It took a celebrity to call attention to the inherent weakness of our criminal justice system. By now, only Filipinos in Mars have not heard of what happened to the comedian. Apparently, he visited a woman who speaks like Melanie Marquez. Then he was beaten black and blue, probably sexually humiliated, illegally detained and made to confess to a rape. He was brought to a police station in Taguig where remarkably, the police did not bother to inquire how he sustained his injuries and was not assisted to get medical assistance. Instead, the police blottered what the alleged woman victim claimed was an attempted or consummated rape. But because a rape is a personal crime and requires the consent of the woman to be initiated, no charge of rape was made. The woman declined to press charges against him.
Navarro was also brought to the station in the company of the men who admitted to have beaten him up allegedly in defense of the woman who cried rape. The neighbors though in the condominium unit where the alleged rape and the torture occurred have spoken to the media and said that they did not hear any strange occurrence form the unit on the date and time involved. Of course the determination of what actually happened will still have to be threshed out in a court of law. All the actors in this real life drama are wealthy and have retained the most expensive lawyers in town. But meanwhile, and as observers, we cannot help but question the actuation of the police when Vhong was brought to their station for blotter purposes. Why for instance, did they not inquire as the reason why he sustained serious physical injuries, which on the basis of media images, could not have been missed by the police? Why was he not brought immediately to a government doctor for mandatory forensic and medical examination? Why was the woman who cried rape not referred to the woman’s desk officer so she can be counseled on the issue of whether to press charges or not? Why was the woman herself not advised to have a medical examination to document the alleged rape? But worse, given that Vhong Navarro allegedly confessed to a rape, why was he, despite his sorry physical conviction, not asked if he was voluntarily giving his statement? Why did the police not take steps to ensure that the celebrity was not a victim of torture? Torture has long been considered amongst the most serious crimes committed not only in domestic jurisdictions, but also against humanity itself. Presidents, such as Pinochet, Milosevic, Marcos, and Senegal’s Habre have been prosecuted for it despite their pleas of sovereign immunity. In Pinochet, the UK House of Lords ruled that while sovereign immunity continues to be recognized under international law, torture is an international crime and can never be a sovereign act. Hence, presidents accused of committing them should not enjoy immunity from suit. Furthermore, under the Convention Against Torture, which has been rarified by the Philippines, police authorities are under a positive obligation to investigate where information exists to suggest that torture may have been committed. Certainly, the injuries sustained by Navarro, coupled with information that he was beaten by a group of persons albeit allegedly in defense of strangers and a confession, should have prompted authorities to conclude that they are probably dealing with a case of torture. Torture is defined under both international law and our domestic law as the “infliction of physical or mental pain” for the purpose, among others, of extracting a confession. (The Philippines has two laws with contradictory definitions of torture. RA 9851 does not require the perpetrator to be a state agent. RA 9745 does) All the elements of the international crime appear to be present in the Vhong Navarro incident. Eventually, the question is: if one of the country’s most recognizable personalities could be a victim of torture with our police oblivious to this fact; what happened to ordinary people? One can imagine the fate of the faceless and faceless detainees in our police camps why have routinely been subjected to torture by the police themselves. Already, Amnesty International and the Commission of Human Rights have declared the existence of a torture chamber in a camp intended for the Special Forces of the PNP. What these organizations have uncovered is a long-standing practice of torturing detainees, those who still have to be found guilty of the commission of any crime, for sheer fun and pleasure of our men in uniform. With this kind of a culture amongst our law enforcers, should we still be surprised that Vhong did not get any form of police assistance at a time when he actually needed it? I can only commiserate with the plight of Vhong. But still, he should still consider himself lucky. He has the support of his fans and his television station solidly behind him. For if he were an ordinary Filipino who was tortured, he would surely have become just another anonymous number in the statistics of the number Filipinos who have been tortured and denied any and all forms of remedies.