PHILIPPINES: To justify the use of torture is a constitutional and human rights violation
In a letter dated 21 January 2006, the City Director of the General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO), Senior Superintendent Alfredo Toroctocon wrote to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to deny allegations by torture victim Haron Abubakar Buisan against his men. Buisan accused Toroctocon's men of brutally beating him following his arrest on 12 December 2005. While in police custody and being investigated, Buisan was allegedly repeatedly kicked, beaten with a stone and denied access to legal counsel.
Although not referring directly to Buisan's case, Toroctocon wrote in his letter that a "justifiable degree of force" can be used as part of the police's Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to immobilise a person upon his arrest. A reliable source further quoted him in media interviews stating that the harm inflicted upon Buisan was normal because he was a liar. He further claimed the Miranda Doctrine, within which is respect for the suspect's right to remain silent and to have access to a lawyer, was observed during the victim's arrest.
Additionally, Toroctocon repeatedly insisted that Buisan and Ariel Bansalao, a person wanted for robbing a bus in April 2005, were the same person. Although the court has yet to rule whether or not the victim's claims that his arrest was a result of mistaken identity, Toroctocon has already stated publicly that Buisan and Bansalao are one.
Whether Buisan and Bansalao are the same person or not, the AHRC maintains that this does not give authority nor a level of immunity to the arresting officers of the GSCPO to torture the victim. If indeed they have proof of the alleged crime that the victim is supposed to have committed, then the use of torture should still in now way be used. Only the court has the authority to impose punishments on people accused of committing crimes. Any punishment done outside of the court's order, is an arbitrary use of authority and therefore a serious violation of a person's constitutional and human rights.
While it is acknowledged that there are certain guidelines regarding the police's Special Operating Procedure (SOP), under no circumstances can the use of force or harm, or indeed the torturing of a person be justified, as is stipulated in domestic law and in international human rights standards. The Bill of Rights of the 1987 Philippine Constitution strictly prohibits the use of torture and the Republic Act 7438 states the many rights of detainees and persons under custodial investigation. Furthermore, the Convention against Torture (CAT), to which the Philippine government has acceded, gives no justification for the use of torture under any circumstances. These rights entitlement can never be compromised.
The manner in which Toroctocon is handling the victim's complaint of torture against his men is completely biased and inappropriate. By taking sides and exonerating his men prior to the release of the result of the investigation by the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices, Toroctocon is no longer acting in an objective manner, nor in the professional one, which he should. His failure to impose necessary sanctions and restrictions upon his men, in particular the elements of Special Weapon and Tactics (Swat), despite the standing complaints against them is totally unacceptable.
Allegations of torture against elements of the General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO) are no longer new. It can be recalled that on 24 April 2002, three persons, namely Jejhon Macalinsal, Aron Salah and Abubakar Amilhasan were also tortured by the GSCPO allegedly to force them into admitting an incident of bombing in a mall. Likewise, on 12 December 2004, another five persons were arrested and three of them were subsequently tortured by the GSCPO while being investigated.
To date, none of the policemen from the GSCPO involved in allegedly torturing persons following their arrest have been prosecuted and punished. The investigation into the allegations against them did not reach any conclusive findings nor did it lead to their prosecution in court. The torture victims, meanwhile, have been forced to face trial to charges laid against them by way of torture. The police's repeated abuses point to the failure by higher authorities to hold them accountable for past indiscretions.
Buisan's case is yet another example of the brutal torture and arbitrary use of power by the local police. Not only was he deprived of his constitutional right to have his complaint investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted, but he was also denied appropriate medical and trauma treatment. Although the concerned authorities, in particular the regional Commission on Human Rights (CHR 12) is aware of this case, they have failed to remedy this situation and to afford the victim with the rights he deserves. It is frightening that although the government is aware of the torture victim's present situation, they have not been held accountable for their failings and inaction. Evidently, impunity is rife within all areas of the law enforcement system in the Philippines.
With this in mind, we call upon all concerned people to pressure the Philippine government, in particular the House of Representatives and the Senate to consider as a priority the passage of the proposed law against torture. The enactment of a domestic legislation on torture in full conformity with the CAT is a precondition to the protection of human rights in the Philippines. In a country where torture is not treated as a crime, victims are deprived of their constitutional and human rights and are further denied justice when seeking to legally pursue their perpetrators. This practice must be stopped immediately and those responsible for committing torture must be held accountable for their crimes.