PHILIPPINES: Bombings a result of inept police work, insecurity

On June 15, yet more civilians were killed when a person carrying an improvised explosive device (IED) left it to explode in a bus in a crowded public terminal in Bansalan, Davao del Sur. The explosion was so strong that it rocked the place, killed two persons instantly and wounded others; some died later in hospitals. Incidents like this have long become common, mostly in Central Mindanao, not only in recent times but also in the past. These bombings have claimed the lives of innocent civilians, including women, children and the elderly. A significant factor in all these bombings is that the security forces–police and military–are aware of possible attacks, where they might happen and who could be responsible; yet they failed to prevent them.

Prior to this, there have been several bomb attacks. On May 18, one person was killed and several others wounded when a bus belonging to the same company was attacked in Cotabato City. On June 8, several persons were once again wounded when another bus, of the same company, was attacked in Matalam, North Cotabato. On June 13, a deadly bombing could have taken place had a car bomb, supposedly packed with an improvised explosive device, not been defused in Surallah, South Cotabato. On January 10, a crowded lottery outlet in General Santos City was also bombed and at least six persons were killed. This same city has been struck several times in the past years with a heavy loss of life. Once again, the dead were mostly innocent civilians. These incidents clearly illustrate the insecurity and harsh reality that the ordinary people are forced to lived with, and yet the security forces, in particular the police have over and over again continued to fail and to effectively perform the duties expected from them.

What is surprising in each of these incidents is that the police have quickly claimed to have identified those responsible and their motives. However, this is only meant to satisfy public pressure to produce suspects and results of their investigations, but as to whether the charges against the arrested suspects progress in court they do not appear to care. In fact, not only are the police unable to prevent the violence, arresting innocent persons on fabricated charges has become their practice.

Take the case of three men, who were arrested, supposedly for the 24 April 2002 bombing in General Santos City. The trial of their case suffers delays, due to the non-appearance of the in court proceedings. The police earlier accused the men for the bombing but their investigation later failed to prove this; nevertheless they charged them with possession of firearms and explosives. The arrested persons claim that the evidence against them was planted.

Often, for instance in this case, those arrested as suspects in bombings have been subjected to wrongful prosecution, trial by publicity; thereby ignoring the very basic foundation of criminal law and rights of persons accused: to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. On a number of occasions, those suspects arrested by police for bombings are either ordered freed or exonerated by the court for lack of evidence. While those wrongfully prosecuted are vindicated, their allegations of torture while in custodial police investigation, which includes electrocution and suffocation, are never acted on and those responsible for torturing them are never prosecuted.

Up until now, the police’ practice of arbitrary and indiscriminate arrests and searches, have long become a common event that largely goes unchallenged. What is extremely alarming is the negligible resistance and the tolerance towards the police’ arbitrary practices. It is not because the people have waived their rights but of the lack of remedies and legal avenues to do this as the act of torture is not a crime. Even the failure of the police to prevent the bombings that cause huge casualties has failed to muster strong condemnation.  No one has yet raised any serious questions of the capabilities and efficiency of the police.

The civilian populace is forced to suffer the insecurity and fears of being falsely and wrongfully prosecuted, in particular the Muslim minority, who have become the security forces’ usual suspects. The police have yet to stop the practice of quickly blaming a particular illegal armed group or persons as being responsible in the absence of an in depth investigation. Instead they rely on illegally arresting and torturing suspects, filing fabricated charges and planting evidence to satisfy public pressure. Some of the senior police officials accused of either committing, or tolerating their men to commit torture, even have a history of high profile torture cases.

For instance, police colonels Bartolome Baluyot and George Regis have already been accused of torturing five men, known as the “Abadilla 5”, convicted for the murder of an influential police colonel, Rolando Abadilla in 1996. Baluyot and Regis were accused of torturing and planting evidence against the suspects in the General Santos City bombing incident in 2002 during their assignment in Central Mindanao. Their records however show they were accused of torturing the “Abadilla 5”. Baluyot has been able to retire before he could be prosecuted, while Regis has remained active in police service–and is likely to escape prosecution upon his retirement. There are allegations of torture and misconduct against them, but they have hardly made any progress. The lack of accountability by the police from allegedly committing grave abuses is so rife that they do not fear prosecution.

The action taken by the police prior to, or during the aftermath of bombings has proved inefficient time and time again. For instance, action to improve security and heightened alert, to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators, is short-lived. It has become a standing joke and is now common that police will announce in public that they are imposing tight security, that it is being tightened further, and so on, yet they continually fail to prove that they are in control of the situation as they fail to prevent the bombings. The assurance of the police of tightened security and promises that those responsible would be held to account has become meaningless to the civilian populace and those who know the inside story. The civilians, victims of violence, families of the dead and those wrongfully prosecuted, know full well of how dysfunctional the police are. The loss of trust and confidence of the citizens in the police of their capability to uphold law and order, and the deteriorating security is of grave concern.

The citizens deserve to have their lives protected and to live in a community free from violence. It is the utmost duty of the police to ensure that law and order are enjoyed by the populace, and that while carrying out their duties they should respect the basic civil liberties of the citizens, in particular the minorities. The rights, freedom and liberties of any persons or suspects, for instance, their freedom not to be tortured, cannot be undermined on the pretext of terrorism. There cannot be justice for the victims of these bombings should real perpetrators not be arrested and prosecuted. Instead, it creates further injustice, not only for victims but for those wrongfully prosecuted for the crime as a result of illegal acts of the police. Law and order is impossible to achieve once the police are unable to perform their basic duties; to conduct effective investigations, identify and arrest the real perpetrators, act promptly to threats and to ensure they are effectively prosecuted.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-142-2007
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Abadilla 5