Torture in the Philippines & the unfulfilled promise of the 1987 Constitution
Victim: I was a student activist in 1994. We were coming from a center (office) of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) in Baguio City, a student organization, where we were staying. I was a working student at that time. It was August of 1994. I thought of going to Manila at night (the transportation is available 24 hours) after coming out from work to visit my family. I was stopped and questioned by police officers who were on patrol. The policemen started asking where I was going and they searched my bag. I told them to Manila. In those days I had the habit of carrying reading materials, like pamphlets.
After searching my bag, the police told me that I was an activist and that I was a communist. They took me to their headquarters in Camp Dangwa (Camp Bado Dangwa — Police Regional Office (PRO) — Cordillera Administrative Region (PRO-CAR)), which is located a few minutes away from where the place they took me from. They took me to a room and blindfolded me. I could not ascertain what the surroundings looked like and who were the persons around me. At that time, a protest at our university against the increase of school tuition fees had just ended. We were successful in our campaign; however, we also knew full well that the student leaders were also under surveillance.
While I was inside a room or whatever it was in Camp Dangwa, they started interrogating and punching me. I do not know who they were. I felt that their fists were wrapped with cloth; they pulled my hair and slapped me. They were asking if I know the persons whose names they were mentioning. I told them I did not know. The names that they were mentioning were student leaders in our University and other universities. They also mentioned the names of leaders of progressive organizations in Baguio City. They also kicked me. They kicked my hips and it was very painful. I felt like they had fractured my bones. They punched me and pulled my hair repeatedly.
There were also occasions that they removed my blindfold. They were showing the photographs to me, telling me their names and asking me if I knew who they were. But I told them I did not know them; that I was only a student. Despite of what they did to me, I had to deny that I knew those persons in the photographs. Most of them were known to me. They told me that we were members of the CPP-NPA (Communist Part of the Philippines-New People’s Army), but I told them I was only a member of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and I was not a member of any organisations they were mentioning.
Every time I responded to their questions, they slapped me. I can still remember that a blow split my lower lip. I can still remember the feeling that my nose was bleeding but I thought I only had a running nose. I did not know that I was indeed bleeding until I felt the blood drips to my mouth. After showing me the photographs, they took my wallet, planner and my home address telling me that they would be following me.
What I thought was the worst that happened to me was when they took me outside. Since it was around 1am I was frightened and kept on thinking that they were going to execute me and throw my body off a cliff. They took me onboard a vehicle. I thought of it because Baguio City is a mountainous area. I was really frightened by the idea that they were about to throw me somewhere. I kept on wondering where they would take me.
When they removed my blindfold it was the bus terminus in the city proper. It was around 7am. They let me ride on a bus. When I took the bus, those who took me into custody had spoken to the fare collector, probably telling him not to collect fare from me as I was not asked to pay. They only told me to go home. They did not return my bag, all my identification documents, all my personal belongings and my clothes that I was supposed to bring to Manila, were taken by them.
That was the last occasion that I saw them. We could say that they let me go; however, they had all the information about me. I did not have visible signs of torture, but I felt internally that I was bruised physically and mentally. Apart from my ruptured lip, I also felt my nose was fractured because it was bleeding profusely at that time. It was only after the bus that I was riding on had stopped at one destination that I was able to place ice on my face to cool my head off. The air conditioning inside the bus was very cold.
I notice that the torture marks to my legs, arms and body became visible only after one week. Although I am an activist, I have no idea about human rights–like who are the human rights groups whom you can approach for help with your problem. I did not complain. My awareness in terms of human rights, like what are my rights in complaining or filing charges was an idea I never thought of because I did not know.
Q: You did not see a doctor or went to the hospital?
Victim: I did not go (doctor or hospital) because I do not see any use of it. And I also did not know that I should have done it. Firstly, I was too frightened. The fear that I felt was very different to anything I had ever experienced. Now, I thought what I have experienced could be similar to other people who were also tortured. You do not know what to do. I never told anyone about what happened to me because I was too frightened. It was only after one year that I was able to tell my colleagues about what happened to me—by that time the news of the torture that I had suffered was no longer fresh news.
And because the news (for others) was no longer new, they doubted me. Because at that time it was during the presidency of (Fidel) Ramos; and I was told that the regime of (Ferdinand) Marcos was already over. They could not believe that what I had experience could have happen. But what happened to me also happened to others. I only heard stories about students who were picked-up. Probably, it was two years after my ordeal. Meaning, it took some time for others to verify my story and it was only believed after similar incidents happened to other students.
Q: After you were tortured, did you think about it every day? How did you manage to keep it to yourself for a year? Does it affect you mentally?
