Military, police should be investigated for torture allegations of suspect in Jolo church blast

On Friday, February 8, 2019, the lawyer of Mukammar Pae, the alleged Jolo church blast suspect, asserted that his client was innocent and was tortured by the police to admit to the crime. Lawyer Meltoni Sibulan further refuted the police in the latter’s claim that Pae and three other men “surrendered” to them. According to Sibulan, Pae and his three other companions were tree cutters and lumberyard workers who wanted to clear their name. The victims presented themselves to the 35th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA), after which they were turned over to the police. Immediately after, Pae was illegally arrested, tortured and detained. Sibulan added that his client was subjected to waterboarding.

“We agree with Atty. Meltoni Sibulan that this may be a masquerade to make the public believe that this is a closed case. To torture innocent civilians to use as scapegoats reveal the extent of police brutality, incompetence, and deliberate violation of laws that safeguard against cruel and inhumane treatment. At best, this is indicative of the PNP’s ineptitude to have suspects to blame. At worst, it is a calculated cover-up to protect the real masterminds behind the attacks. Allegations that Mukammar Pae was tortured should be investigated,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

She added that “such practices of State actors are akin to their previous hideous crimes,” noting that many Muslims were illegally arrested and tortured when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared the state of lawlessness in Basilan and nearby provinces purportedly in response to the series of attacks by the Abu Sayyaf Group. Karapatan cited the case of Muhamadiya Hamja, a Moro human rights activist, who was abducted and tortured to falsely admit that he is an ASG member. Despite his repeated denials, Hamja was charged and detained on kidnapping charges from 2001 to 2005 when he was acquitted of such charges. However, in 2008, Hamja was again abducted by police and military forces and after a month, another set of charges were brought against him. Hamja has been in detention for fourteen years, without any evidence brought against him.

“At least 200 innocent Muslims, majority of them are farmers, were illegally arrested and tortured and at least 73 of them were detained on wild accusations that they are ASG members or terrorists during the Arroyo regime. There were also reports of torture of civilians from Marawi and the rest of Mindanao since martial law was imposed under Duterte. We lament that Mukammar Pae’s case is not an isolated one,” Palabay said.

She emphasized that the government ratified RA 9745 or the Anti-Torture Law in 2009. “However, the foremost violators of this law are state security forces. The torture of civilians and alleged suspects remain a prevalent practice, more so in the context where state forces have unchecked powers provided for by martial law,” she added, citing that Karapatan has already documented 111 cases of torture perpetrated by state forces under the Duterte regime.

The Karapatan secretary general also raised that days before the presentation of Pae and his companions as the primary suspects, media reports have already looked into previous names presented by the military and police, such as Abdul Ajim Abdulgani. The said person-of-interest, tagged as one of those who allegedly aided suicide bombers in the bombings in Jolo, has been dead for five months already, killed in Sitio Kalimayahan, Brgy. Latih, Patikul on August 15, 2018. It was the President who earlier claimed that foreign suicide bombers might have perpetrated the attack. This was seconded by other investigating parties such as the police, military, and NBI, but said parties nonetheless distanced themselves by adding that they are also looking into other angles.

 “Something is amiss. It is no wonder that Jolo Mayor Kherkar Tan already called for human rights groups to conduct an independent investigation, fearing that the bombing incident will be whitewashed. The bombing of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in January 27, followed by a bombing at a mosque in Brgy. Talon-Talon, Zamboanga City two days later are both attacks against us as a nation. As we condole with the families of the victims, we remain steadfast in our quest for justice and truth. We urge the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and other concerned agencies to lead an independent fact finding mission on the attacks,” said Palabay.

“Despite efforts from devious and villainous elements, they have not succeeded in pitting Christians against Muslims and boxing these tragic incidents into religious conflict. Much has to be considered in tackling the root causes of the conflict in Mindanao, including systemic poverty, intensifying repression and oppression, and historical injustice. Likewise, we call for vigilance as these attacks may be used to justify and broaden a string of more repressive policies nationwide, including martial law and/or railroading of the amendments to the Human Security Act of 2007,” concluded Palabay.

Reference: Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, +639173162831 

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790580