Police denies torture of suspects in bus blast; Malang says rights groups denied full access

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/30 October) —  A police officer who led the arrest of two suspects in the bloody bus bombing in North Cotabato denied allegations they tortured the suspects during interrogation last week but said he will submit to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for a “full-blown investigation” of alleged manhandling and other human rights violations.

Supt. Alex Tagum, chief of the Cotabato Public Safety Company, who led Investigation  Task Group Rural on orders of Police Director General Raul Bacalzo, said it is not in his nature to manhandle suspects for them to confess a crime.

“First, torturing a suspect into confessing a crime will not do us any good.  Second, it’s not in my nature to violate one’s right even if he is a suspect in the crime,” Tagum, one of the six policemen awarded for quick resolution of the October 21 Rural Transit bus explosion in Matalam, North Cotabato that killed 11 passengers and wounded many others.

Local Governmentd Secretary Jesse Robredo commended Tagum and his men during his visit to Cotabato province last Tuesday.

But lawyer Zen Malang of the Moro Human Rights Center (MHRC), a Cotabato City-based human rights group, was not impressed.

“The arrests were made to correct the negative notion created after the August 23 Luneta bloody hostage-taking that the Philippine police are inept and remiss in their duty,” said Malang, adding the arrest was warrantless, which all the more prompted him to elevate the issue to the CHR and other international human rights body.

“I have already elevated this issue in the international human rights community and sent them an alarm of a human rights violation in the Philippines committed by some members of the Cotabato Provincial Police Office,” he stressed.

Tagum, however, is not alarmed.

“Definitely, I welcome any full-blown investigation to be conducted by the CHR or any group.  We need an action like this so that we would be vindicated.   All the allegations that were hurled against us were baseless,” he said

Tagum was firm they did not violate any human right.

“We arrested the bomb suspects while the pursuit operations were on going so there’s no need to produce a warrant of arrest.   The time element here is so important.   We just arrested a suspect who admitted having carried the bomb.   We have to move fast.  And a delay in our action would mean the information might leak, which may cause the suspects to run away,” said Tagum.

North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said that of the many explosions that rocked the province since 2007, the recent bombing was the only incident where police have produced good results.

“After 24 hours, the police were already working on a  lead. After 48 hours, arrests were made,” she said.

The suspects have been charged with multiple murder and multiple attempted murder and multiple frustrated murder before the Regional Trial Court here.

Tagum said their operations were not done to glorify themselves.

“We did this because we want to help bring justice to the victims of the bombing.     The Police and other units cannot just stand there and do nothing while relatives of the blast victims languish because of loss of lives,” he said.

In a posting to kusogmindanaw e-group on October 29, Malang said the police in North Cotabato may be hiding something because the CHR and MinHRAC teams “continue to be harassed by PNP North Cotabato.”

“How else can we explain the continued denial of full access?,” Malang asked.

“Our priority now is to have the victims undergo a thorough medical exam.  The mother said one complained of a broken rib, the other complained of blood in his stool,” he wrote.

“We intend to call on the Cotabato City and Maguindanao Provincial LGUs to also extend help and to look into the practice of their residents being arrested, and then spirited out of the city or province and moved elsewhere, only to be tortured.  I have been handling cases of this nature since 2000.  This has been going on for some time, drives a wedge between Moros and other communities, discredits the government, and adds fuel to the perception of Moros being persecuted and used as convenient fall guys for ‘reward’ or ‘medal’ purposes, i.e. DILG’s Sec. Robredo came down last Tuesday and ‘commended’ the arresting team.”

Malang also called on civil society “to extend their help and support to the family of the torture victims and to the victims themselves.  These are indigent victims.  At the time they were taken by the PNP North Cotabato, one was applying for a job with a government agency, the other was following up his labor case with the National Labor and Relations Commission (NLRC).”

” MinHRAC wishes to emphasize that while it condemns in the strongest possible terms the bus bombing in Matalam just as it has always condemned all acts of senseless and indiscriminate violence, one wrong can never be righted by another wrong.  More so when it drives a bigger wedge among Moro and Christian communities in a region already wracked by a decades old conflict.  Further, pinning the blame on fall guys is also a violation of the rights of the victims of the bus bombing to seek justice against the true perpetrators of the crime,” he said. (Malu Cadelina-Manar with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)