PHILIPPINES: The Silence of Torture, the Torture of Silence 

I remember watching two movies where the word silence played an eerie role. One was the “Silent Scream,” the other, the “Silence of the Lambs.” In both movies, violence took place with the victims’ muffled pleas for help were an occurrence known only to them and their offenders. In the Silent Scream, the fetus squirms and struggles against the deathly intrusions of abortion instruments from suction tubes to uterine scissors.  In the Silence of the Lambs, both victim and offender are bound by a hypnotic silence that becomes complete and definitive in the victims death and the masked grin of Hanibal the Cannibal.


Abortion and murders by psychopaths are done in the black womb of murderous silence. Torture is no different. The victims are taken to an undisclosed place where their screams and wails desperately bounce off deaf walls. The perpetrators of torture do it with impunity since no law prohibits it. Torture in many countries has not been criminalized. The public seems to tacitly accept torture as a common and expected treatment of suspected criminals.  If the Police arrests suspected felons, it is taken for granted that interrogations are accompanied with the standard beatings that increase in intensity according to the gravity of the crime they have been arrested for. Guilty or not, a good number of arrested suspects suffer a form of torture from mild to severe. The Abadilla 5 suffered severe torture that led to a forced confession a few days before they surfaced and were presented to media already seriously accused of the murder of Col. Rolando Abadilla.


The victims of torture suffer a second form of torture from an indifferent public who seem hardly interested and concerned. Unless torture victims are encouraged to speak out and given the opportunity to do so, their silence condemns them to indefinitely endure a painful memory. The Abadilla 5 have been doing this the past twelve years. Those who can and do speak for the victims of torture lessen their pain but more should be done. Although the Philippines is a state party to the UN Convention against Torture, it still needs to enact a law criminalizing torture. At the moment, torture victims can bring their complaints to courts but no legal remedies will be forthcoming since the Philippine government has not yet enacted domestic laws translating the CAT into practice.


Meanwhile, illegal, warrantless arrests continue. Disappearances and extra-judicial killings remain unsolved.  Fall guys are arrested and convicted to conveniently conclude a case. Torture complaints are lodged in the courts but nothing happens.  All these take place as the wheels of Philippine justice turn ever so slowly. Thus, on March 20, 2008, no less than the UN Human Rights Committee held the Philippine Government accountable for violating  article 14, paragraph 3 (c ) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), for unduly delaying the conclusion of the accused’ appellate review.


I sit in silent prayer and protest against the silence of torture and the growing torturous silence of indifference. Little wonder it takes so long to enact an anti-torture law in our country. No need in a country where the silence of complicity barely produces a whisper louder than “Silent Screams” or that of the “Silence of the Lambs.”


Fr. Roberto P. Reyes

UP Oblation, Diliman

June 26, 2008, International Day Against Torture


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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. The above statement has only been forwarded by the AHRC.

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Document Type : Forwarded Statement
Document ID : AHRC-FST-041-2008
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Abadilla 5