The 'wheel of torture' discovered in a police station in Laguna, Philippines (Photo courtesey of CHR)
The dismissal of 10 police personnel believed responsible for a “torture roulette” technique at their station in the Philippines province of Laguna has been criticized as overly lenient by rights groups.
Up to 41 detainees may have been subjected to the practice of being strung upside down on a spinning wheel and punched each time the wheel stopped. The discovery was made in the town of Biñan.
"The alleged torture of detainees, if proven, should not only result in penalizing the 10 police personnel. Their immediate superiors should also be held liable," said Emmanuel Amistad, executive director of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.
The Philippine National Police yesterday dismissed the officers, following revelations by Amnesty International that police had punched detainees on a "torture wheel" each time it stopped at "20 seconds Manny Pacman," referring to the nickname of boxing champion Manny Pacquiao. If the wheel stopped at the "30-second bat," they were hung upside down.
"They do it for fun. It's horrible," said Loretta Ann Rosales, head of the government's Commission on Human Rights. "We’re trying to correct this mindset based on a human rights approach to policing but obviously it may take a lot of time."
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of the rights group Karapatan, doubted that the policemen and their superiors would be brought to justice, "because no perpetrator of such a crime has been put in jail for such dastardly acts".
Palabay cited the case of 43 health workers who filed charges against their torturers, but then watched them and their superiors promoted to higher posts.
The country's anti-torture law states that the immediate commanding officer of perpetrators of torture "shall be held liable as a principal to the crime".
Amistad said that in the case of the "torture wheel" in Laguna province, the officers should also be held liable for maintaining a "secret prison".
Amistad called on the Commission on Human Rights to convene an oversight committee to monitor compliance of the anti-torture law.
When President Benigno Aquino came to power in 2010, he vowed to take steps to prosecute violators of human rights. Rights groups said however that violations continue under the Aquino administration.
Human Rights Watch, in its annual report released last week, said the Philippine government failed to match its rhetoric in support of human rights.