Posts Tagged Philippines

Commemorating International Human Rights Day by supporting our work to fight torture worldwide

On the 10th of December, the world commemorates the 69th birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was an acknowledgment that every person has equal rights everywhere in the world, including the right to be free from torture.

Unfortunately, human rights are continuously under attack. But we still believe that darkness falls and hope rises.
MAG pic for WWT

Photo: Health professionals in the Philippines being trained in how to identify, document and report cases of torture.

Just a few weeks ago, we were in the Philippines, where there are around 13,000 reported deaths resulting from the government’s bloody “War on Drugs” committed without due process.

Yet, together with our member centre the Medical Action Group, we trained brave Filipino health professionals on how to identify, document and report cases of torture. This effort was supported by the Department of Health, which also acknowledged the urgent need to develop hospital ER protocols for recognizing and supporting torture victims.

For over 30 years, our member the Medical Action Group has been taking this road less traveled – putting up a good fight to make the country torture-free. Born in 1982, at the height of the Marcos dictatorship, the Medical Action Group continuously commits itself as a health professional organization to collectively respond and speak out against any forms of gross human rights violation. Their work is becoming relevant now more than ever.

So what better way of celebrating this important day than to support our work – empowering the most vulnerable in society and supporting victims of torture – by donating to this cause.

While fighting for human rights seems futile sometimes, let’s remember:

Even in the darkest times and unfavorable circumstances, through the reign of dictatorships and oppressive regimes, there are those – like IRCT’s members – who keep the flame of hope burning.

As the saying goes, “If not now, when?. If not us, who would?”

If you want to support this important work please donate here.


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Still no justice in the “Wheel of Torture” cases in the Philippines

In February 2014, the world was shocked to learn about the “Wheel of Torture”, a sadistic game being used inside the Philippine National Police Provincial Intelligence Board (PIB), a secret detention compound in Biñan, Laguna Province, Philippines.

The “game” is played when a police officer spins the roulette-style wheel, which lists different methods of torture, to determine which punishment they should receive. These include “30 seconds of hanging” and ”20 seconds of beatings”. The PIB was shut down after a visit from the Commission on Human Rights Region IV Office and more than 40 detainees complained to the authorities that they had been subjected to the Wheel of Torture.

Wheel of Torture_MAGCrop

MAG and the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines using the symbol of the Torture Wheel to raise awareness during an EU project called End Torture in the Philippines. (Courtesy of MAG)

LC is one of the detainees who was tortured for months. Once he was taken to a small hut inside the PIB and forced to drink water contaminated with dog faeces. Another time, two of his toenails were almost taken out with pliers and officers poured alcohol and gasoline over him and threatened to set him on fire. LC says one of the guards was, “looking for a lighter but could not find one at the time.”

RA is another one of the victims. He was beaten with the handle of a dustpan, a piece of wood, a steel baseball bat, a plastic chair and their fists and feet. He was also electrocuted, blindfolded, and repeatedly gagged.

Despite the many complaints and the fact that 25 cases were filed, only four remain pending and no police officers have ever been convicted. IRCT member in the Philippines, the Medical Action Group (MAG) has provided rehabilitation services and legal referrals to many of the torture victims held at the PIB. MAG documented a total of 27 clients out of 41 who were initially interviewed. The others did not want to be documented.

MAG says that it is both sad and disappointing that out of 25 cases, the local human rights office in-charge of the case has filed, only four remain pending. “Some clients have died during the process and some withdrew their complaints and took the side of the alleged perpetrators as a result of threats and intimidation.”

LC is still one of MAG’s clients and continues to suffer from nightmares. He feels extremely angry and upset whenever he thinks about what happened at the PIB, but the scars from his beatings and burns make it hard to forget.

MAG was due to have a meeting with the local human rights office, along with the Central Human Rights Office about the cases in May. However, it was cancelled because of the presidential elections and no new date has been set. “It is all too common that cases like this are never heard and reported. With medical and psychological help and support, we can heal the wounds of the survivors but they may never get back to the place they were before they were tortured. This particular case reminds us that torture can never be justified in any circumstance,” says MAG.

The Philippine Government passed an Anti-Torture law in 2009 but human rights groups say things have been slow to change. However, there is some cause for hope, as on 29 March 2016, a Philippine court made a historic ruling in which a police officer was convicted of torturing a bus driver to confess to crimes he denies he committed. It was the first conviction under the 2009 Anti-Torture Act.

The Philippines is now in a period of transition with newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte having spoken openly about his hard stance on law and order. The future is unclear for the country but for the victims of the wheel of torture the past cannot be forgotten.

