The report submitted by the Government of the Philippines in relation to the Committee has been reviewed with care. We, the Medical Action Group (MAG) a national health and human rights non-government organization in the Philippines and a member of the United Against Torture Coalition (UATC)-Philippines, and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), note with great concern the following issues:
Prompt and effective medical documentation, and training of medical doctors
The anti-torture mandates detailed medico-legal examinations when there are allegations or other indications of torture and ill-treatment. However, there are insufficient legal safeguards for detainees including but not limited to restricted access to independent doctors and failure to notify detainees of their rights at the time of detention. Even when medical screening take place, they often fail to achieve their goal of identifying indications that torture has taken place. This means that full investigations are often not triggered despite clear indications that torture has taken place.
Furthermore, when there are clear allegations or other indications of torture, the medico-legal examinations carried out do not comply with the standards of the anti torture law nor the Istanbul Protocol.
MAG have observed that doctors often simply undertake a “cursory physical examination” without bothering to ask how an injury may have been sustained by the patient or not including in their report a finding that torture may have been committed. MAG particularly notes that some medical personnel experience pressure from authorities allegedly involved in torture cases. It cited incidents where police officials are present during physical and medical examinations and, in some cases, supervise the work of medical doctors themselves. There are no real safeguards in place to ensure that health personnel are not subjected to police intimidation, are able to examine victims independently of the police, and able to maintain the confidentiality of medical reports.
Institutional protection for medical examiners must be instituted to encourage medical doctors to perform their task free from fear of harassment or intimidation. The impact of various training programs on how to detect signs of torture and ill-treatment must be evaluated and such training should also include the use of the Istanbul Protocol which should be provided to medical doctors particularly those stationed in government hospitals.
Compensation and rehabilitation of torture victims and their relatives
While we welcome the Board of Claims under the Department of Justice (DOJ), in providing compensation to victims of unjust imprisonment or detention and victims of violent crimes, we do not have any information about compensation to victims of torture and ill-treatment.
Section 19 of the Anti-Torture Law mandates the formulation of a rehabilitation program within one year of the law taking effect. As of now, the Technical Working Group or TWG has formulated a rehabilitation program with terms of reference of government agencies involved, but there is no update and development on its status. In addition to the significant delay in its elaboration, there are a number of other concerns with regard to the design of the rehabilitation program.
That the government designates a lead agency to implement the rehabilitation program under the Anti-Torture Law. That agency should prepare a detailed step-by step plan and obtain concrete commitments from the relevant government agencies on how it will be put to effect. The agency should also ensure effective monitoring and evaluation of the program based on an assessment of the number of victims and their needs. The absence of a coordinating agency creates risk that rehabilitation services will become compartmentalized within several agencies, thus not fulfill the objective of taking a holistic approach to the victim’s needs.
Finally, we recommend that there should be a separate budget allocation of funding for the rehabilitation program of each government agency mandated by the law to ensure and implement such rehabilitation program. The current lack of funding opens the door for government agencies to consider torture victim’s rehabilitation as one of the many service components that they are already undertaking without establishing the necessary expertise and capacity of its human resources.
On mental health care of persons deprived of liberty
Finally, I would like to highlight a few issues pertaining to mental health, which I will happily elaborate further as needed. First, a wide range of severe abuses on persons deprived with liberty with mental disorder have been reported in the Philippines.
As for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) it is to be noted that jail guards or custodial staff lack of medical qualifications necessary to assess and provide adequate support to persons with mental health problems.
As for the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), there are serious concerns about their capacity and expertise to manage the detention of persons with mental health disorders in a way that complies with the Convention.
There is need to provide process for critical discussion to lobby the authorities adopt mental health legislation to ensure that deprivation of liberty of persons suffering of psychiatric conditions is given a firm legal basis through provision of appropriate and treatment and rehabilitation services.
From 18 April to 13 May 2016, the Committee Against Torture (CAT) 10 independent experts will meet with State representatives and civil society organizations to review the records of six States party to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The six countries under review this 57th session of the CAT are:France, Israel, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey.
The CAT is due to review the Philippines on 27 and 28 April. The Philippines has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and so is required to be reviewed regularly by the Committee.
Civil society organizations play a crucial role in the process: NGOs provide direct country-specific information to the members of the Committee Against Torture. They share this data through alternative country reports and private NGO briefings with the Committee Against Torture that take place prior to the examination of the State party’s report by the Committee. Both State and alternative reports can be accessed here: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/…/
Kindly download and read the full report of the UATC- Philippines http://tbinternet.
Live webcasts of the sessions on the Philippines (27-28 April) and Israel (3-4 May) will be broadcast here: http://www.treatybodywebcast.