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PHILIPPINES: Investigate two separate incidents of torture in Basilan

September 23, 2011

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-174-2011



23 September 2011
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PHILIPPINES: Investigate two separate incidents of torture in Basilan

ISSUES: Torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; inhuman and degrading treatment; victims assistance & protection
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SPECIAL REPORT
Torture in the Philippines & the unfulfilled promise of the 1987 Constitution


Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received details about the torture of two men in separate incidents in Basilan, Mindanao. The group of soldiers who tortured one of them had previously been accused of torturing a boy. The two victims are presently in detention and being prosecuted over questionable charges.

CASE DETAILS: (based on the information received from the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines - Mindanao (TFDP))

In our previous appeal (AHRC-UAU-040-2011), we mentioned that Asraf Jamiri Musa, a 17-year-old boy, was tortured by soldiers attached to the 32nd Infantry Battalion (IB), Philippine Army. The boy was temporarily released from detention when the court granted the petition to recognizance filed by his parents.

However, we have also learned that three days after Asraf's torture, the same military unit was again involved in the illegal arrest, detention and torture of a 27-year-old man, Jedil Esmael Mestiri. The details of Mestiri's case are below:

CASE 1: "If you do not admit, I will kill you"

Jedil Esmael Mestiri (27) belongs to the Yakan, ‘the majority Muslim group in Basilan’ (see "Yakan" by Gwendalene Ting, http://litera1no4.tripod.com/yakan_frame.html for further information). On June 26, 2011 at 7pm, Mestiri was resting inside his home in Lamitan City when a certain Ben (alias), said to be a military intelligence officer, called him. Having previously served the military as an informant, Mestiri was not suspicious of going out with him on a motorcycle.

When they reach a checkpoint, the soldiers guarding it stopped them. Ben spoke to the soldiers, and one of them, Captain Guianan, performed a body search on Mestiri without giving any reasons. He was then instructed to go inside the soldier's detachment, where they tied his hands and feet with a nylon cord, and blindfolded him.

He was later taken to Camp 1 of the military battalion in Lamitan City, Basilan. Here they interrogated him about the bombing incident in Lamitan City in 2010. They also questioned him about the kidnapping of an engineer, while they repeatedly punched his chest. He could sense that there were several persons punching him.

When Mestiri asked the military why they were treating him like this despite him helping them as an informant in the past, he was only told: "Pag hindi ka umamin papatayin kita” (If you do not admit, I will kill you). But Mestiri did not admit anything, despite being subjected to repeated interrogation with similar questions, over a period of eight hours.

On the following day, June 27, he was not given food to eat for breakfast, only water to drink. At 10am, they took him to a police station in Lamitan City. It was only at this time that the soldiers removed his blindfold, and when they reached the police station, his hands were untied. He was then brought to the court in Isabela City.

The soldiers did take him to the General hospital in Isabela City to see a doctor. Mestiri informed the doctor examining him that he had pains in his chest. He later saw the soldiers talking with the doctor. The doctor did not pay attention to his complaint of chest pains, and nor did he inform him about what he and the soldiers had discussed regarding his medical condition.

Mestiri is presently detained at the provincial jail in Isabela City, Basilan. He is being tried over questionable charges of arson and murder that happened in 2010.

CASE 2: "I do not know what a bomb looks like"

Rahman Totoh (34) also belongs to the Yakan group. On July 28, 2011 at 12noon, he was forcibly taken by armed men in camouflage uniforms from his home in Barangay San Rafael, Isabela City. The perpetrators are members of the Special Action Force (SAF) of the Basilan Police Provincial Office (BPPO) of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Totoh was resting when suddenly the door of his house was kicked open. Several persons carrying M16 rifles entered, and Totoh was told, “huwag kang gagalaw” (do not move). One of them kicked him down, while three others stepped on his nape and covered his head with a balaclava.

Inside the vehicle in which he was taken, both of his ears were repeatedly flicked. He was taken to an unknown place about 30 minutes away from his home. With his head covered, he could still sense that he was inside a room. The torturers also wrapped the balaclava covering his head with adhesive tape and handcuffed him behind his back.

Here, he was interrogated about the incidents of killing in Isabela City and forced to admit involvement in the bombing incidents two months earlier. When he answered, "I don't even know what a bomb looks like", they repeatedly punched him, hit his chest, face, head and other parts of his body. His watch, mobile phone and necklace were also confiscated.

His torturers were forcing him to admit to the crime as they stepped on his nape and his feet. His handcuff, which was attached to a bench, was kicked several times. They also set his moustache on fire once. For about three hours, they repeatedly subjected him to interrogation before he was taken to the Hall of Justice. At about 4pm, he was remanded to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Isabela City.

Later, Totoh learned that his arrest was due to a pending arrest warrant for murder issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Isabela City, Basilan; however, he had not been shown the arrest orders or had the reason of arrest explained to him, during either his arrest or interrogation.

In the medical examination report issued by Dr. Jesus Daniel Naon M.D., the physician who examined him at the General Hospital of Basilan, he indicated that Totoh had: 1 cm # 2 linear abrasions; 1 cm apart (L) anterior chest anterior axillary line 5th ICS and 2 cm reddish discoloration of skin 7th ICS (L) anterior axillary line. The doctor's medical report, however, fell short as to what the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 requires in examining the condition of persons alleging torture. At the time of the last interview on August 18, 2011, Totoh was still suffering from pains in his chest and his right thumb was numb.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters to the concerned authorities listed below requesting their appropriate intervention.

