Philippines: Senate hearing should be first step to tackling endemic torture

An inquiry into police torture in the Philippine Senate this week is a welcome opportunity to put a stop to torture by members of the national police and to end the pervasive culture of impunity that reinforces it, Amnesty International said.

The joint hearing between the Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Committee on Public Order, which will take place on Wednesday 14 January, was announced as a direct result of Amnesty International’s report on police torture in the Philippines, Above the law, launched in December 2014.

“This hearing could be a first step towards tackling the endemic torture that we are seeing in the Philippines. Practically no one in police detention is safe from this abhorrent practice, and officers continue to get away with it without consequences,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, who will be testifying at the hearing.

“We are delighted that the government is showing that they are taking this issue seriously. The Senate hearing must be followed with concrete and genuine action. The Philippines now has an opportunity to act as an emerging human rights leader in the region and make this the beginning of the end of torture.”

Above the law documented how, despite the Philippines having ratified two key international anti-torture treaties and enacted a domestic law criminalizing torture, the practice remains rife in police detention centres across the country. At the same time, a culture of impunity means that perpetrators are rarely, if ever, held to account.  More than five years since the landmark Anti-Torture Act was passed, not a single person has been convicted under the law.

“Make no mistake, building a professional, trustworthy police service that has the confidence of the people is a real challenge. There is no single or quick fix solution. Enforceable and enforced laws, leadership, adequate resources and professional development are all necessary – a piecemeal approach simply won’t work”, said Richard Bennett.

“At the heart of reform, those responsible must be held to account or torture will continue unchecked. The Philippine Senate can and should initiate a review of existing accountability bodies for police abuse and human rights violations, with a view to putting in place two truly independent systems, one for monitoring places of detention and one unified and effective institution to investigate and prosecute police abuse.”

The Senate hearing takes place the day before Pope Francis is making his first ever visit to the Philippines. The Pope is an outspoken critic against torture, calling the practice a “very grave sin”.

“The people of the Philippines are understandably very excited about the Papal visit. There would be no better way for the government to honour this visit than to take serious action to stamp out torture, an issue Pope Francis himself has spoken out about numerous times,” said Richard Bennett.