MANILA - 10 DECEMBER 2003 - Child prisoners today accused President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her top officials of committing crimes against humanity.
In their 50-page complaint before the Ombudsman, five youths aged 11 to 17 - simultaneous with the holding of a rally - decried the torture, rape, cruel and inhumane treatment that children, especially girls, suffer at the hands of the police.
Police habitually lock up kids in cramped police jails without access to legal, medical, social, and psychological assistance and services. "The government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has concealed this illegal act committed against Filipino children prisoners in an organized, systematic, and widespread manner when the Philippine government submitted its second country report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recently," they said.
Assisted by the Coalition to Stop Child Detention Through Restorative Justice, the kids urged the Ombudsman to slap graft charges against President Arroyo, Interior and Local Governments Secretary and National Police Commission chairman Jose Lina Jr., Philippine National Police chief General Hermogenes Ebdane, and Justice Secretary Simeon Datumanong "for causing undue injury" by committing a crime against humanity to children prisoners which is punishable under Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019).
Child rights activists in Manila on 28 October 2003 launched the Coalition to "generate international pressure upon the state to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of children detainees."
The complainants argued that the Philippine government cannot hide behind the cloak of immunity from suit because the 50-year institutionalized practice of jailing children with adult crime suspects constitutes a crime against humanity. "The right of kids not to be detained with adult prisoners is a non-derogable human right, a peremptory norm of international law," they said, citing the 1924 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child.
The "myriad forms of human rights violations routinely committed against children in police custody is an outrage to humanity's collective conscience," they pointed out. "It shocks the international community's very sense of justice and humanity. The hardships, torture, trauma, and dehumanization complainants and other Filipino children prisoners go through during police custody, are despicable and shocking to humanity's conscience and moral sensibilities. It is an atrocity that undermines children's inherent dignity and humanity."
The five youths want the Ombudsman to order the release of all children in police custody and turn them over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or responsible members of the community. They also asked the Ombudsman to direct the President to indemnify all the victims and provide them with psycho-social trauma healing.
DSWD figures show that 4,544 kids, including 441 girls, had been imprisoned during the first quarter this year. According to Bureau of Jail Management and Penology statistics, of the 2,039 kids who had been detained in September this year, 473 were charged with theft and 384 with robbery. At least 316 others were incarcerated for alleged violation of the Comprehensive Drugs Act (RA 9165). At least 589 of child detainees were in Metro Manila.
"All that the Philippine state has to do is to refrain outright from further incarcerating children in police jails in the company of adult prisoners," they said in the complaint.
The President "has command responsibility for the perpetration and perpetuation of, as well as the ultimate power and authority to stop, the cruel, inhumane, barbaric, and degrading treatment and punishment of children prisoners by the officers and members of the Philippine National Police." It is incumbent upon President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo "to enforce the Philippine state's international obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of children prisoners." Lina, Ebdane, and Datumanong, according to the complainants, were also "liable for the illegal, cruel, inhumane, and degrading practice of police child detention, by virtue of the principle of command responsibility."
The PNP (Philippine National Police) "officers and men are responsible for directly perpetrating and perpetuating the illegal, barbaric, and anti-child practice of police child detention ... by hauling them off upon arrest to cramped police jails nationwide, mixing them up with adult prisoners, and allowing the children by means of willful and/or gross negligence to be tattooed, raped, beaten up, and subjected to other forms of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment and punishment by adult prisoners and/or the lawmen themselves."
The kids complained that officials keep on justifying the jailing of children with adult prisoners by citing lack of facilities. "The government merely pays lip service to the human rights of these children prisoners by citing a welter of laws, which, however, does not translate into reality and is violated by the very institutions - including the exalted office of the President - sworn to uphold the rule of law."
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