PHILIPPINES: Torture victims speak out--"Families of victims think complaining is useless" Interview 6
The case of Abina's relatives, collectively known as the GenSan 3, is featured in the special report in Article 2, titled: Torture in the Philippines & the unfulfilled promise of the 1987 Constitution.
Although her relatives have already been exonerated from the false charges the impact of the detention and torture they suffered still haunts them. In this interview, we asked her for her insights about what does the victims and their families think about when pursuing torture cases in court. Abina mentions the recent case of Misuari Kamid, an ethnic minority member and his companion (AHRC-UAC-138-2010).
Q: Can you tell us about the torture cases that you deal with in your community?
Abina: One of the torture victims that I am helping now is Misuari Kamid. He is now detained at the General Santos City Jail in Lanton. Apart from him, there are also other torture victims who choose not to mention their names because they are too frightened of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agents.
Also, the families of the victims are not keen on filing complaints (of torture under the Anti-torture Act of 2009) because they believe it is useless. They said even if they pursue charges against the perpetrators, the government ignores their grievances. If we look at the implementation of the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, I think it is not being effectively implemented. You see, the law has been in effect since 2009, but there has not been credible investigation into cases of torture.
But you know, even if you speak to the families of the victims (about filing complaints) what they usually tells you is: "Ate, useless lang" (Elder sister, It is useless). You know why, because none of the policemen pay attention to us. If we make a complaint by registering a police blotter; or, if we seek assistance from government agencies, they ignore us.
And even if they pay attention to us, they would just say: "Sige lang, himoan nato pa-agi" (It's ok, we will find a way). That is it and it is because of that the families of the torture victims have little interest to follow up their case with them.
I have heard stories from detainees of arrestees being tortured in custody.
On one occasion, I was able to speak to a detainee at the Papa 1 (Police Station No. 1 at the General Santos City Police Office (GSCPO)). He told me: "Ako, wala ko gi-torture Ate pero ang akong kauban siya pwede maka-istorya (They did not torture me. But my companion (inside the jail) could tell you his story of having been tortured)". He told me the victim had been charged with numerous fabricated cases.
Firstly, it was due to possession of illegal drugs; secondly, for being responsible for bombing incidents; thirdly, robbery; fourthly, kidnapping. He is a Moro (an ethnic minority). It is painful for me because most of the victims are Moro people. When they arrest suspects, the victims were deliberately denied opportunities to make their defense.
Imagine, how can a person be able to speak (like calling for a lawyer, his family or making his side heard by the arresting officers) when your head if wrapped in a plastic bag? They torture victims, they assault and they hit you using whatever hard objects that comes to hand. They would demand from the torture victims: "Tug-an sa tinuod para dili ka masakitan (Tell us the truth if you do not want to be hurt!)".
Q: We know that you are helping Misuari's case. You also exposed his torture case perpetrated by the PDEA agents. But how is he now? What is the progress of his case after it was exposed?
Abina: After we exposed the torture on him, he would have to endure a different form of torture, not physical but psychological, while in the detention. He always thought of himself as having been tortured, if not the possibility of being tortured again. They, the PDEA agents have already threatened to kill him if he continues to expose his case. They warned him: "Ok, up to you. You can do whatever you want, but mind you we can kill you easy; and we will include your family".
Q: How did they make such threats on the victim?
Abina: What the victim could not understand is that he has been visited by unidentified persons wanting to see him inside the jail. I'm not sure if they are 'trusted detainees', but the victim had no idea of who those persons are. He has not seen them before (as his fellow detainees) inside the jail. He begs from us, saying: "…pwede bantayan ninyo ang asawa ko, baka kunwari lang ang mga tao na yan (would you mind looking after my (wife outside the prison), because I am worried that they could be the hirelings of the perpetrators) He told me that he does not know the persons entering the jail to visit him. He was sure they are not policemen.
