Report can be downloaded from here …

Philippines: ‘still a total lottery’ whether detainees avoid torture in police custody – new report

‘Roulette wheel’ case just one of hundreds where no-one has been brought to justice

3 December 2014,

New report lists dozens of cases, including waterboarding of a teenager and ‘penis-pulling’ abuse of man apparently then murdered in custody

Whether detainees in police custody in the Philippines avoid being tortured is “still a total lottery”, said Amnesty International today (4 December), nearly a year after the discovery of a torture “roulette wheel” being used by police officers to mete out abuse to dozens of detainees.

In January, human rights investigators discovered a secret detention facility in Laguna, a province south of the capital Manila, in which police officers appeared to be torturing 43 detainees for entertainment. The facility contained a large roulette wheel with descriptions of various torture positions. For example, if the wheel landed on “20-second Manny Pacquiao” it meant a detainee would be punched non-stop for 20 seconds, while “30-second bat position” meant being hung upside down for 30 seconds.

In a new 120-page report – Above the Law: Police Torture in the Philippines – based on in-depth research including more than 50 chilling testimonies from those tortured, Amnesty exposes how a pervasive culture of impunity in the Philippines is allowing torture by the police to go unchecked. Police officers in the country regularly subject detainees to electric shocks, mock executions, waterboarding, partial asphyxiation with plastic bags, beatings and rape – as a means to extract confessions or to extort money from those abused. The report also documents a number of attempted extrajudicial executions, with two survivors telling Amnesty they were shot and left for dead. Twenty-one of the people interviewed by Amnesty for the report were children when they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

Despite introducing a new anti-torture law five years ago, no police officers or other officials in the Philippines have been convicted for acts of torture since the law change. Likewise, since the establishment of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights in 2001, the commission has received 457 reports of torture or ill-treatment yet not one of those cases has resulted in a criminal conviction.

Amnesty International UK Stop Torture Campaign Manager Tom Davies said:

“The world was startled and horrified by the discovery of that torture ‘roulette wheel’ back in January but whether you avoid torture in police custody in the Philippines is still a total lottery.

“Our report contains distressing case after distressing case of terrible abuse of those held by the police in the Philippines.

“A common misconception about torture is that it’s rare and only used against terrorism suspects, but the grim reality of the Philippines is more typical – people young and old tortured by the police over alleged robberies, tortured for money or just tortured for ‘fun’.”

‘Ambrosio’: waterboarded with his cousin
In 2012, Ambrosio (not his real name), 17, was arrested with his cousin in Cabanatuan City, north of Manila, accused of robbery. Ambrosio told Amnesty that at the police station police hurled him and his cousin into a corner, kicked them and beat them with a stick. Police officers reportedly ordered Ambrosio and his cousin to kiss each other – and when they refused the officers hit them again. They were also made to lie on a bench, with their hands handcuffed behind their backs while police officers placed a towel over their face and poured water over them in what appears to have been waterboarding torture. After this, Ambrosio says the officers gave them electric shocks on the soles of their feet The torture only stopped the next day when Ambrosio and his cousin were presented to the media at the police station. “I covered my face”, says Ambrosio. “They were asking if we were the ones who committed the robbery but I refused to answer. While I was being interviewed by the media, a policeman took my cousin inside. He was barely able to speak after all the shocks and torture.”

Darius Evangelista: penis torture and severed head in Manila Bay

In 2010, police officers arrested Darius Evangelista, a porter in Manila, on suspicion of robbery. The officers reportedly took him to a room in the Binondo Police Station in Tondo, Manila, from which his fellow detainees heard Darius moaning in pain. Detainees said they later saw him being carried out with packing tape around his eyes, before being taken into a senior police officer’s room. When Darius was later brought out of this room detainees heard a senior police officer say “finish him off”. Darius was never seen alive again. Five months later, a harrowing video – apparently shot on a mobile phone – was broadcast on television showing Darius lying naked on the floor, screaming and writhing in pain while a seated man in a white shirt holds a string attached to Darius’ penis, forcefully and repeatedly pulling it. Others, including uniformed police officers, are visible watching this take place.

Meanwhile, three days after Darius’ arrest, his father received reports that a decapitated head was seen floating in Manila Bay. Both Darius’ father and Darius’ wife recognised their relative when they went to identify the head at a police station, with Darius’ wife counting three gunshot wounds to the head. Police told Darius’ wife that the recovered head would undergo DNA testing but subsequent delays in conducting tests have led to a protracted – and still unresolved – dispute over the identification process. At least seven police officers have been implicated in Darius’ case, though more than four years after his original arrest – and almost three years after a prosecution case against police officer began – the court case into his torture and apparent murder is still ongoing.

Police corruption

In the Philippines few people dare to complain at police mistreatment, knowing they risk retribution if they do so – either from police officers themselves or from hired thugs. For example, Rowelito Almeda, 45, was detained, beaten and repeatedly subjected to electric shocks during a five-day ordeal at the “roulette wheel” detention facility in Laguna. After he spoke to the country’s human rights commission about the abuse, police approached his cousin offering him money to kill Rowelito. Public trust in the police in the country is currently at a low ebb, with a recent Transparency International survey finding that 69% of people in the Philippines believe the police are corrupt.