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In pursuit of justice — Randy from the Philippines

Marking this year’s Human Rights Day on 10 December, we cast a light on psychosocial support during legal proceedings — a critical yet neglected area within the fight against impunity and rehabilitation itself.

For many victims, seeing the perpetrator brought to justice and receiving compensation for the harm suffered is an essential step in their rehabilitation. However, seeking justice can often be a traumatising experience for a survivor of torture, or seen as a mere waste of time. Appropriate psychosocial support for torture victims in their pursuit of justice and reparation can change that.

In the days leading up to 10 December, four survivors of torture will share their stories in the pursuit of justice. They will reveal their fears and expectations as they challenged the perpetrators in court. They will also reveal how psychosocial support has helped them through the process, regardless of the final ruling.

Randy: “There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished." 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

Randy: “There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished.” 2014 © International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

We start with the testimony of Randy (not his real name) who was arrested, blindfolded, beaten and stabbed. Now twenty-seven years old he is still overcoming his torture for allegedly joining a communist militia in the Philippines. With guidance and support Randy overcame his anger and vengeance. Today, he still seeks legal punishment of the perpetrators.

“I want to get justice. Support through the legal process has helped me locate the people who tortured me. I hope they will one day be punished.”

Randy’s drive to ensure punishment of those who tortured him is not unique. In fact, research conducted across IRCT’s members indicates that seeing punishment for the perpetrator is the top expectation of torture victims, when taking their case to court.

Randy is still overcoming the torture he experienced in April 2010. A suspected member of the New People’s Army (NPA), an armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the military arrested Randy while he prayed at his home in the northern part of the Philippines.

Two soldiers escorted Randy outside and beat him. Then, in sight of Randy’s family, they stabbed him in the hip with a bayonet. Afterwards Randy was blindfolded and thrown into the back of a van. The journey in the van ended at a military camp. There Randy was detained, doused in water and electrocuted.

“I cannot explain the pain I felt,” says Randy. “It felt like my body would explode. I kept pleading for them to stop but they did not listen.

“Instead of being killed, I was tortured and then transferred to a police station. There I was forced to sign a confession that I was a member of the NPA,” says Randy.

It was during this time that IRCT’s member centres – BALAY and the Medical Action Group (MAG) – visited him to show how the State had infringed his rights. Initially Randy did not want to pursue justice. According to IRCT’s members in this report, a lack of knowledge of their rights and legal processes, and fear of reprisals, are some of the most frequent reasons why victims often do not pursue justice.

“Initially I wanted revenge,” says Randy. “I even considered actually joining the New People’s Army to find my torturers and to punish them for what they had done.”

With guidance from BALAY and MAG, Randy’s vengeance subsided and he was encouraged to mount a case, so long as he was in a secure location. Randy’s bail was paid and he was moved to a secure location in Manila.

“The experts who visited me in prison helped me understand how legal proceedings can have positive effects for me and for other torture survivors,” Randy explains. “Filing a case against the soldiers who tortured me was a vital step in my recovery process. I felt the need to file a case not only for me but also for other victims.”

Legal processes can entail trauma – not only must the torture survivor relive their experience in a different setting, but many torture victims find the court’s attitudes regarding care towards the victim is often negative. It is something Randy noticed throughout his court proceedings. “The events are still fresh in my mind. I cannot forget it and I can recall all of the details,” he says.

In 2011, the prosecutor found probable cause in the torture case filed by Randy and released warrants of arrest against the two soldiers. However, by the time the warrants of arrest were released, the two soldiers had been transferred to a different unit. There were several attempts to locate the soldiers to no avail.

Then in 2012 the criminal case filed against Randy came to a resolution. He was sentenced to be imprisoned for three and a half years. The court favoured the soldiers’ testimonies and considered that he had been arrested as part of a legitimate operation. Randy and his relatives’ testimonies were given less credibility and considered inconsistent.

Randy’s lawyer immediately filed a motion to appeal his criminal conviction with the Court of Appeal; the appeal is still pending.

However, the case filed by Randy against the military is currently at a standstill. Although the court sent out warrants of arrest against the two soldiers in 2011, they are still at large.

“There is still no justice because the torture case has not yielded any clear results. The military personnel who tortured me are still unpunished,” Randy explains. “I am not satisfied. Developments and updates about the case have been limited and the process is very slow. ”

On 10 December, the IRCT will publish its latest report: “In pursuit of justice: The importance of psychosocial support for torture victims participating in legal proceedings” which will be available on the IRCT website.