Also, those had warned him: "Ikaw isog ka ka-ayo mag-expose sa nahitabo sa imoha. Tama lang, kabalo ba ka unsa nahitabo ni mo. Kahibalo ba ka unsa ang mahimo namo unya paggawas nimo. (You know, you think you're so brave to expose the torture that happen to you. Do you realize what could happen and what we could do to you once you are out of prison?)
This is what worries him a lot inside the prison. He also worries about the safety of his own family outside prison. Even though he is no longer physically tortured, but mentally it bothers him a lot. Also, when his wife visits him in jail, he tells his wife he was too frightened because there are people he does not know visiting him.
Q: Do you mean the perpetrators are now aware that they have been exposed? Did these threats start after they were exposed?
Abina: Actually, his wife told me that they wanted to retract whatever they have already said in the media or to local television against the perpetrators. His wife said that only by retracting their testimonies that they could help save her husband's life; however, her husband told her: "Ayaw ko ninyo pa-bakaka. Unsa akong ginasulti kay tinuod (Do not make me lie. Whatever I said is the truth)". They are pressuring the victim to withdraw his complaint because they fear for their life.
Q: Do you mean the victim's family is pressuring him?
Abina: Yes, even his own family and relatives wanted him not to pursue his complaint of torture against the PDEA anymore. His wife, who also works for the government, she was very angry. Apart from her, the parents of the victim, who also work for the government, also pressure him not to pursue his complaint.
Q: Did the victim report the threats to the jail officers at the City Jail?
Abina: Yes, he did but they did not do anything. He thought he could only trust some of his fellow detainees inside his detention cell to protect him. He has suspicions that the jail officers could have connived with those who would want to kill him. So, he only trusts his fellow inmates to secure him inside the jail.
Q: Under the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, the role of torture victims in complaining is very important. Meaning, even if his family wanted him to withdraw, they cannot do anything; but if he withdraws, that is it.
Abina: I know. But his wife wants him to be taken out of jail first. She told me that somebody working for a local court had told her that they could apply for bail for her husband's temporary released from prison. She want that we could only continue exposing the case once her husband is out of prison.
Q: Are you aware of the result of the investigation, if there is any?
Abina: No, not yet. What his wife really wants to do is to take him outs of jail first by putting up bail. His wife wants to do it her own way, so we could hardly do anything much on his case. If there are court hearings on his case (false charges on him), his wife does not want us to know when the schedule would be. His wife wants to know and hear every single conversation that we have with the victim.
So, even if the victim wants to continue exposing his torture case; on the other hand his wife wanted him to keep silent and to retract his testimony.
Q: You mentioned earlier that the case of Misuari, is one of the many common practices of torture. From what you know, how many of the arrestees of the PDEA agents have been tortured?
Abina: When I documented the case of Misuari, I was able to speak to some of his companions but I could not remember their names; but others do not want their names mentioned. But I know there are detainees who suffered long period of torture and assault. I'm told that on one occasion a detainee was tortured by five to six persons.
Often they (PDEA agents) do not turn them over immediately to the police stations (for proper investigation) or the police detention center. What they (PDEA) does is to detain the persons they arrested before turning them over to police authorities.
When they are in PDEA's informal detention center, every time the agents get drunk, they torture them. They treat them like 'punching bags'. For my part, I really wanted to find where the families of these detainees are. It is not easy for a person like me, who is not a family member of the victims, to enter in the detention center. I pity the detainees.
Q: You mean you have testimonies from the detainees how they were tortured in their detention facilities, was there any inspection conducted in this place?
A: Not that I know. When I spoke to a detainee (held in another detention center), he told me: "Ate unta masudlan nimo ang PDEA. Luoy na ang mga naa diha. Ako wala ko ma-torture kay ang akong ama naga trabaho man sa korte (You know elder sister, it would have been better if you could get inside the detention facility. I feel sorry for those detainees. I was lucky not to be tortured because my father works at the court).
The views shared in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.