HR Situationer
Monday, 12 March 2012 00:00


Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)


July 19, 2011 marked a first for Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III or PNoy. On this day, he granted the first executive clemency under his administration.


The recipient of the said executive clemency was Mariano Umbrero, a political prisoner at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP). The Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) and other human rights organizations have lobbied for the release of Umbrero since the early part of 2011 when he was diagnosed with cancer.  Initially, the appeal was for him to get better treatment to have a greater chance to recover.   Within a short period however, his cancer progressed to its fourth and final stage.  Lobby for his release intensified.


After a series of meetings and dialogues with various government agencies, among them the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), PNoy signed the papers for Umbrero’s conditional pardon. Ironically, this came four days after Umbrero’s demise.


Umbrero’s case is just an example of how the PNoy administration regards the issue of human rights.




After Umbrero’s death and the delayed executive clemency given him, the political prisoners and political detainees nationwide went on fasting and hunger strike. This was their expression of their indignation on the government’s failure to heed a dying man’s request to be with his family during his final days.


The political prisoners were also pushing for the reconstitution of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Recognizance and Pardon (PCBREP) to facilitate the review of their cases for their immediate release.

It should be noted that at the beginning of the PNoy presidency, most, if not all political prisoners and detainees were hopeful that this administration will take a serious look at their plight and do something about it.


PNoy, after all is the son of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, a staunch Marcos critic and was himself a political prisoner.  PNoy’s mother, on the other hand, granted amnesty to political prisoners and detainees when she was president.


But to the dismay of the political prisoners and human rights groups, it was only after 23 days of hunger strike and fasting did the executive department, through the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), call for a meeting with the relatives of political prisoners and representatives of human rights organizations. During the meeting, the demands of the political prisoners were conveyed to the government. They called for the revival of the PCBREP and for the PNoy administration to have a clear human rights program.


A positive development came on August 19.  During a meeting among DOJ Secretary Leila De Lima, Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, representatives from human rights organizations, and relatives of political prisoners, Sec. De Lima gave her commitment that the PCBREP will be reconstituted in September. This was encouraging for the political prisoners.


On September 21, however, on the 39th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda somehow threw cold water on the renewed hopes of the political prisoners.  According to Mr. Lacierda, as far as what the government knows, there are no political prisoners.  He explained further that there might be “a question on terms of reference”.[1]


What Mr. Lacierda actually meant is unclear. But to help provide the “terms of reference” he is looking for, TFDP uses the following criteria[2] to define political prisoners and detainees:

  1. Detained or imprisoned individuals who advocate change to established supposed order, or argue the need for reform of long-established policies, or engage in acts signifying some degree of disloyalty; or active involvement in political movements with peaceful or resistance means;
  1. Charged with non-bailable offense and common crimes instead of political related offense;

(The Hernandez doctrine became part of the country’s jurisprudence in 1956. The Supreme Court ruled in the case People of the Philippines vs. Hernandez that a person who commits a political offense could be charged with rebellion but not with common crimes such as murder, arson, robbery, etc. It ruled that the act of rebellion would already include and absorb these crimes. The practice of the government of filing criminal charges such as murder, kidnapping, robbery, arson, etc. against persons suspected of committing acts of rebellion are meant to destroy the credibility of and demonize political prisoners.)

  1. Established political motive of the arrest even if actual charges are not in anyway related;

(Circumstantial evidence to help establish intent of the arrest)

  1. Tortured and forced to admit affiliation with armed rebel groups and criminal offense. It is routinely used to force confessions and the evidence obtained by torture is used in court to sentence individuals;
  1. Branded or tagged as terrorist by state agents but actually with sufficient proof or endorsement or certification by their colleagues as active member of progressive or revolutionary organizations;

(Engages in activities that the government considers contrary to its policies, and are therefore called ‘anti-government’, ‘a security threat’, or even ‘terrorism’)

  1. Individuals who are arrested as a result of participating in a peaceful dissent (e.g. rally, picket, boycott, etc.);
  1. Civilians accused of being members of armed rebel groups. Some political prisoners/detainees were not directly involved in politics before their arrest. Others never considered themselves as political before they were arrested, but eventually the government has actually made them political through their imprisonment.

(Mere association with members, rather than actual membership of an “outlawed group” can land someone in considerable risk of being arrested.)

As of October 18, 2011, TFDP records show that there are still 303 political prisoners and detainees nationwide.  Most of them have been charged with common crimes. Only 28 were charged with rebellion.[3]



Mr. Lacierda’s remark was baffling, to say the least, especially because since January to September of this year, TFDP has already documented 54 cases of illegal arrests, with 91 individuals as victims (including incidents that happened before 2011, but were documented within the said period).


