Since the enactment of the Anti-Torture Act (Republic Act No. 9745) in 2009, the Philippine government has taken significant steps towards improving the legal framework for eradicating torture and supporting torture victims. This includes the elaboration of a rehabilitation programme for victims of torture and the establishment of a body to oversee the implementation of all aspects of the Anti-Torture Act. Regrettably, very few of these promises have become reality for rights holders on the ground.
The government security forces continue to obstruct identification of alleged perpetrators among its ranks. Warrants of arrest of ranking army officers and soldiers have not been served, which impedes the effective prosecution of torturers and the government has neglected to investigate and pursue command responsibility, which can be a strong tool against such obstruction. Despite the filing of many well-documented torture cases, it was only in April 2016 that the first perpetrator was convicted when police officer Jerick Dee Jimenez was sentenced to a maximum of two years and one month imprisonment by a court in Pampanga for the torture of Jerryme Corre. The court demanded that the
officer pay Jerryme Corre damages amounting to 100,000 pesos (approximately USD $2,173). Another police officer faces the same charges but remains at large.
There have been significant technical challenges in translating the law into reality at the local level. These partly relate to the devolved system of government in the Philippines but also reflect problems with the lack of clearly defined ownership of implementation of different aspects of the law and grossly insufficient budgetary provisions. As an example, the rehabilitation programme for victims, which is a model for global promising practice, has seen almost no actual implementation at the local level. Most initiatives to implement this and other aspects of the law are driven by NGOs and paid for by international donors.
For victims, pursuing justice is an uphill battle where lack of access to proper evidence collection and strict evidentiary requirements on the victims to prove what happened and who did it discourages their search for official recognition of the wrongs done to them.
All of these challenges are compounded by the lack of effective oversight and steering of the implementation of the law. The Oversight Committee headed by the Commission on Human Rights that is designated to do this is still to commence its function despite repeated calls from NGOs to get started.
During the past six years, the Philippines have enjoyed a political environment that was, at least in rhetoric, favourable to the protection of human rights. With the election of Rodrigo Duterte as the next President, the country is moving into very different territory and it will be crucial to ensure that the state institutions that are meant to guarantee the rights of individuals perform their function effectively.