Human rights are often sacrificed on the altar of national security. Torture is thus employed in extracting information from the suspects for the purpose of preempting threat and mass destruction. Torture adopts other names such as “tactical interrogation” or “enhanced interrogation” to circumvent laws and gain approval from justice authorities. In the country, torture has been practiced with impunity since martial law as a standard for military interrogation and become a behavioral issue much for discrimination and intimidation since everybody knows that information gathered from torture is always unreliable. We thought we have exorcised it after we have sworn to democracy and freedom of expression in our Constitution. But we are wrong. Torture persists and continues to challenge our beliefs, values and commitment to reform under the international HR covenants. In more than 2 decades after EDSA revolution, TFDP has witnessed such abuses and their resurgence in the present administration. Since 2004, TFDP documented 182 cases of torture with 337 victims. Working with the victims in seeking justice has been frustrating due to the absence of the anti-torture law that will prosecute the torturers. Concern on the suspended anti-torture bill for senate concurrence has once again gathered throng of human rights defenders pushing for its immediate passage lest it would be melted by the election fever, as what happened in the past.
Our lawmakers and leaders ought to remember the example of Barrack Obama during his presidential campaign. Standing witness to the scandal at Abu Ghraib, disclosure of torture memos at Guantanamo prison and the warrant-less arrest of suspects and surveillance of the Americans, he made a pledge not only to close the tainted facilities but also to launch prosecutions against those found responsible. In a country with the priority of reviving the sliding economy, it is a tough commitment to make. But now the inquiry has started: a truth commission is being proposed in the US senate, and congressional subpoenas have been issued already. The process will surely stretch for sometime before justice can be served as claim for legal immunities and national security are being debated. Somehow, it is always easier to prosecute those hands on the victims than those who authorize and decide.
What is encompassing the effort is the quest for truth and the openness in seeking the truth for understanding. The need to know what really happened and why, to make sure it must never happen again. The inquiry intends to invite individual or group of people widely recognized for impartiality to compose the commission. The facts will be assembled from the testimonies and revealed to the nation for a shared understanding of the failure of the past and how healing can be advance to unite the people to progress. The net effect of this effort is to show the world of the advancement in human rights in a country long criticized for its disregard for the human rights of the other nations. It is a very difficult task but the lessons derived in the process may set an example for others to emulate.
Anti torture advocates in the country have been untiring and persistent in pushing for the anti-torture law. But it should be remembered that the passage of the anti-torture law, hopefully, is only the beginning in the elimination of torture. Since we cannot start a long journey with heavy baggages of the past, the establishment of the truth commission after the passage of the law or as another course of action is necessary. To do so, is to demonstrate that we cannot afford to get behind the promotion of human rights in the region and that we should continue to lead by example. Many argue that this cannot be done because we wallow in the culture of denial and forgetfulness. With the experience we had in the past inquiries into the extra-judicial execution and enforced disappearance cases, perhaps, we are now ready to confront the most difficult challenge we have as a Christian nation. It is in addressing torture that we can demonstrate how far we regard the respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights in our every endeavor for development and progress in the country. (dani)