Philippines: Condemn Police Brutality in Theatre Raid; Protest Unethical Journalism

On February 19, 2003, members of the Central Police District of the Philippine National Police (CPD-PNP) conducted a raid on Alta Theater, a movie house frequented by homosexual patrons, in Cubao, Quezon City. During the raid, police subjected patrons to physical and verbal abuse as well as extortion attempts, apprehended 63 men "for verification", and arrested and detained five men in nearby Camp Karingal. The raid was provoked by JV Villar, a reporter of ABS-CBN. According to the blotter report, Villar approached the local District Police Intelligence Unit (DPIU) and reported the existence of "indecent acts" inside the theater. Villar and fellow reporter Karen Padilla accompanied the police unit during the raid. Media crews filmed the detainees and other patrons without consent and allegedly forced some of them to be interviewed. The report was shown on three ABS-CBN news programs. In one of them, Magandang Umaga, Bayan!, when one of the hosts raised alarm over the blatant police harassment, his colleague, Erwin Tulfo, allegedly remarked that the "indecent" gay men inside the theater deserved such treatment from the police and, moreover, that they should concentrate on their work in beauty parlors instead of committing these lewd acts. In these news reports, ABS-CBN did not cover the faces of the interviewees and the other movie goers.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) endorses and forwards this call to action from LAGABLAB (Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network), a network of lesbian and gay organizations and individuals that actively campaigns for the fundamental freedoms and human rights of the Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. LAGABLAB appeals to the international human rights community, as well as to the members of the Filipino and international lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, to protest against police abuse and ABS-CBN's unethical journalism. Call on the national government, as well as the Commission on Human Rights, to conduct full and impartial investigations into alleged acts of police brutality. Demand a public apology for reporting that reflects bias and disrespect for privacy, as well as exacerbates stigmatization against homosexuals in Filipino society.

FORWARDED ACTION

Please send protest letters to the organizations listed below. A sample letter provided by LAGABLAB follows:

ABS-CBN News And Current Affairs
Sergeant Esquerra Avenue,
Diliman, Quezon City
Tel: 63-2-924 4101 local 5323; Fax: 63-2-9241523
E-mail: feedback@abs-cbn.com
For stronger impact, supporters are encouraged to show their protest direct to the ABS-CBN newsroom via faxed messages.
ADBOARD
2nd Floor L & F Bldg.
107 Aguirre St.,
Legaspi Village, Makati City
The Philippines
Telephone: 63-2-818 6113 /Fax: 63-2-818 6158
E-mail: adboard@info.com.ph
Association Of Accredited Advertising Agencies - Philippines (4A's)
2nd Floor L & F Bldg.
107 Aguirre St.,
Legaspi Village, Makati City
The Philippines
Tel: 63-2-893 1205
E-mail: 4as@skyinet.net
Philippine Association Of National Advertisers (PANA)
Unit 4 & 5, 3rd floor, Sunshine Condominium, #9633 Kamagong St., Makati
The Philippines
Tel: 63-2-890 2989
E-mail: pana@info.com.ph
Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP)
6/F LTA Bldg., 118 Perea St. Legaspi Village
Makati City, Metro Manila
The Philippines
Telephone: 63-2-815-1989 / Fax: 63-2-815 1990 to 92
E-mail: kbp@pacific.net.ph
Supporters are also encouraged to file official complaints via the KBP website: http://www.kbp.org.ph
Purificacion C. Valera - Quisuimbing
Chairperson
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
UP Complex, Diliman
Quezon City 1101
The Philippines
Telefax: 63-2-929 0102 / 928 5655 / 926 6188
E-mail: dprvq@chr.gov.ph

Please send a copy of the letter to the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network (LAGABLAB) at:

lagablab@yahoo.com.

For further information or other inquiries about LAGABLAB, please contact Jonas (+63-919 4313564 or jonas@akbayan.org), Dax (+63916-7924174 or kagandax@yahoo.com) or Ging (+63918 9396235 or kopidogs@edsamail.com.ph).

[For e-mail, cut and paste: feedback@abs-cbn.com, adboard@info.com.ph, 4as@skyinet.net, kbp@pacific.net.ph, dprvq@chr.gov.ph, lagablab@yahoo.com, pana@info.com.ph]

SAMPLE LETTER FROM LAGABLAB

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to you as an individual extremely concerned and disturbed by the raid that the PNP Central Police District conducted with reporters of ABS-CBN at the Alta Theater on February 19, 2003, in Cubao, Quezon City, Philippines. I am protesting the inhuman treatment that the patrons of the movie house received from the police, particularly the extortion and physical abuse that took place. The blatant disregard of the fundamental human rights of the patrons of the cinema by members of the police force should be met with appropriate punitive actions from the government. After all, our laws and human rights are useless if the police force itself does not give them utmost respect and due consideration.

