PHILIPPINES: Torture survivor recalls his dark experience in a video interview

(Hong Kong, June 24, 2009) Three years ago, Axel Pinpin, a researcher and public information officer for a local peasant group, was abducted and briefly disappeared together with four other persons.

Only later did Axel, and his four companions, Riel Custodio, Aristides Sarmiento, Enrico Ybanez and Michael Mesias, learn that they had actually been arrested. The police officers and soldiers in Cavite, who had taken them into custody, acted on dubious intelligence information which claimed they were plotting to topple the government.

“We were not arrested. It was abduction as a form of kidnapping. There is no warrant of arrest, we were picked up by heavily armed men who only later revealed themselves as police officers”, said Axel in this video interview. Axel and his companions were released from jail after being exonerated from charges in August 2008.

Contrary to the claims of the police and soldiers, Axel, Riel and Aristides are human rights defenders and had been working for the Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Farmers’ Federation in Cavite)”, a grass root peasant organisation helping landless farmers to obtain lands, amongst others.

Their group is also involved in doing extensive research regarding the conditions of farmers in Cavite, like those engaged in planting coffee beans for their livelihood. One purpose of their research is the hope that they will be able to improve the livelihoods of the workers.

Enrico and Michael, on the other hand, were ordinary persons who happen to be with the group. The two were riding the car in which the three activists had hitched a ride when policemen and soldiers abducted them on April 2006 in Tagaytay City.

Axel recalled that they were held incommunicado for seven days, prevented from contacting any lawyers and family members and were subjected to long periods of interrogation and torture. One of his colleagues had his leg burned and all of them were deprived of sleep, food and water, while they are being held in police custody.

Their family members too had gone to various places, including the private morgues, hoping to locate even their dead bodies. In the Philippines, once a person is arrested and disappeared; if they are not found in jails and detention facilities, their remains are sometimes found in morgues or funeral houses.

Axel though, like some other activists may have at least expected the likelihood of being arrested. However, when it finally happened he said:

“I’m a bit ready with this kind of incident but when I (had it) experienced myself, I was also surprised that the State or the government is still doing this kind of torture, doing this kind of abduction”.

Apart from him, his family and children also had to endure continuing threats and intimidation from security forces after having been subjected to surveillance. His eldest son was also prevented from visiting him regularly at the time he was in detention. No reasonable explanations were ever given to him or his family as to why this should be so.

Axel and his fellow torture victims did file a complaint for violation of their rights against the police and soldiers involved with the CHR. The CHR, in concluding their investigation regarding their complaint, also resolved that the complainants’ rights had been violated and subsequently endorsed their findings with the Office of the Ombudsman.

Under the law, security officers can only be charged in court once the Ombudsman concluded that the case could be filed. For instance in this case, even though the CHR had already concluded that the victims’ rights had been violated, no charges could be filed until the Ombudsman completed its review.

After the CHR’s finding, Axel said of the development: “There is no development up to this time.” Their case though is similar to the complaint that the Abadilla Five has filed 13 years ago. Like Axel’s case, the Ombudsman has also not been able to conclude the investigation of the Abadilla Five’s complaint; and not a single policeman has been charged in court for torturing them.

When Axel and his companions sought compensation after having been exonerated and subsequently released from detention, the Department of Justice (DoJ), the government agency responsible in evaluating and approving applications for compensation, had their claims for compensation rejected. No reasonable explanations were given as to why their applications were rejected.

“Unfortunately (there was) none. Not a single centavo. Imagine for 28 months that we were incarcerated… they denied our request”, said Axel when asked about the DoJ response to their applications for claims of compensation.

To mark the occasion of the United Nation’s International Day is Support of Victims of Torture on June 26, Axel renewed his and his colleagues appeal unto the Philippine government, in particular the Congress, to ensure that a domestic law on torture be enacted promptly. He also asked that the existing law, the Human Security Act of 2007, which espouses torture, be reviewed thoroughly.

“We believed that it is about time for the Philippine Congress, the Philippine government to review an anti-torture law to enable to help the victims of torture in the Philippines,” Axel said.

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-028-2009
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Abadilla 5