Bet you the Philippines government won’t like this ...
Won’t like what? Er, well, I bet you the authorities in Manilla won’t be happy with the new Amnesty report on the huge problem of police torture in the country. (More on this shortly).
Anyway, you’re probably not the betting type and won’t want to take my remarks literally. (“£25 says you’re wrong, Niluccio ...!”) Betting, taking a wager, staking money on the outcome of an unpredictable event: it’s always seemed to me a bizarre thing for people to do. Why bother? Perhaps, like Rozencrantz in Tom Stoppard’s excellent film, people just have a natural curiosity about the world (which of these two flies will reach the top of the window first? etc) and can’t resist discussing everything and everything and even monetising the outcome (“just to make things interesting”).
Yeah, maybe. And maybe - just maybe - large companies (and their mates in the media and sports businesses) do their damnedest to encourage people to risk their money in the interests of “testing their luck”/making profits for those self-same companies - say hello: every high street bookmaker, the horse racing industry, the Football League (aka the Sky Bet Football League), online poker companies, Ryanair’s scratch cards scheme, and dozens of others - not forgetting the Radio 4 Today programme with its entirely unnecessary horse racing “tips”.
Ahem. OK, I don’t much like the various betting industries or, for that matter, the National Lottery, or indeed the media’s suffocating hype-cum-endorsement of things like the horse-maiming Grand National race. Nope, I’m a regular kill-joy like that.
But back to the Philippines. The discovery in the Philippines earlier this year of a torture “roulette wheel” at a secret police detention centre did, I must admit, catch even my anti-betting attention. You’ll recall that this was where police at a secret facility in the Laguna province of the Philippines had rigged up a large multi-coloured wheel on a post - a mock-up of a roulette wheel, but instead of numbers the segments contained punishments to be meted out to the unfortunate detainees. The roulette disc - a veritable wheel of misfortune - contained tortures like “30-second bat” (being suspended upside down for 30 seconds) and “30-second Manny Pacman” (being punched, à la Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, for 30 seconds). Every segment of the torture wheel featured one kind of horrible abuse or another. It was torture no matter what the outcome, a particularly horrifying form of “house advantage”, stacked odds that even the John McCriricks of this world wouldn’t have liked.
The new Amnesty report - the one I’m suggesting won’t be popular in the Philippines government’s main press office - contains dozens of similarly harrowing accounts of police torture. For example, there’s the case of “Roy” (not his real name), arrested by five plain-clothed police officers who terrorised him for hours (taking him to a cemetery at night saying they’d prepared a grave for him, putting a gun to his head, stubbing out cigarettes on his body) to force some sort of confession out of him regarding drugs and the location of his uncle, a supposed drug-dealer. Or there’s the case of Alfreda Disbarro, tortured by the police at Parañaque police headquarters where she was variously kicked, punched and beaten with a wooden baton and a metal bar, had fingers forced into her eyes and a dirty mop rammed into her mouth, as well as being subjected to William Burroughs-like taunts about how they were going to shoot a bottle off the top of her head (more grotesque “games of chance”).
As I say, there are plenty more like this. Read the entire 120 pages of the Amnesty report to get the full flavour of it. So no, on the balance of probabilities I think it’s fair to say the odds of being tortured in police custody in the Philippines are horribly high. By the same token, it’s perfectly likely - at least evens, or possibly 2/1-on - that the Filipino authorities will rebut this charge despite the substantial evidence to show there’s a real, institutionalised problem in the country. So, will the Philippines clean up its act? Given that five-years-old anti-torture legislation appears to have had no impact whatsoever, it doesn’t look tremendously likely. Justice in the Philippines? I wouldn’t bet on it ...
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.