World Bulletin/News Desk
The Philippine senate has opened into an inquiry following the publication of a report highlighting the use of torture by police, local media reported Friday.
Amnesty International said torture by police was going unchecked due to a "pervasive culture of impunity." The report documented police using electrocution, mock executions, asphyxiation, beatings and rape to extract confessions and for extortion.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the senate's justice committee, said torture was being carried out by police officers despite an anti-torture act passed five years ago.
He told the SunStar newspaper: "While torture is now penalized as a crime under the anti-torture act, the reality is that torture and ill-treatment remain common in many police stations in the country."
Last year, the Commission on Human Rights recorded 75 cases of alleged torture in the Philippines, Pimentel said. In 60 cases police officers were implicated as the perpetrators. Of the 28 torture cases recorded between January and July this year, 22 cases were said to involve police.
In 2009, the Philippines passed a law recognizing torture as a separate offense and guaranteed victims redress but no officials have yet been convicted under the act, Amnesty reported.
Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said: “Too many police officers in the Philippines are all gun and no badge - abusing their power while making a mockery of their duty to protect and serve the people.”
Speaking in Manila earlier this week, she added: “The government has the legislation in place, now it needs to enforce it or risk the police placing themselves above the law.”
She welcomed the senate’s inquiry as the “first step towards tackling entrenched impunity within the Philippine police force.”
The Amnesty report – partly based on evidence from 55 victims, including 21 who were children at the time – found police had tortured hundreds of detainees since 2009.
The report included evidence from two survivors who said they were shot and left for dead.
In one harrowing video, apparently filmed on a mobile phone, Darius Evangelista, a porter arrested in Manila, was shown being tortured as uniformed police looked on. His body was later discovered with three gunshot wounds to the head.
No police have been convicted in relation to the case.
Jerryme Corre told Amnesty he was arrested in the street by more than ten plainclothes officers. At a police station he was beaten across the soles of his feet, suffocated with his own shorts, ‘waterboarded,’ and electrocuted.
During his interrogation, he was repeatedly called by the wrong name. When he was eventually identified as the wrong man he was charged anyway.
Stories like these have left public trust in the police at a low ebb. A recent Transparency International survey found that 69 percent of Filipinos believe the force is corrupt yet the government has failed to crack down on rogue officers, Amnesty said.
Those victims who complain risk retribution, harassment or intimidation from officers or hired thugs.
Five of the victims interviewed by Amnesty had withdrawn a complaint against police following threats.
Since the establishment of the Philippines’ Commission for Human Rights in 2001 it has received 457 reports of torture or ill-treatment. Not one case has resulted in a conviction.
Among its recommendations, Amnesty proposed establishing a unified, independent and effective police complaints commission.
“Five years, hundreds of complaints and no convictions later, it’s painfully obvious that the anti-torture act is not being enforced,” Shetty said.
The Philippine National Police responded to the report by claiming the human rights commission had received six complaints during 2013, although the true figure is 75. The press release failed to address any of the 55 cases raised by Amnesty.
Shetty said: “Whatever figure the police want to use, this is only the tip of the iceberg - everything we are seeing suggests the real figure is far higher. Most people are too frightened to report torture for fear of reprisals and that is an important part of problem.”
She added: “Our pleasant surprise at the swift response to our report from one branch of the government has been marred by the police’s attempt to present an alternate reality.”
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