As a member of the United Nations, the Philippines adheres, or is supposed to adhere, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states, “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment.”
The Philippines is also a signatory to the United Nations Conventions against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which defines torture as “an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession…”
Our Constitution’s Bill of Rights states, any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent counsel preferably of his own choice. “No torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will shall be used against him. Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.”
The Constitution further guarantees the inviolable right of each and every Filipino citizen against warrantless arrests, unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose.
Yet, on Monday last week, elements of the Military Intelligence Group-15 (MIG-15) of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines abducted Virgilio Eustaquio, chair of the pro-Estrada Union of the Masses for Democracy and Justice , Ruben Dionisio, Dennis Ibona, Jose Justo Curameng and Jim Cabauatan while they were gathered at the house of Eustaquio in Quezon City.
While AFP Information chief Col. Tristan Kison was denying any knowledge of the abduction and custody of the five, they were being subjected to torture.
Sixty-year old Dionisio said men took turns beating him while he was blindfolded and tied to a ceiling. They covered his head with a plastic bag and administered electric shocks to his genitals.
His claim is supported by bruises on his stomach, some looking like needle pricks and a red patch near his right kidney.
Dionisio said his torturers wanted him to admit that he was also Mike Gumera or Ruben Siamson, an officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army who they said was planning to assassinate cabinet members.
The beating stopped when he agreed he would admit to being a CPP official. He was given food. But the beating resumed when he failed to give names of people who composed the Metro-Rizal CPP chapter.
Eustaquio corroborated Dionisio’s ordeal. From where he was taken, also blindfolded, he said, he could hear the beating of Dionisio and the answers they were demanding from him. “It went on the whole night. They didn’t allow us to sleep. If they saw us becoming sleepy, they hit us,” he said.
Eustaquio said they were constantly being moved, a common technique by torturers to disorient the victims. They were first brought to a cold place, then to a hot place, then outside, in what they imagined as an open field because they could feel the grass and the wind. “We could smell gasoline. The hands that touched us were very cold. We could not understand what was happening. It was mental torture.”
Cabauatan, a Quezon City policeman who just dropped by at Eustaquio’s place that Monday afternoon, said he was “treated like a dog” all throughout his detention. In what he felt was farmland, he could hear chopping, hammering and someone sharpening a blade. “I could stand the physical torture but the mental torture was what hurt most.”
Cabautan has a brother who is a sergeant in the military. It pained him so much to be accused of being a communist. “I fight criminals and he (his brother) fights subversives and rebels,” he said.
Torture has long been discredited as an effective tool in obtaining quality information. It’s common sense that a person being tortured will say anything that his torturers want him to say but not necessarily true. That’s why Dionisio agreed to say he was a communist officer.
Studies after studies have shown the long-term damage on the psychological state of not only the tortured but also the torturer. The victims usually suffer emotional instability, depression, passivity, fatigue and disturbed sleep.
The torturers don’t come out of the experience unscathed. French author Alec Mellor, writing about French General Jacques Massu, who infamously used torture in Algeria in the 1950s, said there have been stories of irreparable damage to the conscience of the men who carried out torture. “Many young men have ‘taken up the game’ and have thereby passed from mental health and stability into terrifying states of decay, from which some will probably never recover.”
An article, “Does torture work” by Darius Rejali in the online “Salon” cites studies that show “torturers would rather work as killers on death squads, where the work is easier. Torture is hard, stressful work. Many torturers develop emotional problems, become alcoholics, beat their families and harbor a deep sense of betrayal toward the military brass that hangs them out to twist in the wind.”
Torture dehumanizes both the victims and the perpetrators. That’s why we would not wish the same cruelty on Gloria Arroyo when she falls.