsible in training and recruiting applicants into the police force, require highly competitive academic qualifications, accomplishments and intensive training before it awards a policeman the rank of a police captain, the rank that the policeman in the video held. They also undergo civil service examinations, regular background checks and continuing education on law enforcement.
Also, the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA), one of the highly competitive police training academies, even conduct background checks of their recruits, by way if interviewing their family and persons who know the applicant, before admitting him for training to ensure that immoral persons or those with psychological problems would not be allowed in the academy. This is in addition to passing a lengthy qualifying examination.
Apart from training in the police academy, the PNP and NAPOLCOM also absorb applicants with a bachelor’s degree in criminology and those who had already earned units from any social sciences course but were unable to graduate. This is also after passing a civil service examination. Thus, those who are absorbed into the police force are either university graduates or have studied for years in a university. They are educated people and need not be told that torture is prohibited. They are have completed, at least the rudimentary teaching on logic, ethics, philosophy and the morals in the universities. They are certainly not uneducated.
When the policeman tortured the victim in the video, he did it consciously. It was not indiscriminate or an isolated case, as earlier mentioned by the police establishment. It reflects the tip of the iceberg as to the state of policing in country. The emergence of further complaints on torture as reported in the media, after the video had been exposed, only demonstrates the ugly reality of the country’s policing the surface of which has yet to be scratched. It is a matter that most of the people knew and had live with. Any further complaints must therefore be seriously acted upon under the law.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.