Victim: I thought the mere fact that I was not able to disclose it to my colleagues and others it already had an effect on me. I was too frightened. They (the police) can get back at me anytime. One month after the incident I went back to Baguio City. I felt I was taking a risk myself to test how far I could go. They could see me again and get back at me. Baguio is a very small city compared to Manila or any other cities in the Philippines. Because the place is small, it would be very easy for me (or anyone) to be seen again. That really frightened me. But I thought to myself that I could do it because that is the commitment I had as a student activist. Every now and then I thought of it and the idea really frightened me. I could still remember what happened to me, but I thought through the years I had overcome that trauma that I had in my life.
Q: Have you thought of seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist?
Victim: I did consult (them) before. It was a psychologist. I also know a few other people who are my friends. I have also undergone sessions in which I did not realize I was already under therapy. It was only about story-telling and sharing of experiences. I felt I have been able to release the emotional baggage that I had at that time. Eventually I was able to overcome it. I also experienced nightmares every night when I slept. I was sure I would be picked up again. I had nightmares that the (police) would see me somewhere in Session Road in Baguio City, that they would take me in a van or their patrol car. I had these types of nightmares.
Q: You mean, those who picked you up were from inside a police car?
Victim: They were in their police car. They were wearing (police) uniforms. There were two policemen and the three others were military.
Q: Were you able to remember what was written in their name plates?
Victim: I could not remember it anymore because it was dark. I could not focus and pay attention at that time on getting their names. What really preoccupied my mind was about what they were capable of doing to me. That was my only worry. I no longer thought of knowing what their names were.
Q: Now that we have that Anti-Torture Law, being a torture victim yourself what do you think about this?
Victim: For me, it is good that we already have the Anti-Torture Law. I have also read some part of the contents of this law. It is good and I thought it could provide protection to the victims of torture, those who could be victims of torture and those who are about to be tortured. They are helpful to victims whether the incident of torture is perpetrated by State elements or anybody who is capable of committing torture.
For me the law is good. But I have a few reservations about how it could be effectively be implemented and enforced. Because there have been many cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and many victims of torture. So, how could you ensure that the implementation of this law would be effective? During my time as a student activist, the incident of human rights violations was not that rampant as against the suffering of torture victims today. It is worst than what I experienced. So, how could you ensure effectively that torture victims are safe and given security. But generally it is good that we already have this law, the only issue is how effective the law could be in terms of implementation. There should be a clear answer to that.
Q: If we had the Anti-torture Law at that time, would you be willing to pursue in filing of charges?
Victim: Yes, probably I would have filed a case and also if I was aware of how to file a complaint. Because (at that time) I just knew my rights as a student activist. But had I known that this would happen, I could have probably taken some action about my case. And had we had the Anti-Torture Law at that time I could have maximized this law. But the thing is I did not know what my rights were. Even now, we already have the Anti-Torture Law, but up to what extent does the public know about this? Does the public know that there is an (Anti-Torture Law). Of course it is a law, and since this is a law it should be the responsibility of the state or the government to make it known to the public. But many people are not yet aware of this law.
Q: Even now, is that what you think?
Victim: That is what I thought because it is not widely publicized. Actually, I have already asked my friends in the community and even my relatives if they are aware that there is already an Anti-Torture Law, but none of them knew it about it. Probably only the activists are aware about this law and those who are advocating for human rights know about it but the ordinary people, who are at risk or being victims of torture, are not aware about the existence of this law. They do not know that there is a law against torture. Part of the implementation of the law should have been to educate and inform the people about the law.
Q: Do you have any message to your fellow activists and to their families?
Victim: Firstly, for the victims of torture we should continue seeking justice because this is what we need to do. We should push for our rights as human beings. We already have a law. We just need to maximize it. For example, we already have the Anti Torture Law, so (we should think) how are we going to maximize this? How it could provide justice to the victims. We should study and improve ourselves on this. It will take a mass movement. We have to explain this, not only to victims of torture, but also to the public. (We have to explain) why human rights and the rights of any individual must be respected? It could take another mass movement for the education and campaign so that we could push for the implementation of this law.
Q: Do you have any message to the government or to the agencies who are responsible in implementing the Anti-torture Law?
Victim: To the government and elements of the State, they should study this law. In my experience, the perpetrators were state elements–the government personnel. They should study the content of the (anti-torture) law. They need to be educated as well. See, even the public does not know about this law; then, those who are responsible in the implementation of this law should be the first ones to study it.
The fundamental basis on which the Anti-Torture Law stands for is the principle of the right to life of a person. This is the basic right of any individual. This is the reason why human rights must be respected.
The views shared in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.