New report exposes culture of impunity within Philippine police force

Torture is still rife in the Philippines.

4 December 2014

Torture by numbers

75 – the number of complaints of torture received by the Philippine Commission of Human Rights in 2013

80 – the percentage of those cases where police officers were involved

36 – the number of torture cases investigated by the Ombudsman’s office in 2013. The Ombudsman’s office is an independent agency tasked with investigating complaints against officials

3 – the number of such cases that were referred for prosecution

0 – the number of successful prosecutions resulting from investigations by the Ombudsman’s office

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.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

A pervasive culture of impunity is allowing torture by police to go unchecked in the Philippines, Amnesty International’s latest report, Above the Law: Police Torture in the Philippines, revealed today as it launched a major new campaign to stop torture in the country.

Despite the country’s ratification of the two key international anti-torture treaties, methods such as electrocution, mock executions, waterboarding, asphyxiating with plastic bags, beatings and rape continue to be employed by officers who torture for extortion and to extract confessions.

“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,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, in Manila for the launch of the campaign.

“The government has the legislation in place, now it needs to enforce it or risk the police placing themselves above the law.”

The passage of a progressive Anti-Torture Act five years ago should have been a landmark moment, but not a single official has been convicted so far, raising a large question mark as to the Act’s success.

The Philippines is the third of five countries to become the focus of a global Amnesty International campaign, Stop Torture, at a pivotal moment in the country’s development. Above the Law highlights how and why the government is failing to enforce the prohibition against torture.

“The Philippines is doing itself a disservice – the country has an exemplary record when it comes to signing up to human rights treaties, but without the robust prosecution of torturers these human rights commitments risk becoming empty promises,” said Salil Shetty.

“The government is squandering an opportunity to become a shining example of commitment to human rights in Asia.”

The report is based on in-depth research, including more than 55 chilling testimonies of survivors tortured since 2009, when the law criminalizing torture in the Philippines was enacted. Twenty-one of the torture survivors interviewed were children when they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. Eight said they were threatened at gunpoint or subjected to a game of “Russian Roulette”.

The report also documents a number of attempted extrajudicial executions, with two survivors telling Amnesty International they were shot and left for dead.

In a particularly horrific incident, a severed head with three gunshot wounds was identified by family as Darius Evangelista, a porter that had been arrested by police in Manila. Fellow detainees said they saw him taken into the private office of a senior police officer with packing tape over his eyes. When Darius was brought out of this office, the detainees heard the officer say “finish him off.” Darius was never seen alive again.

A harrowing video – apparently filmed on a mobile phone – was later broadcast on national and international television. It shows Darius screaming and writhing in pain while a seated man in a white shirt holds a string attached to Darius’ penis and forcefully pulls it several times. Uniformed police officers are visible in the video. Despite the evidence, none of the officers have been convicted. Three of the seven police officers accused of involvement in his torture are still at large.

The police force’s ruthlessness is often matched by a complete lack of attention to detail. Jerryme Corre told Amnesty International that he was rushed by more than ten men with guns in plainclothes, who beat him in the street before taking him back to a police station. There, they beat the soles of his feet with a wooden baton, removed his shorts and used them to suffocate him, ‘waterboarded’ him and electrocuted for hours. During his interrogation, they repeatedly called him by the wrong name. Eventually an official arrived to identify him and told police they had arrested the wrong man, but they charged him anyway.

Stories like Darius’ and Jerryme’s have left public trust in the police at a particularly low ebb. A recent Transparency International survey found that 69 per cent of the Philippines believe the force is corrupt. Yet the government has conspicuously failed to crack down on rogue officers.

Few people dare to complain against the police, knowing they risk retribution, harassment or intimidation from officers themselves or hired thugs.

Rowelito Almeda, aged 45, was detained, beaten and repeatedly electrocuted over a period of five days at a secret detention facility in Laguna, where officers had been using a ‘wheel of torture’ to determine the type of torture they inflicted on their captives. He was rescued by the Commission for Human Rights, but after he spoke to them about his torture, police approached his cousin, offering him money to kill Rowelito.

As a result, many torture victims keep their ordeal secret. Five of the victims Amnesty International interviewed for the report had filed a formal complaint about police treatment then withdrew it because of threats and intimidation.

The vast majority had not dared to complain at all. Others saw complaining as futile – since the establishment of the Philippines’ Commission for Human Rights in 2001, the Commission has received 457 reports of torture or ill-treatment. Not one of those cases have resulted in a conviction.

Those who do complain have to jump through a number of bureaucratic hoops where the rules and procedures are unclear and inconsistent. Complaints are often dismissed on a technicality.

Among its detailed recommendations, Amnesty International has proposed untangling this mess by establishing one 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,” Salil Shetty said.

“A concerted effort must be made to wipe out torture and the culture of impunity that perpetuates it. This must start with effective prevention, and where it fails, thorough investigations, robust prosecutions and a streamlined independent complaint mechanism to ensure that no one is above the law.”