An example is the case involving Jerry Panso, a 37-year old carpenter. He was arrested on April 9, at about 2:30 p.m., by around 15 members of the 11th Infantry Battalion and Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) based in Hinakpan, Guihulngan, Negros Occidental.  He was suspected to be involved in the killing of a certain Bernardino Nocos and the frustrated killing of a CAFGU member.


Panso was taken to an army detachment in Hinakpan, Guihulngan where he was subjected to an hour of tactical interrogation.


He denied the allegations against him. He only admitted that for three months, he belonged to the rebel movement.  After which, he decided to work for a security agency in Cebu for three years. In 2001, he returned to Negros to settle down and work as a carpenter.


Panso is currently detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Guihulngan, Negros Occidental. A murder charge was filed against him at the Regional Trial Court in Guihulngan, Negros Occidental.[4]


Panso has left the rebel movement for more than 10 years ago. And yet, he was still arrested, detained and charged with murder, a crime that he did not commit. If this happened to Panso, a former rebel, how much more can the government trump up charges against those who are still actively involved?




Worse is the case of Abdul-Khan Ajid, a baker and farmer from Barangay Libug, Sumisip, Basilan Province.  He was not only arrested but was severely tortured. His ordeal was reminiscent of the experiences of torture victims during martial law.


Ajid, a native of the Yakan tribe, was taken from his house on July 23 by members of the Special Operation Task Force Basilan (SOTFB) belonging to the 39th Scout Rangers under the command of a certain Col. Alexander Macario.


At around 5:30 a.m., someone kicked the door of Ajid’s house and destroyed the locks. Armalite and M14 rifles were aimed at his house. Ajid and his family went upstairs, but he was summoned to go down. He did not receive any reply when he asked the men what was happening. He was instead told to lie down. Three persons stamped on his nape and back and his hands were tied behind his back. He was then taken out of the house.


Ajid learned that the men who took him were soldiers. He asked why he was being arrested. He was told that they just want some explanation. He was then ordered to kneel. After which, his pictures were taken. He tried to identify the soldier near him, but there was no name plate.


Ajid was made to board a 6 x 6 truck parked 50 meters away. His wife and daughter tried to come with him, but the soldiers prevented them from doing so. Ajid was then blindfolded with a shirt.

Inside the truck, the perpetrators repeatedly hit and pushed Ajid. He saw through the blindfold that they reached a place called Mangal. The soldiers got down at the checkpoint. Ajid fell while getting down from the truck blindfolded and unassisted.


After a while, his blindfold was removed. He was made to go inside the checkpoint where he stayed for 15 minutes.


He was then lifted back to the truck and blindfolded again. He was brought to Tipo-tipo, Basilan, and later, to a military brigade in Tabiawan, Isabela City, Basilan.  Throughout the trip, Ajid was punched and his ears were struck with cupped hands. Only after three days did he learn of his whereabouts.


Ajid was then ordered to go down the truck. When he bumped into a ladder, the men laughed at him. He was made to go inside where he was given coffee and food. He was then handcuffed to a post.


Later, while Ajid was sleeping, the soldiers woke him up.  While blindfolded, he was interrogated by three persons.  He was accused of being a member of the Abu Sayyaf. When he denied the allegation or when he failed to answer the questions, he was either punched or hit on different parts of his body.  This lasted for two hours.


One of his handcuffs was removed and he was made to sleep. He was not able to rest, however. He just lay down on the bench.


The next day, he was made to eat three meals. He was already asleep when the same voices from the previous night ordered him to get up for interrogation.


He was again punched and hit on different parts of his body. The soldiers pulled down his pants and after each question that Ajid did not answer, a long neck bottle was inserted into his anus.


His blindfold was removed and his eyes were pierced several times with a pointed object.


Ajid’s knees were pulled while two other persons held his thighs and feet.  He was also paddled at the back and thighs for several times.


Ajid’s head was then wrapped with a plastic bag, and then, he was strangled. When he lost consciousness, he was punched. When he regained consciousness, he was again strangled. His pants were again pulled down and the men flicked his testicles.  Ajid fainted again. He recalled that the cycle happened for four times.


Ajid was brought to an adjacent area where he was submerged in water. The men asked him if he was ready to admit that he is an Abu Sayyaf member.  After being thrice submerged into the water, Ajid lost consciousness. He was then punched and the bottom of his left big toe was burnt with cigarette.