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Realizing the right to rehabilitation in Asia: perspective from India and the Philippines

The right to rehabilitation was adopted by the IRCT as its message for the 2013 International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June. IRCT member centres throughout the world, including Asia, have committed themselves to making this right a reality, to have the right realized on the ground. But what is the reality in Asia, and, in particular, what is the situation in India and how can we move forward?

These were some of the questions the regional meeting sought to address. The theme of this year’s IRCT Asian Regional Meeting held in Kolkata, India was the right to rehabilitation – the ground reality in Asia. Furthermore, the regional meeting was an opportunity for rehabilitation centres to share updates on the implementation of the right to rehabilitation in practical terms in their respective countries. It was co-hosted by the Centre for the Care of Torture Victims (CCTV) of India, which works in Kolkata and West Bengal.

From the nine countries[1] in Asia, in which there are almost 18 IRCT member centres, India is the only country that has not yet acceded to or ratified the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), although it was signatory to the convention almost 15 years ago. Indeed India is the only democracy of South Asia that not yet signed up to UNCAT.

General Comment No. 3, published by the Committee Against Torture at the end of 2012, clarified points of Article 14 of the UNCAT: rehabilitation should be holistic, States have a financial obligation regardless of resources available, rehabilitation must be accessible at the soonest possible point after torture, and that torture victims have a right to choose their provider, be it nongovernmental organisations or the State providing services.

Providing holistic rehabilitation to survivors of torture can help heal the effects of torture and also help towards re-establishing damaged communities. The aim of rehabilitation is to empower the torture survivor to resume as full a life as possible within their families and their communities. However, while international law grants all torture victims a right to rehabilitation, this is not a reality in many countries through the world, including those in Asia.

If India has not ratified the UNCAT, then how do advocates push for the realisation of the right to rehabilitation without this particularly back of an international treaty? Dr Laifungbam Roy, President of the Centre for Organisation Research & Education and Director of Human to Humane Transcultural Centre for Torture & Trauma working in Manipur, provided some analysis of his thoughts during the key-note address at the regional meeting. He started by sharing with the audience some interesting views he had read in a paper presented by Emily Reilly at the Ninth Conference of the European Network of Rehabilitation Centres for Survivors of Torture (2010) that considered how various international laws (other than UNCAT) may ensure that survivors of torture can access specialist rehabilitation services/support they might require.

For example, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was cited as a possibly more effective legal basis for ensuring the right to rehabilitation for torture survivors than UNCAT. The reason given was that CRPD recognises the right to rehabilitation as an independent human right, rather than a part of more general measures of reparation or an aspect of the right to health. In addition, the address went on to elucidate that the right to rehabilitation in CRPD applies to all survivors of torture who can be categorized as persons with certain kinds of disabilities, without exception, unlike the right to rehabilitation in the Convention against Torture, which can be enforced only against a State that caused, consented to or acquiesced in the survivors’s suffering.

Looking at and learning from other existing legal instruments and frameworks is important given, as Dr Roy pointed out, that for many different reasons it is only a very small number of torture survivors who can in reality achieve their right to rehabilitation by legal means today. In summary, the recommendation from the first half of the keynote address was that the right to rehabilitation should not be interpreted solely within the framework of victims of torture only, but rather within a broader perspective of rehabilitation rights for many types of suffering and damage inflicted on individual person (s) or groups that includes victims of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.

So what steps do advocates take in a different context – one where the UNCAT has been ratified, yet torture victims still do not have access to rehabilitation?

Though all of the other countries participated in the meeting have either signed up to or acceded to UNCAT, they also faced certain challenges. A representative from Indonesia stated that the government does not give them permission to conduct programmes in prison. Therefore, it’s very difficult to sensitize and raise awareness amongst police officers and others about the right to rehabilitation. Also the support needed from government officials is not forthcoming.

During the second day of the regional meeting, representatives from two member centres in the Philippines made a presentation on “Realizing the right to rehabilitation in the Philippines: ground realities”. In summary, they stated that in the Philippines what rehabilitation means is generally known, per se. But torture rehabilitation is a new idea for most. They went on to state that it’s difficult to convince the government that torture survivors need rehabilitation.

They also highlighted some dilemmas they encounter, such as the fact that torture survivors are both in the community and in the prison system, therefore requiring a different work approach from support organisations. Also given torture rehabilitation should be multidisciplinary and coordinated, they asked who would take the lead? Is it national or local rehabilitation?  In the final part of the presentation they proposed a new avenue for centres/countries to explore, which was to maximize the Convention on the Right to Persons with Disability as a pathway for torture survivors to claim their right to rehabilitation, as mentioned in the keynote address on the first day.

What the examples from the Asia regional meeting demonstrate is the need to deeply consider the country contexts in unearthing best approaches to ensuring victims have access to holistic and appropriate rehabilitation.


