Philippine police officers played a “wheel of torture” game to have fun and punish criminal suspects during interrogations, including bouts of punching named after boxing star Manny Pacquiao, human rights activists have revealed.
Amnesty International said that, under the game, detainees – mostly suspected drug traffickers – were punched if the “torture wheel” stopped at “20 seconds Manny Pacman”, Pacquiao’s nickname. They were hung upside down if it stopped at a punishment called “30- second bat”.
A picture of the wheel provided by the Commission on Human Rights yesterday showed several other tortures, including “3 minutes zombies” and “30-second duck walk/Ferris wheel” though it was not clear what those punishments were.
Commission chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales said: “It’s horrible. They [the police] do it for fun, it’s like a game for entertainment. We’re trying to correct this mindset based on a human rights approach to policing, but obviously it may take a lot of time.”
Allegations of torture have particular resonance in the Philippines, which emerged from a brutal era of dictatorship nearly three decades ago.
Thousands of people who were victims during dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s rule won a class action lawsuit against his estate for torture and other rights violations in 1992. A peaceful, army-backed “people power” revolt removed Marcos in 1986.
President Benigno Aquino III, the son of revered pro-democracy leaders who fought Marcos, has pledged to prosecute those who violate human rights. Rights groups, however, say violations have continued.
The latest violations allegedly took place at a police intelligence office in Binan town in Laguna province, south of Manila, which was not operating as an official detention facility.
Ms Rosales said her commission investigated after receiving a tip about the alleged abuse of more than 40 detainees. The mistreatment is said to have occurred last year and this month.
Ms Rosales said she has urged senior police officers to pursue criminal complaints against about ten officers who were implicated in the abuses.
National police spokesman Senior Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac said several officers have been taken into custody and an investigation is under way.
A report by the rights commission cited detainees as saying they were beaten up, electrocuted or hit with steel bars, baseball bats, a chair or helmet. One detainee said a police officer pointed an assault rifle at him, and another accused the police of threatening his relatives.
Hazel Galang-Folli, of Amnesty International, said: “For police officers to use torture ‘for fun’ is despicable. These are abhorrent acts. Suspending officers is not enough. Errant police personnel and their commanding officers should be held accountable in a court of law.”
The group urged Mr Aquino’s administration “to act immediately to put an end to routine torture”.
Legislators enacted an anti-torture act in 2009 and the Philippines has ratified an international convention against torture.
But Ms Rosales said: “Despite these, the road ahead remains littered with the vestiges of this despicable practice.”
She said the police abuse “offers a stark contrast between policy and practice. In many places, it seems torture is still considered SOP [standard operating procedure] by some law enforcement personnel”.
In 2010, all 11 officers in a Manila police station were relieved of their duties after a TV station aired a video purportedly showing police hitting a naked robbery suspect. The video showed the suspect screaming on the floor as a man pulled a string bound around his genitals.