MANILA, Philippines—Saying the Philippines was a “torture risk state,” an official of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has criticized the Hong Kong Immigration Department for its decision denying the claim for protection of Myrna Reblando, widow of slain Manila Bulletin correspondent Bong Reblando, one of the victims in the Maguindanao massacre.
Danilo Reyes, acting deputy director of the Hong Kong-based AHRC, said Reblando had cited enough incidents in the torture claim she filed before the immigration department to show the risks she faced should she return to her country.
The Hong Kong Immigration Department denied the torture claim of Reblando and her young daughter, which they filed so they would be allowed to stay in Hong Kong while waiting for the result of their pending application for asylum before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
With the immigration department’s ruling, Reblando and her daughter face deportation to the Philippines. There is no ruling yet on their plea for asylum.
The immigration department said it did not believe Reblando would be tortured should she return to the Philippines, noting that the Ampatuans, the main suspects in the gruesome killings, had not physically harmed her.
Reyes, in a statement to the Inquirer, said the Hong Kong government’s obligation was not just to provide remedies to victims of torture, but to prevent torture from being committed against persons claiming such a risk.
Given the situation in the Philippines, the risks to Reblando and her daughter are clear, he said.
“The AHRC and its sister organization, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), have gathered substantial proof that the Philippines is a ‘torture risk state’ and there are ‘substantial grounds for the belief’ that the claimants would be tortured, extrajudicially killed and forcibly disappeared once they are returned,” he said.
Reyes added that the interviews, reports and documents culled by the AHRC and ALRC from victims, their families and lawyers, human rights organizations and their engagement with the government supported this finding.
Reyes also pointed out that Reblando’s decision to leave their home was based on “credible recommendations,” one of which had come from the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights in 2011. He said the CHR had a report on the real risk and threats that the Reblandos faced.
“The certification of the CHR is clear and compelling evidence of the absence of adequate domestic protection,” he said.
Reyes also said the AHRC had been aware of the dangers facing them and Reblando’s other children who had remained in the Philippines even after Reblando and her daughter had left the country.
Appeal for safety
The AHRC had appealed to the Philippine government asking it to ensure the security and safety of Reblando’s other children after they had been the target of overt surveillance and harassment at their home. This same appeal was included as evidence in Reblando’s torture claim filed in Hong Kong, Reyes said.
The AHRC has also not received any official investigation report on the matter, and is unaware if they had been provided with adequate protection.
Reyes also contested the immigration department’s finding that there was no government involvement when it came to the threats against Reblando.
Reyes said one of the security escorts that the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines had provided for Reblando used to work for the Ampatuans, and later appeared to have tried to act as an emissary for the latter.
Reyes noted Reblando’s statement to Hong Kong authorities that upon learning from her escort that he used to work for Zaldy Ampatuan, she tried to trick him by saying she would be amenable to a P100-million offer from the Ampatuans.
The escort disappeared for two days after that. When he came back, he told Reblando that the Ampatuans could not afford the amount.