Torture in US, Philippines: We need to be outraged

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Torture — including the most brutal type used by state security forces on suspected “enemies of the state” — is back in media focus both in the United States and the Philippines. And human rights groups are challenging both Presidents Obama and Aquino: “What are you doing about it?”

Last Tuesday, eve of International Human Rights Day, the US Senate intelligence committee released a 500-page executive summary (reportedly “sanitized” by the Central Intelligence Agency) of its 6,000-page report condemning the CIA’s extensive use of torture, since 2002. The torture happened during interrogations of suspected members of the Al Qaida, illegally detained by the American government in secret prisons overseas called “black sites” (more on this in a subsequent column piece).

The challenge to President Obama stems from the fact that, at the start of his administration in 2009, he made what the International New York Times editorial calls a “horrible decision… to close the books on this chapter of our history, even as he repudiated the use of torture.”

The editorial has revived the question: Why is no one “ever been held accountable for these seeming crimes – not the top officials who set them in motion, the lower level officials who committed the torture, or those who covered it up, including by destroying videotapes of the abuse and by trying to block the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of their acts”?

In a similar vein, Amnesty International challenged the Aquino administration to “go beyond lip service and make its commitment to human rights real by stamping out torture, enforced disappearances and [extrajudicial] killings.”

Wiping out human rights abuses, AI stressed, will thereby end “the culture of impunity” — the state’s failure to arrest, prosecute and penalize torturers and other human rights violators since the Marcos martial-law dictatorship.

AI and the human rights alliance Karapatan rebuked President Aquino for having promised, during the 2010 presidential campaign, to uphold human rights and end their violations — but failed to do so 4-1/2 years into his six-year term.

Karapatan accused the US military of “transporting” its torture practices to the Philippines through its 2009 Counterinsurgency Guide that has been largely copied by the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan.

Whereas it highlighted the rising incidences of extrajudicial killings under Aquino’s watch – totaling 226 EJKs and 225 frustrated EJKs by end-November 2004 – Karapatan raised the alarm over how 14 such executions were carried out. The victims’ bodies, it said, were all found with signs of brutal torture, some hogtied and dumped in shallow graves.

These 14 victims were: Ricardo Tuazon Sr. of Butuan City; Elmer Valdez of Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur; Datu Anting and Victor Freay of Davao del Sur; Genesis Ambason of Agusan del Sur; Martin and Jemson Capino of Camarines Sur; Jovito Pajanustan of Northern Samar; Rudy and Rudyvic Dejor of Davao del Sur; Rene Quirante of Negros Oriental; Freddie Licuban and Eddie Ligiw of Abra; and Ely Oguis of Albay.

Autopsies conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation and post-mortem reports, furthermore, showed signs of torture on the bodies of two women and three men killed in a military operation by the 41st IBPA last September in Lacub, Abra. Killed, with four others, were Arnold Jaramillo, Recca Noelle Monte, Fidela Bugarin-Salvador, Brandon Magranga and Pedring Banggao.

These NBI findings and those of a fact-finding mission in Lacub spurred Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte and the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives to file a resolution urging an investigation of the military operation and the attendant abuses, including excessive use of force.

Altogether, Karapatan has documented 104 cases of torture under the Aquino government, along with 28 enforced disappearances, 986 illegal arrests (693 with detention), among other human rights violations.

Specific to torture, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Karapatan raised the same question: Why has no one been called to account for any of the 104 cases under P-Noy’s watch?

Note that before P-Noy assumed the presidency, the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 (RA 9745) was passed by the 14th Congress on Sept. 2 (I was one of the principal authors). It was signed into law by President Arroyo on Nov. 10, 2009.

The new law’s implementing rules and regulations were approved by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Commission on Human Rights Chair Loretta Ann Rosales on Dec. 10, 2010 — six months into P-Noy’s administration.

An initial budget of P5 million was given to the CHR, the constitutional body mainly responsible for its implementation. What has been done since then?

In a statement on Human Rights Day, CHR chair Rosales decried what she called a “gawking chasm that mocks each of us” between the aspirations and reality of human rights in the country.

In effect, Rosales affirmed the outcry of human rights victims and defenders: “Nothing has changed under Aquino!”

Distributing the blame all around the government, Rosales added:

“Unless we are able to put our foot down and assert our collective political will to end impunity and cultivate a culture of human rights in every nook and corner of governance, development would never be a right but the privilege of the few.” But who takes the lead?

On the continuing practice of torture, the CHR head glumly acknowledged that it “reflects the failure of authorities to instill discipline… among the rank and file.” Nothing more?

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Published in The Philippine Star
December 13, 2014

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