Exposed: Police torture in the Philippines

7 April 2015, 14:44 UTC | Philippines
Illustrative image depitcting torture committed in Poolice custody in the Philippines © Amnesty International

Torture is illegal in the Philippines. Sadly it remains rife, particularly by law enforcement officials. Anyone arrested on suspicion of criminal activity is at risk of torture in police custody. Many victims are children and almost all are from the poorest backgrounds.

Methods of torture

The Philippine police force is severely understaffed. It has one of the world’s smallest forces per capita. Facing a lack of resources and forensic capacity, officers often resorting to taking ‘shortcuts’ during investigations and arrests to get the answers they want.

Systematic beatings, electric shocks, waterboarding, asphyxiation, punching, kicking and degrading treatment are a few of the methods used to extract the ‘truth’ – or purely to extort money from prisoners.

A total lottery

In January 2014, human rights investigators discovered a secret detention facility in Laguna, a province south of the capital of Manila. There, police officers appeared to be torturing 43 detainees for their own entertainment.

The facility contained a large roulette wheel with descriptions of 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 detainees were hung upside down for 30 seconds.

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

Tom Davies, Amnesty's Stop Torture Campaign Manager

Human target practice: Alfreda’s story

On 3 October 2013 police in the Philippines accused 32-year-old mother of two, Alfreda Disbarro, of being a drug dealer - something she vehemently denies. Despite emptying her pockets to demonstrate she was not dealing drugs, she was taken to the Drug Enforcement Unit.

Inside, informal employees searched Alfreda but did not find any illegal substances.

“He put a bottle on top of my head and aimed his gun at it. I was so afraid I would get shot. I just closed my eyes in fear.”

Alfreda Disbarro, torture survivor

He didn’t shoot, but a more senior officer took her to another room. Alfreda told us he asked her: ‘Can you take my kicks?’ Alfreda responded with: ‘No, sir.’

Still, he kicked Alfreda so hard she fell against the wall. Alfreda was punched continuously and hit with a wooden baton. They poked Alfreda in the eyes and slammed her head against the wall.

“He was forcing me to confess that I was a drug dealer...He took a mop and forced the dirty and damp rag at the bottom of the mop into my mouth. Then, he took it out and smeared my face with it.”

Alfreda Disbarro

Another police officer dragged Alfreda to a different room where he attacked her with a metal bar. Because of the beatings, Alfreda had difficulty moving and breathing. She told us she couldn’t eat and found it agonising to even drink a glass of water. Ten days after her torture, her thighs shook every time she tried to urinate.

Amnesty International is campaigning for justice for Alfreda. The authorities must investigate her claims of torture and end the culture of impunity that allows torturers to get away with their crimes.

A welcome first step

On 4 December 2014, in response to our findings in Above the Law: Police torture in the Philippines, the Philippine Senate announced it would open an inquiry into the widespread abuse in the country.

“This inquiry is a welcome first step towards tackling entrenched impunity within the Philippine police force. The government’s next step should be two truly independent systems, one for monitoring places of detention and one unified and effective institution to investigate and prosecute police abuse.”

Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s Secretary General, speaking from Manila

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