“To our knowledge we are not aware of whether the CHR had indeed commenced an investigation; and if there had been, it fell short of what may be considered a ‘prompt investigation.'” – Asian Human Rights Commission.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has recently chided the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) led by Chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales for their supposed failure to take action on a complaint it filed concerning the torture of three members of a grassroots farmers group Samahan ng Magbubukid ng Batangas (SAMBAT) in Batangas.
The AHRC said that the Philippine human rights agency has been remiss in its duty to investigate the cases of the three torture victims Billy Batrina, Sonny Rogelio and Charity Dino who are collectively called the Talisay 3.
Md Ashrafuzzaman, program officer of the AHRC’s Urgent Appeals Programme said that on February 1, 2010, they wrote to the former chairperson of the CHR, Ms. Leila De Lima, requesting that she “ensures that the victims’ allegations of torture and the filing of questionable charges on them are thoroughly investigated”.
The group also wrote to the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Office (MOLEO) asking for their intervention within their authority into this case. Our complaint was recorded at MOLEO under Reference No.: RAS-P-10-0032.
In MOLEO’s letter to the AHRC dated August 31, 2010, which the AHRC received on December 21, 2010, the military office said that it has decided to “close and terminate” the complaint. The Deputy Ombudsman’s office said that since the AHRC invoked Republic Act 9745 or the the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, the complaint must necessarily be referred to the CHR. It said that Section 9 of the said law mandates the CHR and other executive agencies to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation on cases of torture.
“To our knowledge we are not aware of whether the CHR had indeed commenced an investigation; and if there had been, it fell short of what may be considered a ‘prompt investigation,'” said Ashrafuzzaman.
The Anti-Torture Act of 2009 defines “prompt investigation” as an investigation that takes place within a maximum period of 60 working days from the time a complaint for torture is filed.
Ashrafuzzaman said that they have not received any communications from the CHR as to whether it has done investigations into the complaint they filed. “Neither are we aware if the CHR has done any intervention on the victims’ complaints,” he said.
According to reports, the role of MOLEO, in deciding whether or not the alleged perpetrators of the crime of torture have a case to answer in court begins when an investigation is conducted, completed and submitted to their office for their review and approval. Under the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, it is the CHR that has the primary obligation to investigate complaints of torture.
“While we express reservations about MOLEO’s conclusion to “close and terminate” our complaint in the absence of the results of any investigation — by the CHR or by the Philippine National Police (PNP)– what deeply concerns us is the fact that there was no investigation conducted at all,” Ashrafuzzaman said.
The AHRC said that it was ” deeply concerned” that the CHR is responsible in effectively depriving the possibilities of remedies and redress to these three torture victims due to its failure to act promptly and by failing to comply in conducting a “prompt investigation” as required by the Anti-Torture Act of 2009.
Tortured and still detained
At around 8 am on November 23,2009, the three Sambat organizers were in Talisay, Batangas to invite community residents to participate in their group’s activities to tackle urban poor concerns. While they were walking, three vans ridden by armed men in plainclothes stopped and blocked their way. The armed men got off the vehicles and forced the three peasant organizers into the van. According to eyewitness accounts, the vehicles had been previously seen making the rounds in the area a day before the incident.
According to the human rights group Karapatan in Batangas, the three victims were taken to the headquarters of the 730th Combat Group of the Philippine Air Force Camp in Palico, Batangas.
In the camp, the three were tortured and subjected to continuous interrogation. They were kept there for 17 days and for most of the time they were blindfolded with adhesive tape and handcuffed. Batrina and Rogelio were manhandled, their torturers banged their heads against the cement walls. Bullets were forced between the fingers of the woman victim, Dino, and her torturers squeezed them until they dug into her flesh.
The military took turns interrogating the victims , and during the long sessions, they kept forcing the victims to admit that they were members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
On November 24, the three victims were taken to the Office of the Prosecutor in Batangas where they were placed under inquest proceedings. On November 26, they were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives at the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 6 sa Tanauan, Batangas. A case of illegal possession of drugs was also filed against Diño at the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) ng Talisay, Batangas. After they were charged in court, the three were taken to the Batangas Provincial Jail in Batangas City. They have since been detained there and up to present, there has been no positive movement on their case.