Because of extreme suffering, Ajid admitted to the accusations against him. He said yes when he was asked if he was Kanneh Malikil and if he participated in the Lamitan kidnapping. But when he was asked if he had firearms, he answered no. This irked his interrogators and Ajid was again punched several times.


When his ordeal ended, Ajid was told to sleep.  He was again handcuffed to the post of a waiting shed.


The next morning, Ajid was given coffee and was told to change his clothes. At about 9:00 a.m., three persons arrived and told Ajid not to be afraid. He just had to tell the truth. They said they were from MICO, a military intelligence group.


When asked who he was, Ajid gave them his name. The men said that they were told that he was Kanneh Malikil. When Ajid denied this, he was punched on different parts of his body.  Ajid also denied participating in the Lamitan kidnapping and in the Baiwas (a barangay in Lamitan, Basilan) harassment.  For every denial, he was punched several times and his abdomen was repeatedly hit with a wooden object. One of the men pointed a gun to his nape and told Ajid that he will be killed if he denied the accusations. When Ajid stood by his answer, he was again punched.  The men then left him.


After a while, another person arrived and told Ajid that his blindfold will be removed. His picture was then taken.


At around 2:00 p.m., a certain Lt. Benedict Lim from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) arrived to get Ajid’s statement. Lt. Lim told Ajid that all he wanted was the truth. He also told Ajid that he will return the next day. Ajid was then given food and he was able to rest and sleep.


On July 26, Ajid was told to take a bath. His blindfold and handcuffs were removed. Three men guarded him as he was made to board a 4 x 4 vehicle. A bonnet was used to blindfold him and he was made to wear sunglasses. Paper was also used as an additional cover for his eyes. Ajid estimated that they rode for about 500 meters when he heard the sound of flowing water. They got off the vehicle and his blindfold was removed. They boarded a speed boat and then transferred back to a 4 x 4 vehicle. During the trip, he was again blindfolded.


The driver told Ajid that they are going to a hospital. There, Ajid was x-rayed. His blood pressure, blood and urine samples were taken.  During his check-up, Ajid remained blindfolded.


Afterwards, the 4 x 4 vehicle again brought him to court where his blindfold and handcuffs were removed.


Ajid was brought to the fiscal’s office. Aside from personal questions, Ajid was asked the same questions asked him during interrogation.  He was also asked if he was hit while in the custody of the military. He said yes.


While Ajid was being interviewed in the office, a man shouted that Ajid was lying. That was the same man who pointed a gun to Ajid’s nape and threatened that he will be killed.


When Ajid stepped out of the office, he was again blindfolded and handcuffed. The man who shouted kicked and hit him and again threatened to kill him.  They travelled for about 45 minutes. After some time, they went back to court, to the prosecution office.


A person arrived and warned Ajid that he will be killed if he did not answer yes to the Fiscal’s questions. At about 4:00 p.m., two guards brought Ajid to a 4 x 4 vehicle and took him to the port. After 15 minutes, he was made to board a speed boat where his blindfold was removed.


A few minutes later, he was again blindfolded. He was brought back to the waiting shed at the brigade where he was given dinner.


A man who smelled of liquor went near Ajid. He could hear that the men were having a drinking spree. He also heard the voices of the three men who interrogated him the nights before.


The men asked Ajid why he denied the allegations, while the other day, he already admitted that he was Malikil. He was punched several times. He was challenged to take out his M14 armalite. Ajid said that he did not have one. He was again asked if he was an Abu Sayyaf member. When he said no, they pulled his knees.


Ajid then heard someone arrive. The men greeted him respectfully.


Ajid was then interrogated and asked the same questions. A plastic bag was placed over his head. A plank of wood was pushed against his neck while someone held his head. Ajid then fainted. This was repeated several times. Ajid could no longer recall how many times he lost consciousness. A rope was tied around his neck, and then both ends were pulled. His thighs were held and a bottle was again inserted into his anus. His fingernails were threatened to be pulled out. One of the men then said that he will be killed and thrown into the river.


The men then brought Ajid to the toilet and repeatedly submerged him upside down into the water.

He was slumped inside the toilet when he regained consciousness. He had no shirt on and he was feeling very weak. He was kicked on the left shoulder and he threw up. One of the men asked for a liter of gasoline.  This was poured into Ajid’s left ear. The pain was so intense that Ajid stood up, but he was handcuffed to a low-lying post.


Gasoline was then poured on Ajid’s head. He heard someone say that the gasoline should not be used up since they will still need it. Gasoline was then poured on his pants. His pants then caught fire. Before it was put off, the left side of his body, as well as his forehead and eyebrows already sustained burns.

