The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Philippine police accused of playing 'wheel of torture' game to punish criminal suspects

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MANILA, Philippines - Philippine police officers played a "wheel of torture" game to have fun and punish criminal suspects during interrogations, including bouts of punching named after boxing star Manny Pacquiao, human rights officials and activists said Tuesday.

Under the game, detainees — mostly suspected drug traffickers — were punched if the "torture wheel" stopped at "20 seconds Manny Pacman," Pacquiao's nickname, or hung upside down if it stopped at a punishment called "30-second bat," Amnesty International said. The London-based rights group called the practice despicable.

A picture of the multi-colored wheel provided by the Commission on Human Rights showed several other tortures, including "3 minutes zombies" and "30-second duck walk/ferris wheel" but it was not immediately clear how those punishments were carried out.

"It's horrible," commission Chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales said. "They do it for fun, it's like a game for entertainment. We're trying to correct this mindset based on a human rights approach to policing but obviously it may take a lot of time."

Allegations of torture have particular resonance in the Philippines, which emerged from a brutal era of dictatorship nearly three decades ago. Thousands of victims during dictator Ferdinand Marcos's rule won a class action suit against his estate for torture and other rights violations in 1992 in Hawaii. A peaceful, army-backed "people power" revolt ousted Marcos in 1986.

President Benigno Aquino III, son of revered pro-democracy leaders who fought Marcos, has pledged to prosecute violators of human rights. Rights groups, however, say violations have continued with impunity.

The violations allegedly took place at a police intelligence office in Binan town in Laguna province south of Manila which has not been accredited as a detention centre and was holding crime suspects illegally, Rosales said.

She said her commission investigated after receiving a tip early this month on alleged abuses of more than 40 detainees. The maltreatment allegedly occurred last year and this month.

Rosales said she has urged top police officials to pursue criminal complaints against about 10 officers who were implicated in the abuses.

National police spokesman Senior Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac said several officers have been taken into custody and an investigation is under way.

A report by the rights commission cited detainees as saying they were beaten up, electrocuted or hit by steel bars, baseball bats, a chair or helmet. One detainee said a police officer pointed an assault rifle at him, and another accused the police of threatening his relatives.

"For police officers to use torture 'for fun' is despicable," Amnesty International's Hazel Galang-Folli said in a statement. "These are abhorrent acts. Suspending officers is not enough. Errant police personnel and their commanding officers should be held accountable in a court of law."

The group urged Aquino's administration "to act immediately to put an end to routine torture."

Lawmakers enacted an anti-torture act in 2009 and the Philippines has ratified an international convention against torture.

"Despite these, the road ahead remains littered with the vestiges of this despicable practice," Rosales said. The police abuse "offers a stark contrast between policy and practice. In many places, it seems torture is still considered SOP (standard operating procedure) by some law enforcement personnel," she said.

In 2010, all 11 officers in a Manila city police station were relieved of their duties after a television station aired a video purportedly showing police hitting a naked robbery suspect. The video showed the suspect screaming on the floor as a man pulled a string bound around his genitals.

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