Philippines police tortured suspects, says human rights official

Officers south of Manila spun a wheel to decide what form of violence they would use on detainees, human rights officials say

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 4:11am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 4:11am

Philippine police officers played a "wheel of torture" game to have fun and punish criminal suspects during interrogations, including bouts of punching named after boxing star Manny Pacquiao, human rights officials said yesterday.

Edgar De Luna, special investigator for the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, said the group had discovered a wheel hanging from a post, similar to those found in town fairs.

Instead of indicating prizes, it indicated the kind of punishment for the suspect.

He said "20 second Manny Pacman", a reference to Pacquiao's nickname, meant the victim was punched for 20 seconds.

The "30 second paniki [bat]" meant the victim was dangled upside down while spread-eagled "like a bat", he said, while "5 minutes zombies" meant the suspect had to wave their arms upwards like a zombie.

De Luna said both the victims and the policemen referred to the wheel as roletta, or roulette.

"It's horrible," Loretta Ann Rosales, the commission's chairwoman, said. "They do it for fun. It's like a game for entertainment. We're trying to correct this mindset based on a human rights approach to policing but obviously it may take a lot of time. "As a victim of torture myself [during the Marcos dictatorship], I find the discovery ... highly deplorable."

The commission was tipped off by the government's Public Attorneys Office on January 9, when the office received a complaint from a victim's relative.

A team led by De Luna was dispatched the next day to the detention house located inside a gated community in Binan town, Laguna province, south of Manila. The detainees there bore welts and signs of torture, medical examinations showed.

No one had told investigators who made the wheel but it showed "the torture was somewhat systematic", he said.

They are investigating the possibility of 44 victims, with one as young as 16 and another a woman. Some 15 have alleged torture in sworn affidavits. The torture had been going on for a year, De Luna said.

Catherine Viray said she was detained on November 6 and hit with a baseball bat and electrocuted the same day by two police officers, whom she identified as "Viray" and "Caezar".

Lawyer Mark Cabreros, the commission's chief of information and communication, said that 10 policemen including the head of the facility had been suspended and could face criminal charges under the 2009 Anti-Torture Act.

He said the commission considered the detention centre a secret facility, because, under present law, the police had to report all detention facilities to the commission.

He said the doctors that examined the detainees found bruises, puncture wounds, paddle marks on the bottom, upper thigh, shoulder blade, chest, arms and shoulders but not much on the face.

He said some detainees confirmed that police had offered to downgrade charges in exchange for cash. Some suspects had handed over up to 400,000 pesos (HK$235,000).

"For police officers to use torture 'for fun' is despicable," Amnesty International's Hazel Galang-Folli said. "These are abhorrent acts. Suspending officers is not enough. Errant police personnel and their commanding officers should be held accountable in a court of law."

Additional reporting by Associated Press