By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) was reportedly denied agency visitation rights at Fort Bonifacio by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) last week. Their visitation, including lawmakers from the House of Representatives, was spawned by complaints by detained soldiers of their cell conditions.
CHR Chairperson Leila De Lima said Lieutenant Colonel Iluminado Lumakad, commanding officer of the Philippine Marine Corps Headquarters Battalion, refused to allow the CHR team to visit detained marine officers who plotted against the government in 2006. Lima asserted that the CHR has a constitutional mandate that grants them visitation rights.
“The AFP has a lot of explaining to do. They do not have any authority in any capacity to prevent the CHR from conducting jail visitations. We need not have clearance from the higher ups just so we could visit detention cells throughout the country. Our constitutional mandate is clearly stated and that is what matters most,” De Lima said in her letter to Chief Alexander Yano of the AFP last week.
Lima and the CHR believes that it is important to allow for unannounced visits to detention centers in order to ensure conditions are humane and most importantly, to curb torture. Lima told a news conference in Manila on Tuesday that CHR has documented more than 300 cases of torture since 2005. Moreover, she stated that torture is prevalent in ordinary precincts and police stations, and even ordinary civilians who were arrested or detained arbitrarily by army or police forces were beaten, electrically shocked, burned with cigarettes, or suffocated with plastic bags.
Although the Philippines has signed on to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) in April, the protocol has yet to be ratified in the Republic’s Senate. In the mean time, the government seeks a three to five year deferment on its implementation. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita states that the government wishes to conform to United Nations standards by improving jail facilities and prison conditions. Ermita said that regardless of whether the OPCAT was ratified, the government “wholeheartedly join[s] [their] colleagues in the community of nations in denouncing torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”
Philippine jails are overcrowded, face regular outbreaks of diseases and needs to focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration of an inmate. Waiting to enforce the OPCAT would allow enough time to address these issues.
For more information, please see:
GMANews.TV – RP Seeks 5 Year Exemption From Anti-Torture Protocol – 23 September 2008
INQUIRER.net – CHR Accuses Military of Denying Right to Visit Jailed Troops – 23 September 2008
Reuters – Torture Prevalent in Philippines – Rights Body – 23 September 2008