I also wish to express my extreme disgust over the role of ABS-CBN in this incident. I find it extremely unethical that its reporter solicited this action to produce the sensationalist and scandalous report aired over Magandang Umaga Bayan!, TV Patrol, and ABS-CBN Headlines. If indeed ABS-CBN is concerned about reporting the facts, it should have covered the entirety of the incident, including the grave abuse and extortion that took place. ABS-CBN's unethical journalism, evident in its decision not to hide the faces of those who were arrested and apprehended, as well as in the way they forced people to be interviewed, will not only put these individuals at greater risk, but will likewise further the stigmatization and marginality of the lesbian and gay community.

To this end, I support the demands of the lesbian and gay community that:
- ABS-CBN issue a public apology for its unethical and unprofessional journalism. Moreover, it is strongly advised that the ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs Division review its policy towards news gathering and reflect on its "commitment" to be in the service of the Filipino. Likewise, we demand the immediate suspension of Mr. JV Villar, Ms. Karen Padilla and Mr. Erwin Tulfo for their involvement in this news report and for the disparaging comments of the latter towards the gay and lesbian community.

I am including myself among the ever increasing number of individuals and groups that will not patronize ABS-CBN news and current affairs programs until a public apology is provided.

  • The Kapisanan ng mga Broadkaster ng Pilipinas investigate the practices of the ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs Division. As the body tasked to regulate the broadcast industry and elevate its standards, we believe that the KBP is morally obligated to investigate and penalize members who have failed to remain true and committed to the mission and goals of the association. The KBP subscribes to the principle of self-regulation and this complaint against ABS-CBN is a challenge for the association to uphold its authority to enforce discipline within its ranks.
  • The advertising industry reconsider placing advertisements on ABS-CBN news and current affairs programs. The gay and lesbian community, as well as the wider televiewing public, is extremely appalled by the irresponsible reporting of ABS-CBN. As such, we signify our protest by not patronizing ABS-CBN news and current affairs programs. We urge the advertisers to support actions towards responsibility in the media industry by reconsidering placing advertisements in ABS-CBN news and current affairs programs.
  • The Commission of Human Rights conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation of the Central Police District, particularly the police officers involved in "Operation: Lollipop". Initial investigation into this operation indicates a systematic disregard for the basic human rights of the victims. Amid allegations of verbal and physical abuse, and extortion, the Commission on Human Rights should require the submission of a report by the police operatives on what took place in the Alta raid, taking into consideration that news footage that would show the baseless violations that were actually committed. The CHR should also investigate the police operatives responsible for this operation. Moreover, the Commission should investigate the culpability of ABS-CBN and its reporters over the conduct of this operation.

Rest assured that we will constantly monitor this case, and the actions (or inactions) taken by the government agencies involved. We look forward to receive updates from you about how these requests are being fulfilled.

In making a stand on this issue, I believe I am contributing in the promotion of the human rights of all Filipino citizens and ethical journalism.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

BACKGROUND INFORMATION FROM LAGABLAB

Last February 19, 2003, the District Police Intelligence Unit (DPIU) of the Philippine National Police Central Police District in Camp Karingal, Quezon City, conducted a raid at the Alta Theater in Cubao, Quezon City. The raid, sardonically called "Operation Lollipop", was organized by DPIU Investigator SPO1 Danilo Tan , along with operatives SPO1 Carlito Mangaoang, PO2 Noel Ponsica, PO2 Pedrito Miranda, PO2 Romualdo Cruda, PO2 Rolando Azuria and PO1 Jeremias Aliggayu, and several assistants, under the direction of Chief Ruben Jaranza. Police report stated that 63 persons were brought to the camp for "verification" and five were arrested to face charges that "are yet to be filed."

According to DPIU's Blotter Report, ABS-CBN reporter JV Villar approached the DPIU and informed them of the "existence of indecent acts" being committed in the theater. Reporters JV Villar and Karen Paddilla accompanied the police unit during the raid. The incident was reported in three ABS-CBN news programs, namely, Magandang Umaga Bayan, TV Patrol, and Headlines. In a blatant violation of privacy, the report indiscriminately showed the faces of the patrons of the theater and in several instances, those who attempted to cover their faces were forced to expose them. When one of the hosts of ABS-CBN's Magandang Umaga Bayan reacted to the obvious maltreatment of the patrons of the moviehouse, his colleague, Erwin Tulfo, allegedly said that indecent homosexuals should receive that kind of treatment.