By Marion Staunton, Regional Coordinator for Asia


[1] Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, India

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Making torture prevention in the Philippines a reality

There are laws abolishing torture. Laws, both international and domestic, that dictate that torture is a crime, a human rights violation, with no extenuating circumstances; that states are obligating to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

This is true in many countries in the world, including the Philippines, where the Medical Action Group (MAG) , an IRCT member, is based. But how do you take a policy and make it good practice?

As seen in the video above, taking that step means targeting the prosecutors and investigators themselves.

“This is to emphasize the close collaboration between the legal and police professions,” says Edeliza P. Hernandez, Executive Director of MAG. “However, investigators and prosecutors most often have limited knowledge and understanding of and insight into each other’s work and may even view each other with skepticism. This training of investigators and prosecutors on investigation and documentation of torture cases is crucial process in providing them common ground and framework to work on the application of international standards for effective investigation and successful prosecution of torture cases in the country.”

Investigations into crimes of torture are challenging, admits PCSupt. Nestor M. Fajura, Head of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Human Rights Affairs Office, in the video. There are difficulties in the officers’ abilities and skills to investigate such crimes and difficulties in linking the crimes to a specific perpetrator.

But as this project shows, skills and knowledge of effective investigation can be improved.

Investigators from the PNP and other criminal justice organisations learned about improved medical evidence and documentation of torture, the legal framework for which torture is criminalized in the domestic law and confronting the challenges that arise when police officers must investigate their peers.

But using forensic documentation of torture and fully investigating these crimes, says forensic expert Dr Benito Molino, is a step toward reducing impunity, toward reducing torture and one day to eradicating it fully.

Watch the video here from MAG to see this project in action.

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News update: Justice for crimes of torture

Of course, the nature of anti-torture work is often a sea of depressing news. However, in this news update, we would like to highlight that sometimes things can change for the better. Impunity can subside, torture may relent, and there can at times be a mild ‘sea-change’, so to speak.

On Wednesday, a US judge issued a permanent injunction against key provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would give powers to the US military to indefinitely detain a US citizen. One of the plaintiffs in the case, wrote in the Guardian:

Sometimes, it is worth believing in impossible things – like standing up to the United States government, and daring to believe you can win. Sometimes, we do. And because we did, for now at least, and for most of us, due process still stands.

Although the federal government has appealed the injunction, for now due process rights for US citizens remain.

From Tajikistan, we welcome the verdict that a police inspector has been found guilty and sentenced to seven years for torturing a 17-year-old boy. This is the first time that the domestic law criminalising torture has been used in a case since it was put in place in March of this year. Domestic laws criminalising torture are part of the obligations that states have after ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture, which Tajikistan did in 1995.

Hearings have started in a case against two police officers in Kazan, Russia on charges of torturing a man to death. The high-profile case has also resulted in the dismissal of the region’s interior minister. We hope that the victim’s family sees justice for this horrific crime.

In the Philippines, a court has also turned down an appeal from a Manila policeman who has been accused of torturing a man in detention.

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“Are children being tortured?”

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part mini-series on our work in coordination with member centres in the Philippines. Look back to Thursday for Tessa’s post on the Balay Rehabilitation Centre on monitoring torture in detention.

By Line

“Are children being tortured?”

This is a question I have been asked many times when explaining IRCT‘s current project on children and torture.

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The next question is usually an (understandable) staggering, “Why?”

On a recent IRCT mission to the Philippines, the aim was to investigate this question in the context of the Philippines together with IRCT’s Quezon City-based member centre BALAY Rehabilitation Centre.

Globally, the issue of tortured children is rarely highlighted. Often reference is made to child abuse and violence against children, but torture against children is rarely included as a specific category. The objective behind the children’s project is to document cases of tortured children in the Asian region, and not least to find out why and how it is happening in order to develop measures for prevention and rehabilitation.

In Manila and its surrounding cities, it is especially street children, children living in poverty and children coming from broken families who are at risk of being tortured; either as a punishment for having committed a crime, or as a means of making them confess to a crime they might never have committed. Why this is happening is a complex matter, but the root causes include poverty, corruption, lack of awareness and lack of preventative measures.

During the mission to the Philippines, a round-table discussion on the issue of children and torture in the Philippines was held. The round-table brought together representatives from national and international NGOs working with children, agencies of the Philippine government working on child-related matters, prison management staff, social workers, lawyers and health professionals.

The purpose of round-table discussions is exactly that – bringing together different perspectives and disciplines in order to highlight an issue. At this round-table the presence of so many different perspectives proved crucial for understanding why torture against children is happening in the Philippines and what can be done about it.

