Philippine Daily Inquirer Editorial
THE MILITARY RAID LAST SATURDAY ON THE Velmonte property in Morong, Rizal, resurrects martial-law nightmares of the worst kind. The initial findings of the Commission on Human Rights, that the 43 persons detained on suspicion they were New People’s Army rebels had been subjected to “psychological torture” in the 36 hours they were held incommunicado, tell us the nightmares are real.
The 43 victims—and at this point they seem to us to be more victim than suspect—were taking part in a health workers’ training workshop conducted by the Council for Health and Development, an NGO, at the farm-resort owned by Dr. Melecia Velmonte, a retired professor of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. Most of the detainees are community health workers, but they also include two doctors, a nurse and a midwife. They remain in Camp Capinpin, in Tanay, Rizal.
CHR chair Leila de Lima, visiting the detainees after they had been hidden from sight over the weekend, described their sorry condition. “They are continuously handcuffed and blindfolded, they are not allowed to sleep, they are not allowed to feed themselves. Even when they use the bathroom, someone else is there to take off their underwear.”
This calculated series of restrictions and indignities was what the Marcos-era military routinely used to inflict on people they suspected of being subversives. (They also bear a sickening resemblance to the reports of leftist activists tortured by soldiers “inspired” by the controversial anti-leftist general, Jovito Palparan.)
Perhaps worse than the actual torture, the detainees were denied their right to counsel in the critical first days, effectively locking them in a torture chamber of uncertainty: they were prevented from even knowing what the charges against them, and their legal options, were.
An official of Health Alliance for Democracy, who joined the CHR’s fact-finding team, also said she had seen and heard evidence of torture. “Based on accounts of the detainees, the [military] subjected them to various forms of torture and sexual harassment,” said Dr. Geneve Rivera, secretary-general of HEAD. The detainees were kept in dark cells and slapped around at night. And, worst of all, Dr. Alex Montes, whom the military suspected was an assassin out to target Palparan, was subjected to electrocution and a severe beating.
It may not be apparent, but it seems to us that the raid in Morong, Rizal is linked to the massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao—in the sense that the massacre allowed the Arroyo administration to impose martial law in the province for several days, and that that imposition emboldened both the administration and certain parts of the military to resort to increasingly martial law-type measures in other parts of the country.
What can explain, for example, the sheer size of the raiding party on an unarmed group of health workers, or the blatant disregard of the law by isolating the detainees from family and friends and defense attorneys for a day and a half, or the aggressively arrogant behavior of some of the soldiers in the detention facility toward those same family members and friends—or indeed the torture inflicted on the detainees?
Perhaps the officers and soldiers involved thought they could get away with it.
Even if, for the sake of argument, all of the detainees were NPA rebels, they must still be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and as citizens must be treated with the respect the Constitution reserves for them. But the evidence the military has for claiming that all of the 43 detainees were engaged in the act of rebellion is decidedly thin. (Thus the torture and the isolation, to coerce some of the detainees into confessing before the human rights lawyers and the media come rushing in.)
A petition has been filed before the Supreme Court to compel the Armed Forces to bring the detainees to a court of law. We hope the Court will act on the petition at the soonest possible time, both to protect the detainees from more torture, and to begin to dispel the nightmares hounding the body politic.