Ajid heard the men laughing. They said that Ajid seemed to have magical powers since he was still alive. They then punched him on the chest that threw him to a cemented portion of the room. His neck was again tied and he was pulled to the waiting shed. He was again handcuffed to the waiting shed post.


He estimated that his ordeal lasted at around 3:00 a.m. Before his torturers left, they told him that he will soon meet his end.  They no longer bothered to blindfold him.


On July 27, Ajid was told to change his clothes. He was blindfolded again. They gave him coffee and told him to rest. His right handcuff was removed.


At 8:30 a.m., a man arrived. Ajid recognized the voice as the same person who interrogated him. His blindfold was removed. The man looked at Ajid and told him that what was done to him was terrible, and then, he left. Ajid overheard the man talking to the guard. He then told Ajid that he should rest inside and not at the shed since there were passersby.


Ajid was given lunch. After which, he was able to sleep. The guard woke him up and told him that he will be brought to the hospital. He was made to ride a 4 x 4 vehicle. When they reached their destination, his blindfold was removed. Ajid saw that he was in court and inside were his wife and his sister.[5]


Ajid was hospitalized but remains in military custody. A petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed and is still pending in court.


Hopefully, Ajid will be luckier than other torture victims who filed cases against their perpetrators.


Last year, Lenin Salas, et al filed a case of torture against members of the Philippine National Police in Pampanga. Unfortunately, the result was unfavourable to the victims.


Though the victims were able to identify the Superintendent who was present when they were tortured and have pictures and medical reports to prove their torture, the Office of the Prosecutor said that though there were physical evidence, it is not sufficient that only presence of injuries is established.[6]


Also, according to the Prosecutor, the victim Salas failed to establish that he had gained sufficient familiarity with the respondent or with his voice prior to their arrest[7] while his co-accused, identification seemed to be dubious since it is unusual that they should be able to identify respondents talking to them when they did not have the opportunity to see him considering that they were blindfolded.[8]


The outcome of the Salas case proves that it is not surprising that torture continues even with an anti-torture law. If all prosecutors are like Prosecutor Dela Paz Malapit, cases will already be dismissed in its early stage and will no longer get to be decided in the court.




It could only be through sheer will that Ajid survived the horrendous torture he suffered in the hands of the heartless members of the military.


There were incidents, however, when instead of being tortured, the victim was forever silenced. Such was what happened to a member of a family in Doña Remedios, Trinidad, Bulacan.


On July 18, Florita Esquibel, 66, with her son Nicanor, 46, and her grandson Norman, 18, went Sitio Batong Munti, Barangay Camachili to do “kaingin” in their lot. The three decided to spend the night there.


The next morning, at around 4:30, they were awakened by gunshots being fired toward them. Although terrified, Florita was able to shout that they are civilians. She then saw blood on Nicanor’s shirt.


Moments later, one of the soldiers ordered them to come out of the nipa hut. Florita immediately went out. She saw around 20 soldiers in full battle gear. The military asked her where her companions were. She said that they were inside and wounded. She wanted to check on Norman, but the soldiers went with her.


One of the soldiers told Florita that Norman is a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) and asked how old he was. She replied that Norman is not an NPA member and that they are all farmers.


Another man went inside to inspect the hut. He then reported to the head of the group that Nicanor was already dead. (Later reports would indicate however that at that time, Nicanor was still alive. He unfortunately bled to death.)


The soldiers then pointed their rifles upward and fired simultaneously. According to Florita, the gunshots lasted for about a minute.


Florita begged the military officer to allow her to bring her wounded grandson to the hospital. Only after several hours was she allowed to go. Florita walked several kilometres before she was able to find help. Together with other family members, she was able to seek the assistance of barangay officials to bringing Norman to the hospital and to get Nicanor’s body. But when the barangay officials reached the hut, they were restricted by the soldiers.


It was already 5:00 p.m. when the soldiers brought Norman to the Doña Remedios Trinidad Municipal Hall.  Mayor Ronaldo T. Flores provided an ambulance that brought Norman to the V. Luna Hospital (a military hospital). His aunt, Leni Esquibel went with him. Aside from two soldiers who were with them in the ambulance, a truck full of soldiers served as security escorts on the way to the hospital.


The dead body of Nicanor, meanwhile, was turned over to his family before midnight on July 20.[9]




The case of Rodiemer “Demer” Dela Cruz Morada, on the other hand, proves that government forces are indeed capable of using various tactics to justify their atrocious acts.