For example, representatives from the prison management showed that they are receiving children from the police, although the police know or should know that the children are to be referred to youth homes according to a 2006 law on juvenile justice. At least one of the reasons as to why the police continue to refer the children to the prison authorities is the insufficient number of youth homes available in the Philippines and the incapability of the existing ones to accommodate and rehabilitate the children due to a lack of funding and support.

One of the representatives of the prison management explained yet another reason when discussing torture of children by the police at the round-table:

“The police still turn over children to us saying they are not minors because of their behavior. For the police, what the children have done is not something children can do, so to them they are not children any longer.”

As an answer to the recommendations given at the round-table she continued:

“What we can do is recommend a policy of hiring, which demands of a person to have understanding of care for children. Even uniform people are also humans they can be made to respond to children. If you strip off their uniform, they are still humans.”

On a practical level the round-table provided for a possibility to raise the awareness of and need for documentation on cases of tortured children. On an idealistic level, the round-table became a reminder that dialogue with all people involved – NGOs, the government, child advocates, prison officials, and police – including the ones you disagree with or do not expect to know or understand the issue, is crucial to address torture of children in the Philippines.


About a week after the recent our mission to the Philippines, we received a mail from BALAY saying they had been asked for input to the Philippine National Plan of Action for Children (NPAC) 2011-2016 and that the input could concern children and torture in the Philippines.

The NPAC forms part of the Philippine’s response to signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is based on the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. The main purpose of the NPAC is to set out five year plans and goals for improving the welfare and well-being of children in the Philippines. Since the knowledge of the issue of tortured children is low even among organizations working with children in the Philippines, the possibility of providing input to the national planning on this matter is of immense importance.

The draft NPAC we received did not include any programming or information on tortured children. Instead, they focused on issues related to children and violence and child abuse. This reflected the information we had been able to gather during the mission that made it clear that torture of children has failed to reach the national agenda and attention in the Philippines, although it is a concerning and highly prevalent practice.

In cooperation with BALAY we were able to add comments on torture and children in the NPAC policy. This is the first time children and torture is mentioned in a national policy document on children in the Philippines. By the 10th December we will know whether our comments were accepted – for now we are crossing our fingers.

 Line is a sociologist and researcher at the IRCT, where she currently heads the project on children and torture in Asia.

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Targeting the marginalised: Detainees in the Philippines

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part mini-series on our work in coordination with member centres in the Philippines. Look next Tuesday for Line’s post on the project on children and torture.

By Tessa

Every Friday morning at the Copenhagen office, the available staff of the IRCT gathers for breakfast.

Generally, we take an hour to present our work to each other and catch up on the different departments over a cup of coffee and some Danish rugbrød. Last week, however, we were very pleased to have some guests from the member centre Philippines join us and share about their work in Manila on torture prevention and rehabilitation.

“We have faced some great challenges, and have had new opportunities emerge,” said Ernesto Anasarias, executive director of Balay Rehabilitation Centre, of the recent years of work in fighting torture and impunity in the Philippines.

While there has been a long history of torture in the Philippines, Ernesto says that the targets of torture have begun to change. Previously, torture was applied to political dissidents and protesters. Now, police use torture in interrogating suspects or as punishment for their crimes, and they consistently target the poor. Inside prisons, ill treatment of detainees is not uncommon.

Balay joined a coalition of anti-torture groups and campaigns in the Philippines to recognise the annual 26 June Day in Support of Torture Victims in 2008.

Alongside several projects that target particularly marginalised groups of torture victims – children, women, religious minorities, and the poor – Balay has been focusing on monitoring prisons and providing psycho-social rehabilitation services to those in detention.

With a population of about 94 million people – the world’s 12th most populous country – there are more than 1,000 prisons scattered about the archipelagic nation. Around 10% of which detain the political prisoners. And there is massive overcrowding in the Philippines’ prisons, says Matabai Mustapha, who runs the prison monitoring project at Balay.

However, in addition to the added possibility of abuses among inmates in the prisons, Matabai says the overcrowding creates a problem in treating victims of torture in prisons – there is simply no space for privacy and confidentiality usually required for such counselling or treatment.

“We maximize what is available,” she explains. Sometimes that means trying to find a quiet corner; on other occasions, when they have established a working relationship with prison authorities, they may use management offices.

Despite the sometimes-makeshift circumstances, Balay offers a comprehensive programme of psycho-social rehabilitation services, which includes the torture victim and his or her family.

For more information on the Balay Rehabilitation Centre and their work throughout the Philippines, please visit their website.

 Tessa is communications assistant at the IRCT.

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