Torture as ‘standard operating procedure’ in the Philippines
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Torture as ‘standard operating procedure’ in the Philippines

Last week, an NGO in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, disclosed a torture case involving a baker in Basilan province who was allegedly brutalized by soldiers. What allegedly happened to Abdul-Khan Balinting Ajid was  particularly  inhuman, as can be gleaned from  the fact sheet prepared by the NGO  Mindanao People’s Caucus.

On July 23, 2011 at around 5:30 in the morning alleged members of Task Force Basilan belonging to the Brigade of the Army Scout Rangers under the command of Colonel Alexander Macario forcibly abducted Abdul-Khan Balinting Ajid from his house in Barangay Libug, Sumisip, Basilan Province.

According to Ajid’s wife, while his husband, a baker by profession, was preparing the dough that will be used for the bread which they would sell for the day, soldiers suddenly kicked open the door of their house and stormed inside the room. Upon seeing Ajid the soldiers grabbed him and took him down to the floor where they then tied his hands behind the back with a plastic straw rope.

Two of Ajid’s children a 15 year old boy and a 10 year old girl, who were present during the incident, fainted due to the fear and trauma of seeing fully armed soldiers storming their home. Ajid’s wife was likewise stunned by the events and could not react to what is happening. She remembers being asked by a soldier if they were keeping guns in their house to which she replied that they don’t own any gun. During the commotion some of the soldiers proceeded to search every part of the house wrecking their household possessions and destroying all the ingredients and materials that they use in their bakery.

After searching the house the soldiers then grabbed Ajid, who they left laying face down on the floor, and dragged him out of the house where he was made to walk towards an approaching six-by-six truck. The soldiers made him board the truck; Ajid’s wife also tried to board the truck but the soldiers stopped her from doing so. The soldiers did not mention where they were taking Ajid and why he was being abducted.

When the soldiers left with her husband, Ajid’s wife along with Ajid’s sister hired a tricycle so that she could go to the Mayor’s office to ask for help in locating her husband. She arrived at around mid-morning of July 23 at the City Hall and met with Mayor Gulam Hataman to whom she reported the ordeal she just underwent. According to Ajid’s sister, Mayor Hataman called up somebody from the Scout Rangers Brigade. She also says that she overheard Mayor Hataman asking the person who answered on the other line if they have custody of Ajid, and if they do that they should bring him to Isabella; to which the person reportedly said that they do have custody of him but he is still in Tipo-Tipo.  When asked by Mayor Hataman why Ajid was arrested, the person answered that it is because Ajid is a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

On July 26, three days after the abduction, Ajid’s familiy decided to seek the help of a lawyer to search for Ajid who by then was still missing. Ajid’s sister tried to approach every lawyer both in private and public practice in Basilian but everyone refused due to fear of reprisals from the military. She then tried to ask the help of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) based in Zamboanga but she was advise to get a lawyer for the case first; at this point she met Atty. Rey Bongabong who took the case and filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus  Regional Trial Court of Isabela, on July 27, 2011.

At around three in the afternoon on the same date mentioned above; a copy of the writ was delivered to the Brigade Camp by a representative of Judge Leo J. Prinsipe. The copy of the Writ was received by a certain Major Alano. An hour or so after receiving the Writ, Abdul-Khan Ajid was resurfaced by the military. Ajid’s family was informed that Ajid was delivered by soldiers to the Provincial Jail and is now facing charges of kidnapping in connection with the Abu Sayyaf Group. Although as of the time of writing there is still no information as to the nature of charges against Ajid is.

When Ajid’s family arrived at the detention center they saw that Ajid has been tortured. He was suffering from severe burns on his face, chest, lower torso, and genitalia. He also showed severe bruises or hematoma on his chest and lower ribs. He could not stand without assistance and he was withdrawn and did not talk too much. He also suffered from a partial loss of hearing, and whenever he would try to sit down he would suffer from pain and discomfort.

Recounting his condition to his wife and sister, Ajid said that the reason for the burns is because while under interrogation somebody poured gasoline over his head, inside his ears, and on his face. He could not sit without feeling pain because his interrogators also rubbed red chilli into his anus and they also forcibly placed a bottle of gasoline inside his anus. Gasoline was also poured over his lower abdomen and genital region. After pouring gasoline Ajid’s interrogators set him on fire. (Further details of the ordeal Ajid suffered from the hands of his interrogators are still being finalized based on the medical documentation being gathered).

Due to his physical state, Judge Prinsipe granted the family’s request that Ajid be given medical treatment. He was brought to the Basilan Community Hospital last July 29, 2011, a day after being surfaced. However the attending physician failed to record all the physical menifestations of his torture. In the medical report the attending physician only stated that the patient Abdul-Khan Adjid was suffering from flame burns – no mention was made of the burns on his genitals, his internal injuries, and the bruises he suffered.

If true, these allegations  only show that, despite the rise to the presidency of President Aquino, who promised to take the straight path in his governance, the military has not changed its ways. To be sure, it would be naive to think that the military establishment would change overnight. This exerts pressure on Aquino to really deliver on his promises, particularly with regard to human rights.

What happened to Ajid is simply a manifestation of the fact that torture is standard operating procedure (SOP) in Philippine law enforcement.   Who can forget that cop who tortured a crime suspect by tying a rope around the suspect’s penis and tugging it? The cop was fired from his job but he now teaches criminology, and will surely teach his students this sort of SOP.

Then there are the old but still unresolved cases of torture against the military, more infamously the case of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, two University of the Philippines students allegedly arrested and tortured by soldiers.

For more reports on allegations of torture, visit bulatlat.com, an alternative news website in the Philippines.

It must be pointed out that Ajid was not the first to be tortured by soldiers who wanted him to  admit he’s an Abu Sayyaf member. According to this report, about 200 Moros (Filipino Muslims)  have been arrested and jailed, several of them tortured and accused of being Abu Sayyaf members, since 2002. They are right now languishing in jail, awaiting the resolution by the courts of their cases for nearly a decade now.

The larger context, of course, is that the human-rights situation in the Philippines in general barely improved under Aquino. A recent Human Rights Watch report castigated Aquino’s government for the continuing reign of impunity in the country.

Clearly, Aquino needs to do more to protect human rights. As Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, put it:  “The Philippines can only bring an end to these horrific abuses if it is clear that anyone who orders or commits them will be jailed and their military careers will be over.”