February 10, 2010

Arrest of 43 Another Case of Torture as a State Policy– NYCHRP

NEW YORK– A local human rights advocacy organization denounced the arrest and ongoing maltreatment of the detained 43 health workers in a Philippine military camp as another example of the Philippine military’s routine use of torture in its counter-insurgency campaign known as Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL). It called for the immediate and unconditional release of the health workers affiliated with the Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED) and Council for Health and Development (CHD) who are currently still in detention in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.

“The Arroyo government acts as if it is above International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law,” states Gary Labao of the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP). “Since OBL’s first launch in 2002 and re-launch in 2007, one of its distinctive features is the targeting of unarmed civilians critical of government policies in the name of annihilating armed insurgency in the countryside. The arrest of the 43 health workers, who were conducting a medical training seminar to service of the poor, shows how the Philippine military employs arbitrary arrests, denies legal counsel, and inflicts torture upon civilians, forcing them into ‘admit’ they are armed rebels. This so-called ‘evidence’ gathered by Philippine security forces should not be deemed admissible in any court of law.”

The rights group also recalled the case of Melissa Roxas, a US citizen and community health worker from Los Angeles, whose testimony to the Philippine Supreme Court last year stated that she was abducted, blindfolded, and tortured for six days by captors who were forcing her to admit she was a member of the New Peoples Army (NPA). Though the Philippine Supreme Court denied a petition filed by Roxas to conduct a investigation of Fort Magsaysay, headquarters of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine military and the location where Roxas believes she was detained, it ruled to grant Roxas a writ of amparo (protection) that validated the claim of abduction and torture based on supporting testimony from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and reports from medical examiners.

“What the Arroyo government repeatedly ignores is the mandate of the various covenants on human rights it has ratified which unconditionally entitles armed groups such as the NPA protection from any form of torture or degrading treatment,” Labao added.

In its concluding observations of the Philippine delegation’s presentation during its 42nd session in Geneva last April, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UN CAT) expressed concern over the “routine and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment of suspects in police custody.” The Philippines ratified the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment of Punishment in 1986, the same year that marked the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.

Two international non-governmental organizations (NGO’s)— the International Federation of Actions by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT) and Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) submitted an alternative report on the Philippines to the UN CAT that same year.

“Torture and ill-treatments are often committed [by the Philippine military] in order to extract confessions…and obtain forced testimonies,” the 2009 FIACAT-ACAT report on the Philippines states.

The same report also outlines the practice of “arrests with excessive violence” and “the use of fabricated charges” as a “method to keep targeted persons in unjustifiable detention.”

NYCHRP also warned that the upcoming May 2010 elections are another indication of escalating violence in the country, as demonstrated by the clash of governing warlords competing for a gubernatorial seat in Maguindanao that resulted in the gruesome Ampatuan Massacre last November 23rd.

“OBL and the case of the Morong 43 validates of the UN CAT’s published observations on the Philippines,” Labao added. “But as long as a culture of impunity persists in the Philippines, allowing the perpetrators of arbitrary arrests and torture to roam unaccounted, the international community plays a role in supporting the people’s movement in the Philippines for the advancement and protection of basic human rights and dignity.” ###