PHILIPPINES: Torture of RahmanTotoh – ALRC responds to Government’s report to UN

A Statement by the Asian Legal Resource Centre

Further to our comments on the Government’s periodic report to the UN Committee against Torture, herein we will look into the case of RahmanTotoh.

In its communications (UN Doc. CAT/C/PHL/Q/3, para. 5), the Committee requested the Government to comment on “no investigations” into Totoh’s claim of torture, in addition tothe medical examination he received not meeting“the standards required by the Anti-Torture Act”.

In a letter to Mr. Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, dated September 23, 2011, the Asian Human Rights Commission, ALRC’s sister organisation, urged the Rapporteur to intervene to ensure that an impartial and prompt investigation is conducted in the case of Rahman Totoh and that of Jedil Esmail Mestiri – the case commented on earlier (ALRC-STM-001-2015).

The Committee’s communication, the Government’s response, and the ALRC’s comments are provided below:

Committee against Torture:

Please comment on the cases of …RahmanTotoh, who was allegedly tortured following his detention on 28 July 2011 by members of the Special Action Force (SAF). Please comment on reports that no investigation has been opened into these claims on the grounds that the medical examinations they received do not meet the standards required by the Anti-Torture Act to initiate a prosecution.

Government Response:

As regards the case of RahmanTotoh, the PNP investigation conducted revealed that there is no truth allegation that RahmanTotoh was tortured. Totoh made an attempt to escape, which forced the arresting officer to chase and subdue him. When Totoh was already in jail and complained of chest pains, medical attention was immediately given to him. Based on the Medical Certificate, his injuries were mostly found in chest, which could have been inflicted when the arresting officers placed him in prone position in order to be handcuffed when he resisted arrest. The police procedure that requires a suspect to be placed in a prone or lying face down is a standard technique applied in performing arrest. Hence, it was concluded that the arresting officers performed their duties with regularity.

ALRC Comments:

In Totoh’s case, the Government admits that the police and the military arrested Totoh; however, they deny torturing him. The Government states, “there is no truth allegation that RahmanTotoh was tortured,” but does not provide updated information to substantiate this statement. The Government’s response to the Committee presents exactly the same reasoning/justifications that NicanorBartolome, former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), provided in his letter to the Asian Human Rights Commission dated January 6, 2012.

Thus, the Government’s response is, literally, a repeat of what Bartolome stated over three years ago. Clearly, there has neither been a prompt nor an effective investigation conducted on the allegations of torture made by Totoh. In his response, Bartolome merely theorizes without substantiating that the chest pains Totoh suffered “could have been inflicted when the arresting officers placed him in prone position.”

Notably, the Government has avoided responding to allegations that, in fact, the arresting police and the military forced their way into Totoh’s home on July 28, 2011. Totoh was inside his home resting and was surrounded by the police and military. So, how could he try to escape and run away, to end up being chased and subdued?

As per Section 5 of the PNP’s Operational Procedure (2010), which deals with serving an arrest warrant, the police officer is required to first introduce themselves, and only when the officer is refused entry the officer “may break into any residence.” But at the time of Totoh’s arrest, the police, without introduction, suddenly kicked open the door of his house. They did not introduce themselves to Totoh and no explanations were provided to Totoh with regard towhy they he was being arrested.

Also, Totoh was not taken straight to the police station for documentation, as the police guidelines require. After his arrest, he was taken to an unknown place about 30 minutes away from his home. At this unknown location, the arresting officers covered Totoh’s head with balaclava,wrapped it with adhesive tape, and handcuffed him behind his back. In absence of a legal counsel, Totoh was interrogated about incidents of killing in Isabela City. He was forced to admit involvementin bombing incidents.His police captorsrepeatedly punched Totoh; they hit his chest, face, head, and set his moustache on fire.

Upon Totoh’s arrest, the police already had full control of him. The police and the military arrived to arrest only one person, Totoh. Once an arrested person is under the full control and custody of the arresting officers there is no need to use force. However, in Totoh’s case force was used to extract confession, and not to subdue him; this is in stark contrast to the police claims that attempt to justify the use of force.

In AHRC’s previous appeal, Dr. Jesus Daniel Naon M.D., the doctor who conducted the medical examination on Totohat the General Hospital of Basilan, indicated that Totoh had:

1 cm # 2 linear abrasions; 1 cm apart (L) anterior chest anterior axillary line 5th ICS and 2 cm reddish discoloration of skin 7th ICS (L) anterior axillary line.

The AHRC appreciates that the police did take Totoh to the hospital to be examined by the doctor; however, we have expressed concern about how the examination was conducted. The medical report issued falls short of what the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 requires. The doctor’s report only contains a description of the injuries. The Government did not respond in detail to questions raised by the Committee in line with our concern.

In his September 2014 report, UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez emphasizes the importance of forensic investigations, and the role of forensic documentation, in any investigation of allegations of torture. Mendez notes: “effective medical and forensic documentation can bring evidence of torture and other ill-treatment” (UN Doc. A/69/387, para. 19).This implies investigation conducted by a forensic specialist. These specialists investigateby way of “forensic evaluations and thorough assessments of physical and/or psychological evidence for legal proceedings.”

Did the Government comply with this? No. The manner in which the investigation in this case was conducted is neither effective, from the point of view of medical or forensic investigation, nor impartial. The Government only relied on Bartolome’s theory/conjecture regarding how the victim obtained his injury – that it “could have been inflicted when the arresting officers placed him in prone position.”

Medical doctors have not supported Bartolome’s claim. Bartolome has no expertise in medical/forensic investigation. He is a policeman, not a forensic specialist/medical doctor.

The policemen should not have been exonerated and the justifications that the arresting police officers “performed their duties with regularity” should not be accepted, because the Government has failed to investigate effectively, in line with the UN standards

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The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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