A historic ruling by a Philippines court this week in which a police officer was convicted of torturing bus driver Jerryme Corre plants a seed of hope that the tide may be turning against impunity for perpetrators of torture, Amnesty International said today.
It is first under the country’s 2009 Anti-Torture Act, and follows a three-year campaign by Amnesty International. The organization took up Jerryme Corre’s case in December 2013 – one year after his arrest – in its global Stop Torture campaign.
“Jerryme has spent more than four years in prison while under trial on trumped-up charges against him, after suffering horrific torture at the hands of the police. The conviction of the officer involved sends a clear message that the torture must stop and that the perpetrators will be brought to book,” said Champa Patel, Director at Amnesty International’s South East Asia Regional Office.
“Even if the police officer still has the right to appeal, this trial has in itself been a step in the right direction. Philippine authorities must now ensure prompt and impartial investigations into all reports of torture and other acts of ill-treatment committed by the police and other state agents.”
The ruling came down on March 29, but Amnesty International only today obtained court documents confirming the sentence.
Police officer Jerick Dee Jimenez was sentenced on March 29 to a maximum of two years and one month imprisonment by a court in Pampanga, north of the capital Manila, having been convicted of torture. He must also pay Corre damages amounting to 100,000 pesos (USD $2,173). Another police officer faces the same charges but remains at large.
Corre was visiting a relative in Pampanga province in January 2012 when 10 armed plain-clothed officers arrested him and took him to a police camp where he was electrocuted, punched and threatened with death. The police accused him of being involved in drug-related crimes, of robbing and killing a foreigner and of killing a police officer, all of which he strongly denied.
While the police were torturing Corre they repeatedly called him by the name “Boyet,” even though his ID proved that was not his name and an official from his community told the police they had arrested the wrong man. He was forced to sign a “confession,” which he was not allowed to read, and has been in prison on drugs charges ever since.
Tuesday’s verdict is the first time anyone has been convicted for torture in a Philippines court under the Anti-Torture Act. Amnesty International has consistently raised concerns about the ineffectiveness of criminal investigations into cases of torture. Many cases do not make it past the preliminary investigation stage and the few cases that do reach the courts progress extremely slowly.
Amnesty International is calling on the Philippine government to publicly acknowledge and condemn the persistence of torture and other ill-treatment in the country, and to review existing complaints mechanisms against police to make it easier for torture victims to access justice.
“It is vital that victims of police abuse know their rights, and that victims, as well as their families, lawyers and civil society organizations are able to access justice in all cases of torture and other ill-treatment. The Philippine government must now strengthen independent accountability mechanisms for police violations, and ensure that all cases of police torture are effectively investigated and prosecuted,” said Patel.
On March 27, 2014, Amnesty International Philippines handed over a petition with 70,000 signatures collected during the annual Write for Rights campaign to the Philippine National Police.
Following this, Corre and his family were informed that an investigation would be opened by the police’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS), in line with Amnesty International’s calls. During the first hearing it was confirmed that the IAS initiated the investigation based on letters received “by a human rights organization”.
In 2014 the Philippines was a focus country in Amnesty International’s Stop Torture campaign, and research by the organization revealed that methods such as electrocution, mock executions, waterboarding, asphyxiating with plastic bags, beatings and occasionally rape continue to be employed by police officers who torture mainly for extortion and to extract confessions. This is despite the fact that the Philippines ratified the two key international anti-torture treaties in 2009.
A 2014 report, Above the Law: Police Torture in the Philippines, documented a pervasive culture of impunity for torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment within the police force, and included the testimonies of 55 torture survivors, all of whom had been tortured after the 2009 prohibition. Twenty-one of these people were children when they were tortured.
The research found that many victims were too afraid to report their experiences, and death threats were made against some of those who did. The situation is made worse by the fact that rules and procedures for reporting torture are unclear and inconsistent, meaning complaints are often dismissed on a technicality.