Torture survivors make life worthwhile in prison

The Inbox

By  Mei Magsino, VERA Files

Charity Diño, a former school teacher in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro, has been languishing at the Batangas Provincial Jail for almost two years now.

She spends her time teaching her fellow female inmates how to bake moist macaroons and chocolate cupcakes in an oven they have improvised inside the correctional facility.

They sell their products as one of their income generating projects, with the support of their new warden.

When Diño gets burns and bruises from the makeshift oven, she couldn't help but be reminded of the painful memories of how she got in jail and the justice she has long been denied.

As seminar organizers of the grassroots farmers group Samahan ng Magbubukid ng Batangas (SAMBAT), she and her friends Sonny Rogelio and Billy Batrina were in Talisay town on Nov. 23, 2009 to invite residents to their forum on urban poor concerns.

On their way home at 8 p.m., armed men in plain clothes forced them into three vans.

"Inside the van, we were blindfolded with adhesive tapes," Diño recalled. "Our captors  started to punch, kick, and maul us. I was in so much pain, but I could hear my companions cry from the blows.  One of the men forced bullets between my fingers and squeezed them until they dug into my flesh."

Called Talisay 3, Diño and her companions were brought to the 730th Combat Group of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) Camp in Palico, Nasugbu, Batangas.

They were interrogated while being forced to admit they were members of the New People's Army (NPA).

In one of the camp's torture chambers, Diño was handcuffed from behind, and tied to a wooden chair where she was slapped, hit with hard objects, kicked, and punched.

In two other rooms, Rogelio and Batrina suffered the same fate, plus electrocution.

"The people who hurt me were big men, I remember because it was so easy for them to carry me out of the room and take me to the grassy area where they stripped me off of my clothes," she said.

Naked, kneeling on the grass, and in too much pain, she felt a gun hit the back of her head. With her low pain tolerance, she passed out. They tortured her from morning till night.

The next day, Diño's blindfold was removed. She was questioned by a woman who she thought was one of her interrogators. In too much pain, and her mind in a haze, she answered "yes" to all her questions.

Unknown to Diño, Rogelio, and Batrina, they were already under inquest proceedings by a prosecutor in Batangas. They had no lawyer to defend them.

On Nov. 26, they were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives before Branch 6 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Tanauan City, Batangas.  Diño was also accused of illegal possession of drugs before the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Talisay, Batangas.

On the fourth day, her blindfold was permanently removed after which she was allowed to bathe and a change of clothes.

After 17 days, the three were brought to the Batangas Provincial Jail in Batangas City.

Diño said: "It was an obvious kidnapping. There was no warrant for our arrest. The first time I saw a grenade and illegal drugs was in court, when those were called exhibits, as evidence against me."

Helping Diño with the baking project in jail is Maricon Montajes, a Mass Communication student at the University of the Philippines  arrested on June 3, 2010 in Taysan, Batangas.

She and her friends Ronilo Baes from Batangas and Romiel Cañete from Diliman, Quezon City (known as the Taysan 3) were on a community outreach work in Taysan when soldiers from the 740th Combat Group under Lt. Col. Arnel Villareal attacked and forcibly took them from their temporary home.

During the attack, a grenade exploded near Montajes. The soldiers, seeing she was injured, took her to a hospital while Baes and Cañete were taken to torture chambers.

"I learned that they used my injury for their press release, saying they took care of me and my medical needs," Montajes said.

Three months after her arrest, Montajes found out the doctors  forgot to remove during the operation  a shrapnel imbedded in her forehead.

"It's (her scar) not very visible nowadays, but I still keep the bangs so that I won't be reminded everyday of the wound that destroyed my life as a student,"  she lamented.

Like the Talisay 3, the same trump-up charges were filed in court against the Taysan 3.  They have also remained in jail since the inquest.

Known for their quick response on anything, the PAF has been unusually slow in answering Vera Files' questions on these cases.

Lt. Col. Miguel Okol,  PAF's new Public Information Officer in Batangas, asked for a formal letter to be emailed to them, but the questions have not been answered to this day.

"They really won't answer that fast," Amading Cornejo, Batangas' foremost political analyst said. "The air force would never admit they tortured the Talisay 3 and the Taysan 3."

The Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Office (MOLEO) told the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) it has decided to "close and terminate the complaint on the basis of Republic Act 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, which means the case should be handled by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

Last  June 30, the AHRC chided the CHR for their alleged failure to take action on SAMBAT's complaint regarding the alleged torture of the Talisay 3 by Air Force soldiers.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")