On August 23, at around 9:00 a.m., Demer, 20, a member of the Dumagat tribe, was abducted by members of the military.


According to Demer’s mother, four persons with long firearms went to their house to talk with Demer. They asked him to accompany them to a nearby town. Demer went with them.


Demer’s uncle last saw him with approximately 10 armed persons aboard a motor boat. He did not know where they will take Demer.


Father Pete Montallana of Infanta reported the incident to various national and international human rights organizations, as well as to the media. Only then did the military surface Demer.


According to the army, Demer “voluntarily went with army soldiers to ask for help as he wanted to avail of  the Social Integration Program”[10].


But Demer had a different story. According to him, the four men who came to their house pretended to be NPA members. Since he knew one of them, a certain Rigor, who was his former comrade, he went with them.


Eventually though, he noticed that the men were not NPA members. Demer then cautioned the owner of one of the houses they visited not to believe that the men were NPA members.


The next day, Demer was brought to the camp of the 1st Infantry Battalion where he was interrogated.


On August 31, four soldiers and six CAFGU members brought Demer to the 76th Infantry Battalion camp in Tunguhin, Infanta, Quezon.

At 6:00 p.m., a man who introduced himself as Col. Peralta asked Demer if he was tortured and if he wanted to go to the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Lucena to receive P 50,000. Demer said yes.


0n September 1, at around 4:30 a.m., Demer and two soldiers left the camp to go to the DSWD regional office. A DSWD personnel asked Demer if he surrendered. When he did not answer, the soldier said yes. Demer was then made to sign a document written in English. According to the DSWD personnel, it was for a livelihood program. Demer could not read. He affixed his thumb mark on the document. He was then brought back to Infanta.


On September 3, the soldiers brought Demer back to the 1st Infantry Battalion Camp in Polillo. In the afternoon, CO Seguerra spoke to him and gave him one thousand pesos for his fare going home.


Demer was allowed to leave the camp the next morning. He reached his house in the evening of the same day.[11]



It has been over a year since PNoy became president. Until now, the human rights community is waiting for his government’s human rights agenda.


In the last State of the Nation Address (SONA) of PNoy, he only mentioned three things that had a relation to the issue of human rights – human trafficking, extrajudicial killing, and compensation for the victims of martial law.


Why PNoy suddenly mentioned the issue of human trafficking may be attributed to the fact that it is one of the priorities of the United States Government. United States Ambassador Harry Thomas even warned a group of Filipinos that the country was “at risk” of losing P11 Billion if it did not curb human trafficking.[12]


The mention of extrajudicial killing in the SONA just seemed to be a passing remark when he said that the Department of Justice has a big role in jailing offenders.


According to TFDP documentation, there have been 37 cases of arrest and detention (with 64 victims) and 10 cases of torture (with 21 victims) that happened during PNoy’s presidency.  These, among other human rights violations, need PNoy’s attention and action.


The time devoted by PNoy on the issue of human rights might be evidence enough of his government’s regard for this issue. He is obviously more concerned with the issue of corruption and on always putting back the blame on the previous administration on why the Philippines is in its current situation.  This government can not be so myopic as to address only the issue of corruption. It should act on cases of human rights violations that took place during the previous administrations. It is high time for the President to stop finger pointing and to act on the problems of this country.


The continued proliferation of human rights violations and the inability of the government to prosecute perpetrators further worsen the ingrained culture of impunity in the country.


Mr. Lacierda once mentioned that the PNoy administration does not have a policy on human rights violations...and that they do “frown” on human rights violations.[13]


Human rights violations continue to persist but the PNoy administration has not taken any action on any incident of violation during his administration. Is there still hope that justice will be given to victims of human rights violations or should Mr. Lacierda’s remark be taken as this administration’s strongest commitment pertaining to the issue of human rights? Now, there is every reason to frown and be frustrated.



[2] Definition of political prisoners, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines

[3] TFDP documentation, October 18, 2011.

[4] Panso ARD, documented by Fara Diva Gamalo, TFDP Visayas.

[5] Ajid ARD, TOR documented by Rita Melecio, TFDP Mindanao

[6] NPS Docket No. III-13-INV-10-I-01135, Resolution, Prosecutor 1 Maria Graciella R. Dela Paz-Malapit

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] Dona Remedios Trinidad HAR, EJK documented by Rommel Yamzon, TFDP Luzon

[10] “Army says it kept, didn’t abduct member of Agta tribe,” Mallari, Delfin Jr. T., Philippine Daily Inquirer, Southern Luzon.

[11] Salaysay ni Rodiemer Dela Cruz Morada



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