Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How the mighty are fallen -- Officers of the Philippines National Police face a courageous young man

Stewart Sloan

(The Sunday Examiner 1 May 2011) One Saturday evening a few months ago a young man, not yet an adult, from a poor farming community in Mindanao went to meet his friend at a bar in the nearby town. Lenny was looking forward to the evening. Not a great drinker, he had no intention of becoming inebriated, not that he could afford to anyway; it was the fellowship of his friends and peers that he was excited about. But as he approached the bar he saw that there was trouble brewing.

A fight that had obviously started within the bar premises had spilled out into the street. Blows were being exchanged, there was a lot of shouting and some of the ladies were doing to their best to separate the combatants but, actually just adding to the general noise and melee.

It was at that point that Lenny saw the police arriving and, deciding discretion the better part of valour realised that he did not want to become involved. He therefore secreted himself behind some bushes and watched the event unfold. He was so engrossed in what was happening that he did not notice the police officers that were approaching him from behind. Without warning they hauled him to his feet and pulled him into the clearing in front of the bar, cuffing him about the head as they did so.

Roughly they asked him what he was doing hiding in the bushes and Lenny tried to explain that he simply wanted to avoid the trouble that even then, was still going on. Some police officers were trying to extricate the fighters and not having much success but the officers holding Lenny were more intent on roughing him up. The officers, members of the local Special Weapons and Tactics team, did not believe Lenny's explanation and told him that they were arresting him on suspicion of Causing Public Scandal and manhandled him towards a police vehicle. As they pushed him along they struck him repeatedly with their hand guns about the chest. Their arrogance and belief in their own invincibility was such that they carried out this cruelty in full view of the assembled crowd. At least, thought Lenny, when he got to the police station he could explain himself more clearly. However, that was not to be.

Instead of taking Lenny to the station they took him to a building used as a club house for off-duty officers. There they took turns punching Lenny about the head and chest. This torture went on for some time before they made him to clean the toilet which, from its appearance had not been cleaned for some time. They took great delight in taunting Lenny, telling him that they could do anything they wanted to him because there were no witnesses, and anyway, no one would believe him.

After some hours they finally took Lenny to the nearby police station where, due to his age (at the time of the incident Lenny was only 17-years-old) they handed him over the policewoman in charge of the Women and Children's Desk. They completed the paperwork and Lenny was officially charged with violating curfew.

What should have happened was that Lenny should have been placed in a cell while his parents were informed of his arrest. However, that did not happen. In full view of the policewoman, who did nothing to intervene, the two arresting officers continued to torture Lenny. Once again, their arrogance was such that they were unconcerned about the presence of other civilians in the report room area.

Finally the policewoman took Lenny away from the officers. However, she did not make any record of the torture or even listen to his complaint of what he had undergone. Neither did she contact the victim's parents as is legally required for arrested minors. When Lenny asked that he be taken to a hospital to be examined and treated his request was ignored.

Not surprisingly Lenny was severely traumatised by this incident. He dropped out of school and it was almost three months later that he told his parents what had happened to him. Lenny's father made a report to the police but, not surprisingly, no action was taken and no investigation was carried out. It was then that human rights workers became involved and they helped Lenny's father to lodge complaints with the Human Rights Commission and Public Attorney's Office.

This is when the situation went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

When the SWAT officers finally realised that they were in trouble they attempted to make amends. Not by admitting to what they had done and facing their just punishment, but by offering Lenny and his father gifts and bribes in order to get them to retract their complaints.

What is sad about this is that an innocent boy was brutally tortured by the very people that are being paid to protect him and this torture continued in the presence of another officer whose duty was specifically to protect young people.

The case is ongoing and no doubt, with the ability of the Philippine National Police to delay things when it comes to protecting their own will continue for some months now. Hopefully Lenny and his family will remain strong in the presence of the bribes that the officers will continue to offer him and the threats that are sure to follow when they realise that this family want redress for the injustice that happened to their son.

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