Pastor testifies that he was tortured in the Philippines

Claims made by the Philippines government to a good human rights track record “are utterly false”, the Rev Berlin Guerrero told the United Nations Committee against Torture this week. A victim of torture himself, Guerrero said the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is “remiss in its responsibility to prevent torture”.

A pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Guerrero stated that “church people have not been spared from torture”.

“Most of the victims of torture among church people are from member churches of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and I am one of those who have been victimized,” he said.

According to the human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), between 2001 and 2008 there were 1,010 documented victims of torture in the Philippines. Extra judicial killings over the same period amounted to 991.

Guerrero spoke before the 42nd session of the UN Committee against Torture meeting in Geneva, Switzerland this week to review the human rights record of Philippines and other countries. He was sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission of the Churches in International Affairs.

Guerrero was abducted on 27 May 2007 in front of his family, soon after Sunday worship at the local UCCP church in Malaban, Biñan. “No warrant of arrest was shown despite our pleas and protests,” he recalled in his statement to the UN committee.

After “one year, three months and 15 days”, he was released because of the “insufficiency of evidence” against him. “To experience this kind of persecution strengthened and confirmed my faith,” he says. “While in detention I was happy to be able to serve the prison community by starting a Christian ministry to my fellow detainees.”

When he visited the WCC offices in Geneva on 28 April, Guerrero was welcomed by the WCC general secretary, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia. During a visit to the Philippines in November 2007 at the helm of an international delegation, Kobia had joined the campaign for Guerrero’s liberation, publicly calling for his release.

According to Guerrero, thanks to an international campaign in which churches have played a crucial role, the extra judicial executions in the Philippines have decreased. But “with general elections scheduled for 2010 they are peaking again, with a rate of one person killed every week,” he says.

“The WCC will continue supporting the efforts of human rights defenders in the Philippines,” Kobia told Guerrero, who was accompanied by Karapatan general secretary Marie Hilao-Enriquez, and by Raymond Manalo, another torture victim.

A farmer’s ordeal

Manalo, a 27-year old farmer in San Ildefonso, in the northern province of Bulacan, was abducted together with his brother Reynaldo on 14 February 2006. He was held for 18 months in three different secret detention facilities within military camps.

“The soldiers beat us with pieces of wood on our backs and different parts of our bodies, beat us with chains, burn different parts of our bodies with cigarettes and heated metal tin, kicked us with their combat boots on, hit us with the butts of their rifles, poured gasoline on my waist and legs while threatening to burn me,” Manalo told the UN committee.

He witnessed “soldiers summarily killing civilians whom they accused of being rebels or aiding them” as well as other captives being tortured. After admitting to his captors’ accusations, the torture was eased and he entered a slave work regime.

Manalo escaped with his brother in August 2007. With help from human rights organizations he was able to obtain a writ of amparo – a legal remedy for victims of extrajudicial killings or enforced disappearances – and in September 2008 filed criminal complaints against members of the military he was able to identify amongst his torturers.

“I do not want this ordeal to happen to anybody else. I wish that the extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture in my country will stop […] I hope that President Gloria Arroyo will end the impunity,” Manalo told the UN committee.