Torture is a crime under domestic (RA 9745) and international law and is prohibited in all circumstances even in situations of armed conflict. Though legal instruments and treaties (i.e. RA 9745 and UNCAT) are already established in order to prevent torture from happening, the practice of torture in the Philippines is still pervasive. The practice of torture is routinely employed by State authorities to quash the expression of legitimate political dissent or as a shortcut method to address the problem of criminality and keep peace and order. In any case, the practice of torture is deeply rooted in the worsening problem of poverty and inequalities within the Philippine society. Torture destroys the will and spirit of the victim, alters his or her relationship with others (traumatization) and instills fear and anxiety to family and community members of the victim (collective traumatization).
In response to the pervasive practice of torture in the Philippines and in contribution to the social mission of making the country torture-free, Balay has developed the Psychosocial Development Response Program on Survivors of Torture and Organized Violence (PDRP-STOV). In addressing torture, projects, activities and interventions rest on the three program framework pillars of the PDRP-STOV: (1) Prevention, (2) Mitigation and (3) Rehabilitation. The three program framework pillars is then anchored to fact that each and every one of us is entitled to their rights, and in this case, the right to be free from torture.
Balay believes that torture is a systemic problem; torture is embedded, if not institutionalized, in policing measures and law enforcement; this is further exacerbated by abject poverty and deep inequalities within the Philippine society. In this context, Balay pushes for legal instruments, mechanism and policies at the national and domestic level that would prevent torture from happening. The organization likewise pushes to develop the awareness and capacities of state institutions, organizations, individuals, families and communities about the phenomenon of torture. This endeavor is aimed to make them capable of defending their rights, particularly their right to be free from torture. In this sense, the program draws upon the maxim that prevention is better than cure by capacitating duty-bearers (i.e. state and law enforcement institutions) and rights-holders (i.e. citizens, families and communities).
While legal instruments, such as the Anti-Torture Law of 2009, and policies have been enacted by the state to safeguard its citizens, torture continues to be practice. For example, it has been observed that there is least one victim of torture or extra-judicial killings in Bagong Silang, Caloocan per month! Countless news articles and features is proof of the pervasiveness of the phenomenon. In an event of torture, the program aims to mitigate its effects to the victim and their families. The program provides help to the survivors to seek redress, reparation and compensation for the damage done to them and their families. The program likewise provides assistance to address the immediate physical and psychological needs of the victim-survivor.
It can be said that people who experienced torture will never be the same. That is the effect of torture; it destroys the will and spirit of the person, alters social relationship and impairs functioning. The program aims to provide psychosocial services (i.e. counseling sessions) to torture survivors in order to facilitate their return to their (or an approximation of) “normal” state prior to the horrible incident. The organization provides an array of services to provide a holistic mode of intervention towards the rehabilitation of a torture survivor.
The work of Balay in the PDRP-STOV may be categorized into two main areas: (1) prison and jails; and (2) in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City. Balay also refers to prison and jails as confined communities and Bagong Silang as open communities. While working in confined and open communities, Balay constantly engages state institutions and civil society groups concerned in these areas (i.e. for example jail and prison authorities in places of detention and the Barangay Council in Bagong Silang) with the aim of influencing their ways of thing and ways of working – inculcate human rights values amongst the members of these organizations and manifest the human rights perspective in their plans for action and daily practices. Balay calls this strategy in approaching actors, institutions and organizations Transformative Engagements.
Confined communities simply refer to places of detention such as jails and prisons. The term confined communities was used to describe this key area of intervention in order to capture that prisons and jails are more than places of detention or rehabilitation centers of so-called misfits or dysfunctional citizens. In this sense, the term confined communities suggest that every prison or jail is, in itself, a community (though bounded in a finite space by concrete walls); a community that has its own sub culture, ways organization, hierarchies and defined roles (for every detainee or prisoner and also prison or jail authorities).
In Balay’s psychosocial program, prisons and jails, or so-called confined communities, is further divided into two subcategories: (a) focus jails and (b) outreach jails. Focus jails are characterized by a comprehensive set of psychosocial activities conducted in a detention center. Psychosocial activities conducted in the focus jails, to name a few, are: psychological processing, psycho-education, community building (among detainees) and case management. Benefactors to these comprehensive psychosocial activities are prisoners or detainees who have experienced torture and have been assessed by Balay’s psychosocial staff as individuals in need of specialized help.
Unlike the focus jails, the outreach jails do not entail a comprehensive set of psychosocial interventions for political detainees or torture survivors. Instead, Balay’s psychosocial staff provides humanitarian assistance to political prisoners or torture survivors present in an outreach jail. An outreach jail is identified whenever a documented political prisoner or torture survivor is present in a jail or prison. As of March 2011, Balay has 49 outreach jails all over the Philippines. Balay’s psychosocial staff visits the outreach jails quarterly.
Bagong Silang (BSK hereafter) is the site of the other component of the PDRP-STOV. BSK, the largest Barangay in the Philippines in terms of land area, is an urban poor community located at the fringes of Metro Manila. Back in the 70’s BSK was a relocation area for the relocated informal settlers of Metro Manila. As the government embarked on its development projects, informal settlers who were on the way, were forcibly displaced and transferred to BSK. Years passed and the population of Bagong Silang swelled from around 10,000 individuals to 250,000 individuals in a span of 4 decades making it one of the more congested areas in the Metro. BSK along the years had the reputation of being a violent place where illicit activities were rampant, gang violence prevalent and state excess (i.e. torture and extra-judicial killings) happening on a frequent basis.
The intervention in Bagong Silang focuses on young people – the portion of the population deemed most vulnerable to human rights abuses, including torture. The program provides psychosocial services to young people who have experienced torture in order to facilitate their process of rehabilitation as well as assistance to seek justice, reparation and compensation from their perpetrators. These psychosocial services extend to the victim-survivor’s immediate families as well. The program in Bagong Silang likewise target young people who are not torture survivors but are seen as vulnerable to torture and a life of violence and other illicit activities. Alongside the work with young people, the program also launches locally-adopted advocacy and education activities to duty-bearers (i.e. the Barangay Council and the Police) in order to raise their awareness about the issue of torture and enact policies that would prevent the incidence of torture in Bagong Silang.
The mitigation and rehabilitation component – which may be lumped as psychosocial services – and the advocacy component of the psychosocial program are the two main chunks of the program. The services and advocacy component are distinct from one another but are not unrelated. One way of understanding the relationship of Balay’s services and advocacy component is through the concept of service-advocacy continuum.
In the service-advocacy continuum, issues and problems identified in the service component feed on the advocacy components by providing it with (1) concrete cases and elevate it to the level of public policy and discourse and (2) by providing specific points for lobbying, engagements and advocacy. The outcomes of the various advocacy activities may in turn provide better mechanisms to prevent the occurrence of torture; or systems to seek redress, reparation and compensation to torture survivors and their families; or, in the case of jails and prisons, better prison conditions and the provision of specialized care by the facility to torture survivors.
In the middle of the service-advocacy continuum is the documentation, research and education component. This component aims to “capture” the lessons learned from the experiences of doing psychosocial work in preventing and mitigating the effects of torture; and rehabilitation of torture survivors. Lessons learned from implementing this program shall form part of the development of better and more appropriate models of intervention in this field. Capturing these experiences may also feed the ever developing discourse about the field of torture, torture prevention and rehabilitation. Finally, lessons and information shall be used in the continuing education of program implementers and staffs in order improve on the work that they do – praxis.