By Fr. Shay Cullen
here was no comfort in the Philippine report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week for 14 year old Felix Avila, emaciated, half-staved, brutalized, shocked and dazed as he was helped walk from behind the bars of a police detention center in Metro
Manila. Like a skeletal survivor of Auschwitz, he was helped walk on weak unsteady legs to a rescue van and away to freedom. Rescue, because it was as if he was released from the pains of hell to the joys of heaven. Heaven was when they stopped at the first restaurant and he devoured his first proper meal in months.
At that very time in Geneva, Philippine Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita was enthusiastically reporting to the world and specifically to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that the Philippine government had an exemplary human rights record with a few failings that were being corrected. This, despite the hundreds of unexplained summary executions, disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture and violations of children’s rights and non-implementation of the laws protecting human rights.
In the mind of some officials, compliance with the international obligations to protect human rights is satisfied and fulfilled by having constitutional safeguards, implementing laws, declarations, executive orders and Supreme Court decisions. According to them, it seems, actual implementation is not necessarily required because that is for the security forces to do they claim. The officials say they don’t know who the violators are, they are not investigators, just reporters. When cross examined they were amazed that anyone would question the veracity of the report.
The cases of child abuse like that of Felix in police stations or detention centers are frequently explained by officials by saying everything is changing for the better, the detention centers are transformed into happy rehabilitation centers (change of signboards). Such sparse economy with the truth, it, being in excessively short supply here, makes eyebrows touch the ceilings.
Besides the Philippine delegates were eager to announce that they recommended to President Macapagal-Arroyo that the government join the United Nations Operational Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). This will be too late and since the United Nations can do nothing anyway to enforce compliance, except listen to fanciful tales and self-glorifying reports, the protocol are useless. The government panel did eagerly report there was an 83% drop in summary executions of pastors, priests and political persons in the past year. A very good news if true. But the cut back in the number being executed came about under intense international pressure. So if government officials take credit for reducing the numbers assassinated by death squads by 83 percent they must know who is behind the death squads and ordered them to stop. Responsibility for the killings and violations of human rights now rests on government.
Felix is just 14. His hair is starting to fall out. His skin is the white sickly pallor of a TB patient. His human and civil rights were violated so frequently, so casually, so normally, in such a manner as to tell the world that this is just a normal routine treatment for suspects and its nothing out of the ordinary. They are always amazed when we express our strong protests at the conditions and hardships of the minors behind bars. They deny and lie about the obvious, they ignore the photographic evidence and testimony of witnesses.
Now we are barred from visiting these detention jails like the Manila Youth Reception Center where conditions of the minors are awful. The photographic evidence can be viewed on www.preda.org. I requested an official of another detention center for minors to give me the names and photos of the guards so that their victims, now rescued, could identify their abusers, torturers and file charges. However I got no answer and no names.
Some think we who are working for human rights are anti-government when in fact we are pro-people and against abuse. There are many good dedicated people in government who detest the violations of rights and want a better Philippines, we work with them. The one-sided human rights report could be well balanced by the testimony of Felix and thousands like him.
Fr. Shay Cullen, a Catholic priest from Ireland is the founder of the PREDA Foundation (Peoples Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance), headquartered in Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City, Philippines. PREDA has been rescuing women and children from abuse and illegal detention all over the Philippines. If you wish to help via a donation, Click here for more information.