“These psychological forms of torture may have no external physical signs but the damage these have inflicted on the complainants will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Health workers who were arrested and illegally detained six years ago filed a partial motion for reconsideration yesterday, Feb. 9, before the Office of the Ombudsman, following a decision that exonerated former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and ranking military officials from torture and robbery charges.
In a text message to Bulatlat, Carlos Montemayor, one of the lawyers of the health workers from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), said they filed a partial motion for reconsideration as they are only questioning the Ombudsman’s ruling in regards with the dismissal of the torture and robbery cases.
On Feb. 6, 2010, 43 health workers, dubbed as the Morong 43, were attending a community health training in Morong, Rizal when they were arrested, detained, and tortured by soldiers. About 10 months later, charges against them were dropped and they were subsequently released due to strong local and international clamor.
In a statement, Edre Olalia, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers secretary general, said he found the Ombudsman resolution “alarming” as it ignored the detailed accounts of torture that the health workers vividly described in their respective affidavits and did not look into the external physical signs of torture such as bruises, swelling, and wounds.
“Torture has become sophisticated and clever over the years. The use of psychological torture and systematic beating designed to create fear but which leave no physical marks are prevalent. This makes the Ombudsman’s decision all the more alarming. It is as if it is blind or has blinders to what the whole world knows,” he said.
The Anti-Torture Act of 2009 also explicitly stated forms of mental and psychological torture such as blindfolding, threatening a person or his/her relatives with bodily harm, execution or other wrongful acts, prolonged interrogation, and denial of sleep/rest – “all which were recounted in harrowing detail by members of the Morong 43,” OIalia said.
The Ombudsman, in its Oct. 26, 2015 decision, concluded that the health workers were not subjected to torture, citing the case of Dr. Merry Clamor whose blood pressure was within the normal range and that there were no obvious signs that they were physically tortured.
“These psychological forms of torture may have no external physical signs but the damage these have inflicted on the complainants will haunt them for the rest of their lives. It is precisely for this reason that the November 2009 Anti-Torture Law (RA 9745) recognized and punished such forms of torture. The Resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman unfortunately and inexplicably failed to take this into account. By limiting evidence of torture to external physical signs, the Office if the Ombudsman is effectively not recognizing psychological torture although the text of the law is very clear on this matter,” Olalia said.
Gloria, ranking military officials liable
In its partial motion for reconsideration, the health workers, through their lawyers from the NUPL, argued that Arroyo and other ranking military officials are personally liable for the acts of torture and robbery committed against them.
The Anti-Torture Act stipulates that, “any superior military, police or law enforcement officer or senior government official who issued an order to any lower ranking personnel to commit torture for whatever purpose shall be held equally liable as principals.”
In this case, motion of the health workers stated that their high profile and well-publicized arrest “will not escape the information, knowledge, concurrence, and direction” of the respondents Arroyo and then ranking officials Victor Ibrado and Delfin Bangin.
Apart from questioning the dropping of the torture charge, the complainants also asked the Ombudsman to reconsider its ruling, which dropped the robbery charges against respondents. In their partial motion for reconsideration, health workers pointed out that several personal items and cash were taken and have yet to be returned to them even if the case was already dismissed back in December 2010.
“Ultimately, Arroyo and her cohorts should be included among the accused and they should stand trial for the acts of their subordinates under the principle of command responsibility. They can run, but they certainly cannot hide,” Olalia said.
In an email sent to the NUPL, Jitendra Sharma, president-emeritus of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, said he was shocked when he learned of the Ombudsman ruling. He lamented the belated decision as a “travesty of justice” and a “mockery in the face of such gross violations of human rights.”
Sharma was among the foreign lawyers who visited and interviewed the health workers while they were still in detention back in September 2010.
“The Ombudsman’s decision is atrocious. I am not acquainted with the Philippines laws but if an appeal is permissible then I assume, and wish, you will challenge the decision in an effort to set it right,” Sharma added.