Christian (not his real name), a 27-year old engineering graduate who resides in Quezon City, provided an account of what happened during the raid, but requested to do so under the condition of anonymity, citing fears that the police might further retaliate against those who were caught during the raid.

At about 8:15PM, at the start of the last full show, the bell of the theater rang, followed by a stampede among the moviegoers. Christian, who arrived at the theater at around 7:30 PM, and was seated inside when the commotion began. A group of around 20 plainclothesmen from Camp Caringal, comprised of the operatives and their assistants, entered the theater, shouting orders not to leave and that they are conducting a raid.

Christian tried to flee from the theater, but as he was about to stand a policeman forced him to remain seated. The policeman said that he was under arrest, since he is "caught in the act of doing something (immoral) inside." Christian noticed that the policemen were violently hitting the patrons with their hands or with sandals that were left behind by the fleeing moviegoers. Christian also noticed one man who was suddenly bleeding from a wound on his head after being hit by a gun by one of the operatives.

They were told that they are being apprehended for "public scandal". Some of the moviegoers complained that the policemen took money from their wallets and hit them repeatedly with hands or other hard objects. They forcefully pushed the patrons outside the theater, and as a result, tore the shirts of many. Christian also saw policemen asking some of the patrons for money to be allowed to go home. He also said that the policemen shouted at them, heaping them repeatedly with expletives. When Christian asked again why they were being detained inside the theater, the policeman only raised his voice and berated him for doing something "indecent."

When they were being led outside the movie house, Christian saw that the reporters of Channel 2 tried to interview some of the moviegoers. The confused and startled moviegoers made attempts to avoid the camera, but they were forced to expose their faces. Christian could not determine if those who forced them to show their faces were policemen or staff from Channel 2 themselves, since no one was in police uniform. When Christian saw the report the next morning, he was shocked and angered that Channel 2 did not even bother to cover the faces of the moviegoers. Christian also said that the report conspicuously did not include the extortion that took place inside the theater, as well as most of the physical harassment and violence. The man who was wounded on the head, according to Christian, later had an asthma attack and was told by the police that he would be brought to a hospital. Upon hearing this, Christian, seriously doubting the sincerity of the policeman, feared for the man's safety. (LAGABLAB learned from a source inside the camp that the man was also brought to Camp Karingal, and instead of being brought to the hospital, he was forced to walk around the camp barefooted while being threatened not to talk to anyone about the incident).

According to other witnesses, at around 10 PM, five moviegoers were pushed inside a rented jeepney. The cameraman followed the arrested patrons as they boarded the vehicle, and again someone forced them to expose their faces. When the cameraman stopped shooting, the arrested patrons were asked to move to a different, unmarked vehicle. There were seven people inside the vehicle, but only five of them reached Camp Karingal because the other two reportedly escaped by paying a bribe to the policemen. (Please note that this account is contrary to the police report, which claims they brought everyone to Camp Karingal. Accounts from various witnesses that spoke under anonymity, however, said that only five were arrested).

Another source inside Camp Karingal said that those arrested were allegedly asked to pay Php 1,000 each to be allowed to go home. According to this source, who likewise spoke under anonymity, a policeman repeatedly entered the detention area, saying, "Gusto niyong umuwi, gusto rin naming makauwi kayo, e di magtulungan tayo." (You want to go home, and we also want you to go home, so let's just help each other). The next morning, after calling relatives and friends for help, the group was able to raise only Php 3,500 only. However, upon giving the amount to the policeman, they were told they would have to stay until the vehicle from Channel 2, which was parked outside the building, had already left. By 11 AM, they were allowed to leave.

INTERNATIONAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK

The right to be free from discrimination is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its Articles 2 and 7, by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Articles 2 and 26.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v Australia (1994) that existing protections against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status. Numerous other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations have subsequently condemned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Right to life, liberty and security of person is protected by the UDHR (Article 3) and by the ICCPR (Article 9).

The right to privacy is protected by the UDHR in its Article 12, and the ICCPR in its Article 17.

Right to be free from arbitrary arrest or detention is protected by the ICCPR (Article 9.1).

Right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is protected by the UDHR (Article 5) and by the ICCPR (Article 7).

Right to effective remedy is granted by the UDHR (Article 8), and by the ICCPR in case of "unlawful arrest or detention" (Article 9.5).

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAC) defines "torture" as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as … punishing him for an act he … has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him … or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official…" (Article 1.1., emphasis added).

The Convention mandates authorities to proceed to "a prompt and impartial investigation" before claims of torture (Article 12), as well as to provide "education and information regarding the prohibition against torture to law enforcement personnel" (Article 10.1) and ensuring that victims obtain redress (Article 14.1).