Justice for Tisoy and All Victims of Torture
Today, Balay marks the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture with deep sadness and anger. We join those who mourn and denounce the death of Genesis Argoncillo, 22, and call on authorities to hold accountable those who allowed his death to happen.
Policemen arrested Argoncillo, also known as “Tisoy”, on June 15 because he was not wearing a shirt when he stepped out of his home to get a cellphone load at a nearby sari-sari store. Four days later he was rushed to hospital but was declared dead on arrival. He bore marks of senseless beating. Authorities initially explained that his injuries were self-inflicted, claiming that he was “mentally disturbed” and was uncontrollable, making a scene inside the cell. His death certificate indicates that he died of multiple blunt force trauma in the neck, head, chest, and upper extremities. He also bore bruises on his shoulders and hips.
Tisoy’s death in custody is neither the first nor the last. Three suspected drug users died apparently due to illness aggravated by heat and exhaustion, from February to April 2018 in Pasay Police Station. Housed in the same building used by the police investigation and detective management section, the 22.8-square-meter jail is originally meant for only 40 people but holds 143, according the section chief. Between May and June 2018, five persons detained in police lock up jails in Quezon City and in Manila died either due to heat stroke or illnesses made worse by overcrowding and lack of health and sanitation facilities.
How can such incidents happen in a place where police officers are supposed to look after the safety and security of persons under their custody? How can they claim to be protectors of the people when the people feel fear rather than security when under the grip of their power? How can we rejoice at their proclaimed triumph over criminality when ordinary citizens, whose only fault is to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, are shoved into jail because someone very powerful ordered a crackdown on loiterers and alleged criminals.
The prohibition of torture in the Philippines is absolute in the same way that law enforcers are proscribed from using unlawful violence or for allowing acts of cruelty and ill treatment to pass in their presence. The Constitution mandates that no one shall be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. In fulfillment of its state policy and international obligation, the Philippine Government signed into law Republic Act No. 9745 also known as “An Act Penalizing Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Prescribing Penalties Therefore” or the Anti-Torture Law on November 10, 2009. Its implementing guidelines were approved in 2010.
Yet torture as an act of violence persists. From 2016-2017, Balay has documented 32 accounts of torture, 69% of the incidents took place in the course of the government’s drive against criminality and illegal drugs, with 41% of the cases recorded in the National Capital Region (NCR). Thirty-one percent of the cases happened in the context of the government’s campaign against insurgency and terrorism in Basilan and North Cotabato in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Males and boys account for 97% of all victims. Minors constitute 47% of all victims.
Balay has also monitored from various sources a total of 24 cases of torture in 2017, with 58% of the cases reported to be connected to the government’s war-on-drugs. Ninety-two percent of the victims are male, and mostly between the 25-50 age group. Most of the incidents happened in the NCR (63%). Police officers account for 69% of alleged perpetrators in the torture incidents.
The Commission on Human Rights has been investigating most of those torture reports. But factors that discouraged torture victims from filing a formal complaint include fear of reprisal (particularly for those who are in jail or in police lock up cell), lack of knowledge on justice-seeking procedures, inconvenience, costly and slow process of litigation, distrust in justice system.
The statement of President Duterte that the relatives of the those who died will never get justice as he will not allow a single policeman accused of breaking the rule of law to go to jail is a chilling reminder on how tragic it is to be poor and powerless in society today.
As we commemorate the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture which marks the adoption of the UN Convention against Torture on June 26, 1987, we ask for an end to violence, torture, and impunity. We urge government to engage in a meaningful dialogue with civil society and the public.
BALAY Rehabilitation Center, Inc. is an organization that practices psychosocial rehabilitation for torture victims and their families and is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights.
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