The AHRC is also writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for his intervention.

To support this appeal, please click here:

Dear ____________

Re: PHILIPPINES: Investigate separate incidents of torture of two men in Basilan

CASE 1:
Name of victim: Jedil Esmael Mestiri (27), presently detained at the provincial jail in Isabela City.
Alleged perpetrators: Members of the 32nd Infantry Battalion (IB), Philippine Army (PA), led by a certain Capt. Guianan
Date of incident: June 26, 2011
Place where he was tortured: Inside Camp 1 of the Military Battalion in Lamitan City, Basilan.

CASE 2:
Name of victim: Rahman Totoh (34), of Barangay San Rafael, Isabela City, presently detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Isabela City.
Alleged perpetrators: Special Action Force (SAF) of the Basilan Police Provincial Office (BPPO) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Isabela City
Date of incident: July 28, 2011
Place of incident: In a place about 30 minutes away from his home in Barangay San Rafael, Isabela City, Basilan

I am writing to draw your attention to the cases of two torture victims, Jedil Esmael Mestiri of Lamitan City, and Rahman Totoh of Isabela City. Some of the basic details about their case are mentioned above in this letter of appeal.

In the first case, Mestiri was tortured by soldiers attached to the 32nd Infantry Battalion (IB), Philippine Army (PA) on June 26 and 27. Ben (alias), an informant of the military, called up Mestiri at his home while he was resting, asked him to go somewhere with him, and subsequently turned him over to the military.

While in their custody at Camp 1 of the military battalion in Lamitan City, Mestiri was not informed of what charges he was being held for. However, they interrogated him about the bombing incident in Lamitan City in 2010, and also questioned him about the kidnapping of an engineer, while they repeatedly punched his chest. He could sense that there were several persons punching him.

When Mestiri asked the military why they were torturing him he was told, "Pag hindi ka umamin papatayin kita” (If you do not admit, I will kill you). Despite being subjected to repeated interrogation with similar questions, over a period of eight hours, he did not admit to what the soldiers wanted. On the next day morning, he was deprived of food.

The soldiers did take Mestiri to the General Hospital in Isabela City to be examined by a doctor. But when he informed the doctor he had pains in his chest, he did not pay much attention. Later, Mestiri saw the soldiers talking to the doctor; the doctor did not inform Mestiri about his medical condition, but the soldiers.

In the second case, Totoh was tortured by policemen who forcibly took him from his home while he was resting on July 28. The policemen, who were armed with M16 rifles, kicked him, stepped on his nape and covered his head with a balaclava. Inside the vehicle they were riding, both of his ears were repeatedly flicked. At an unknown place about 30 minutes away from his home, the torturers wrapped the balaclava already covering his head with adhesive tapes and handcuffed him behind his back.

Here, he was interrogated about the incidents of killing in Isabela City and forced to admit involvement in the bombing incidents in the same city two months earlier. When he answered, "I don't even know what a bomb looks like", they repeatedly punched him, hit his chest, face, head and other parts of his body. His watch, mobile phone and necklace were also confiscated. His torturers forced him to admit to the crime while stepping on his nape and feet. His handcuff, which was attached to a bench, was kicked several times. They also set his moustache on fire once.

I am aware that the soldiers involved in the torture of Mestiri were earlier accused of torturing a 17-year-old boy, Asraf Jamiri Musa on June 23, 2011. I appreciate Musa’s temporary release from detention on September 8 when the court granted his parents’ petition for recognizance. I am disappointed however, by yet another torture case by the same group of soldiers.

I urge you to conduct an impartial and prompt investigation into the allegations of torture by victims Mestiri and Totoh as legally required by the Anti-Torture Act of 2009.

The allegations of irregularities in the process of arrest, detention and filing of charges in Mestiri's case must be looked into. His complaint of poor medical treatment, where his chest pains were overlooked and he was not informed of his medical condition must also be addressed.

Similarly, the gaps in due process regarding Totoh’s arrest--not being shown the arrest order or given reasons for his arrest--must also be looked into, as must the torture at the time of arrest.

I trust you will take immediate action in this case.


Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Benigno Aquino III
President
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
JP Laurel Street, San Miguel
Manila 1005
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 736 1010
Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80

2. Ms. Loretta Ann Rosales
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 929 0102
Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188
E-mail: chair.rosales.chr@gmail.com

3. Director General Nicanor Bartolome
Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp General Rafael Crame
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2724 8763
Tel: +63 2 726 4361/4366/8763
E-mail: ruth_cossid@yahoo.com

4. Ms. Leila de Lima
Secretary
Department of Justice (DOJ)
DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura
1004 Manila
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 521 1614
E-mail: soj@doj.gov.ph

5. Mr. Emilio Gonzalez
Deputy Ombudsman
Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military
and Other Law Enforcement Offices
3rd Floor, Ombudsman Bldg., Agham Road, Diliman
1104 Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 926 8747
Tel: +63 2 926 9032

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) (ua@ahrc.asia)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
AHRC-UAC-174-2011
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.