Investigate secret detention facilities, torture cases in the Philippines

In time for the ongoing visit of the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture in the Philippines from December 3 to 14, 2023, human rights alliance Karapatan recommended “an independent, thorough and credible investigation on the policies and practices of State security forces in the country that engender torture and other cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment of those under custody and detention facilities.” 

In a submission to the UN SPT, Karapatan said that State security forces under the Marcos Jr. administration’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) have continued “the use of military safe houses or secret detention facilities, the practice of coercing individuals in the custody of police or military to execute perjured testimonies or affidavits, the denial of access to legal counsel of choice, family members and human rights organizations, the curtailment of access to and visitation of human rights groups and the continuing harassment and red-tagging in detention facilities.”

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay cited the cases of environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, union organizers April Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha, and indigenous people’s rights activist Steve Tauli, among the many other cases of abduction the group has documented, pointing to the revival of a dangerous pattern of torture committed in these secret detention facilities. Palabay also noted that these facilities are deemed illegal under the Anti-Torture Law and the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Law. 

The human rights alliance also raised concerns on the over-congestion of jails and detention facilities and recommended the Supreme Court’s adoption of a writ of kalayaan to ensure the humanitarian release of elderly and sickly detainees, as well as pregnant women and nursing mothers, as well as the release of all political prisoners facing trumped up charges, among others. 

According to Karapatan, there are 795 political prisoners in the Philippines, as of November 30, 2023. Out of this number, there are 98 with life-threatening illnesses and 78 elderly. At least two political prisoners – 67 year old Cristina Miguel, a peasant organizer detained in Cagayan Valley, and 55-year old Marcos Villareal, a farmer jailed for trumped up charges of murder in Camarines Sur – have died while in detention under the Marcos Jr. administration. Miguel died due to complications of her cancer disease on November 20, while Villareal had chronic kidney disease and died on December 3. During the Duterte administration, there were 11 political prisoners who died while under detention.

The group also said that all policies and practices which violate the Mandela Rules and the Bangkok Rules on the treatment of detained persons including the lack of adequate sleeping facilities, and the denial of sanitary and hygiene installations, health care services including on maternal and reproductive health, and nutritional food and drinking water, should be stopped. 

As of June 2023, officials from the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology indicate that there are 182,872 in penal institutions, jails and detention facilities in the Philippines. Congestion rate in BuCor facilities is at 421%, putting 51,561 individuals in facilities with capacity for only 12,251 individuals.10 In BJMP facilities, the congestion rate is at 367% with 127,031 detainees cramped in facilities with capacity for only6,702 individuals.

At the end of the SPT’s visit, they will present their confidential preliminary observations to the Philippines government. 

Karapatan said that it is important that these observations be made public to ensure transparency, accountability and the continued monitoring on the Philippine government’s compliance to the UN Convention Against Torture, which it has ratified and is obliged to adhere to.