Partnerships forge on increasing capacity of medical professionals for improved prosecution of human rights violations cases

Press release
August 6, 2011

The medical professionals are in essence a key to prevent impunity. They are often among the first persons to come into contact with victims of torture and other human rights violations. The medical documentation and medico-legal reports (MLR) they write are important facts that can be used as pieces of evidence in legal or administrative proceeding for prosecuting human rights violations cases and facilitating redress and reparation for survivors, the British Embassy stressed.

In a media briefing Saturday, British Ambassador to Manila Stephen Lillie said the British Embassy’s project with the Medical Action Group (MAG), “Improving prosecution of cases of torture, extrajudicial killings (EJks) by building the capacity of medical professionals to gather evidence and give testimony”, will be undertaken with funding from the British Embassy’s Human Rights and Democracy Programme.

The partnership among the MAG, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Association of Municipal Health Officers of the Philippines (AMHOP) affirms the shared commitment to uphold justice and protection of human rights.

“This is to emphasize the role that medical documentation and proper legal processes play in the investigation and prosecution of cases of torture and other human rights violations. Torturers and perpetrators of human rights violations must be held accountable, and victims and survivors must be given access to justice and redress,” Ambassador Lillie said.

“The need to increase the capacity of health professionals in medical documentation represents recognition that effective and quality documentation of torture and other cases of human rights violations can contribute mightily to reducing impunity in the Philippines and obtaining redress,” Edeliza P. Hernandez, MAG Executive Director explained.

For its part, the officials of AMHOP led by its President Arnold Dasio M. Cagulada, MD, on July 27, 2011 at Bayview Park Hotel Manila has declared their support for the effective implementation of the Republic Act No. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act in particular, Section 22 of the Anti-Torture Act IRR which states that “all medical examiners conducting the examinations……are under a legal and ethical obligation to conduct a diligent and complete medical examination” and their aspiration to make more effective the campaign against torture and other human rights violations cases throughout the country by promoting awareness of the Istanbul Protocol among others.

The AMHOP is an organization of municipal and city health officers. To date, it has one thousand four hundred (1,400) members nationwide.

Hernandez explained that the use of the Istanbul Protocol (Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) in the case of Manalo brothers was proved to be an importance piece of evidence in the first decision of the Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines [G.R. No. 180906, The Secretary of National Defense v. Manalo, October 7, 2008] on the application of the Writ of Amparo.

According to the MAG, the SC decision stated that “the (medical) examination was conducted on August 15, 2007, two days after respondents’ escape, and the results thereof were reduced into writing.  Dr. Molino took photographs of the scars.  He testified that he followed the Istanbul Protocol in conducting the examination…………[w]e reject the claim of petitioners that respondent Raymond Manalo’s statements were not corroborated by other independent and credible pieces of evidence……The testimony and medical reports prepared by forensic specialist Dr. Molino, and the pictures of the scars left by the physical injuries inflicted on respondents, also corroborate respondents’ accounts of the torture they endured while in detention.” 

Promulgated by the SC on 24 October 2007, the Writ of Amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, and security has been violated or is threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission by public officials or employees and by private individuals or entities.

Both human rights lawyer Atty. Jose Manuel Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and forensic pathologist expert Dr. Raquel del Rosario-Fortun, have already agreed in facilitating the training which will cover human rights standards, court litigation and legal medicine for human rights violations cases, MAG added.

The British Embassy-Manila is providing funds amount to £59,131.72 for this 8-month project (July 2011-February 2012). This is not the first time that the British Embassy partnered with the MAG. In 2004, the two facilitated the production of the groundbreaking “Guidelines to Prevent Torture and the Manual on the Recognition, Documentation and Reporting of Torture,” one of the first successful modifications of the Istanbul Protocol.

The CHR acknowledged the valuable contribution the project made towards fulfillment of Philippines’ international human rights obligations, and still uses the manual in its work.-end-