Urgent Appeal for Solidarity and Action for Filipino Moro human rights activist tortured and detained in the US

Urgent Appeal for Solidarity and Action for Filipino Moro human rights activist tortured and detained in the US

 

 

Dear friends and colleagues,

 

In the context of the intensifying human and people’s rights violations committed with impunity in the Philippines and in the US, we enjoin your support and solidarity for Jerome Succor Aba, a Filipino citizen and a Moro human rights activist who experienced Guantanamo-style “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the hands of the US government. We demand justice for Aba and we call on the Philippine government to protest the cruel and inhumane treatment of a Filipino citizen by US authorities. 

 

UA Date                                 :           April 22, 2018

UA Case                                 :           Physical and Psychological Torture

   Arbitrary Arrest and Detention

   Violation of the Rights of Arrested or Detained

   Persons – of Miranda rights, of right to freely

communicate, of right to counsel, incommunicado,

inhumane, cruel or degrading treatment

   Violation of the Rights to Freedom of Association

   Violation of the Rights to Liberty of Movement

Victim                                     :           Jerome Succor Aba, 25

   Chairperson, Suara Bangsamoro

   Co-Chairperson, Sandugo Movement of Moro and

       Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination

Place of incident                    :           San Francisco International Airport, USA

Dates of incident                   :            April 17-19, 2018

Alleged perpetrator/s           :             Officers of the US Department of Homeland Security and

  US Customs and Border Protection

 

jerome 

 

ACCOUNT OF THE INCIDENT:

Jerome Succor Aba was invited as a resource speaker by the Human Rights Office of the Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church to the 2018 Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, DC and to the Stop the Killings Speaking Tour, which it is co-organizing with the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP)-US; and meetings with human rights organizations and legislators, all of which will be held from April 19 to May 14, 2018. On March 27, 2018, a ten-year multiple entry visa was issued to him by the US embassy in Manila. His flight was on April 17, 2018 and he flew from Davao to Manila and finally to San Francisco Airport (through Philippine Airlines Flight #104). 

 

At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 immigration desk, he was brought to a room by Filipino immigration officers, after showing his travel papers, and he was asked if he was going to participate in rallies in the US. He said that he will be going to the US to speak in indoor activities, and then he was allowed to pass through immigration. At the boarding gate of PAL PR 104 at NAIA Terminal 1, Aba was also subjected to a separate random security check, with three others. He was asked to show his visa and passport and to explain the nature of his trip to the US. He was able to board the plane and take his flight after. 

 

Upon arrival at San Francisco International Airport on April 17, 8:00pm, at the immigration desk, he was escorted by two officers and was brought to the Homeland Security office where he was left alone in an empty room. They performed a thorough body search on him; all his belongings, including his cellphone and bags, were confiscated from him; and he was put in handcuffs. After some time, an officer with the name Reyes on his nameplate arrived and started interrogating him. Reyes, a burly man with a sidearm and a long firearm, said he is from Homeland Security. Aba asked to speak to a lawyer; he was denied access to one. Aba was asked about the nature of the activity he was attending. Aba said he was invited to speak at educational forums and Ecumenical Advocacy Days, as well as participate in meetings with legislators, churches and human rights organizations. Reyes asked about the reference person indicated in his visa application. 

 

Aba observed that Reyes’s line of questioning was intended to force Aba to confess that he was a “terrorist” and a “communist,” as he was asked several times by Reyes if he is such. Reyes opened Aba’s laptop and forced open his email account through a program where they can either bypass or retrieve passwords. His interrogation, more on less, lasted for four hours. 

 

Aba was brought to a second room, where he was interrogated for around three hours. This time, he was told to bring in his two luggages and backpack. Officers Nguyen and Reyes rummaged through his things. They searched everything, even through the small papers where Aba wrote the numbers of his contacts in the US. They asked if Aba had been to Jolo and Tawi-Tawi. They said they allegedly traced that Aba’s phone had been in six (6) locations that were mountainous areas. An officer said, “The logo of Suara is just like Hezbollah’s”. They asked why there were only four contacts in Aba’s phone book and why he reformatted the phone two days ago. Also, he commented that there were only a few files in Aba’s laptop. “You are trained for this!” he yelled at Aba. Aba denied all their accusations. 

 

Aba was transferred to another room without his belongings, where a certain Officer Nguyen, who said he was from the US Customs Border and Protection, continued the battery of questions for approximately three hours. He asked Aba about his political affiliations, his view on US policies and on Duterte’s war on drugs and martial law in Mindanao. Nguyen accused Aba of being a communist. He was also asked of his personal details. Nguyen’s interrogation lasted for 2-3 hours. 

 

Aba was once again brought to a different room with a certain Officer Lopez, allegedly from the US Homeland Security, who continued the interrogation. Lopez repeatedly asked Aba the following questions: “Are you a terrorist? Are you supporting terrorist individuals? Are you a terrorist-communist or a communist-terrorist?” He showed Aba a photo of him with Mohagher Iqbal, the Chairperson of the Negotiating Panel of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in its peace process with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). Lopez asked, “Do you know this guy?”  Wherein Aba answered, “I don’t know him personally”, Lopez continued asking about Iqbal. “Are you working with Iqbal? Are you aware that this man is a terrorist? Why are you working with a terrorist group?”  

 

Aba was next shown a photo of him with journalists and former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo. He was asked the same set of questions. Lopez asked, “Are you aware that he is a terrorist? Are you aware that they are supporting terrorists? Are you aware that you are talking with a terrorist?”

 

Aba told Lopez that he met the two men during public occasions, in the course of his work as a human rights and peace advocate; that to his knowledge, the two men are not terrorists and are actively working on the peace processes in the Philippines. He again insisted that he is entitled to a lawyer under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Lopes said “you have no rights” and that “the UDHR does not apply in your case.” Aba’s interrogation in the said room lasted for 3-4 hours. 

 

Lopez brought Aba to another room, where he was ordered to take off all his clothes, including his underwear. Aba once again insisted on speaking to a lawyer. He asserted, “This is not right, this is inhumane and a violation of human rights.” To which Lopez replied, “You are not entitled to any human rights”. Lopez ordered him to take off his handcuff and undress. He turned on a big industrial fan and turned it towards Aba. Officers Witto, Reyes and Nguyen entered the room. They asked him a barrage of questions, all at the same time, which were previously asked in the earlier rooms. Aba was still in handcuffs and naked. He lost track of how much time has passed. He was shaking with exhaustion and was freezing. They yelled, “Don’t play with us! We know that you are well-trained in this! Are you giving money to rebels- ISIS, communists, terrorists?” 

 

Sometime later, they brought Aba to another room or area. The officers were seemingly busy because they were receiving plenty of calls in their office asking for Aba. Aba overheard that NAFCON, Sisters of Mercy of America, and the United Methodist Church were calling in for him. A pissed officer asked him, “Why are these people calling? What are you? Are you political officer or an intelligence officer?’

 

For the first time, after more than approximately 24 hours, the agents asked Aba what he wanted to eat. He replied that he do not eat pork since he is a Muslim. Nonetheless, they came back with a ham sandwich. Aba had to ask for food from his fellow detainees to relieve his hunger. 

 

The officers of DHS and CBP were overbearing and was overtly intimidating detainees. Aba said officers bellowed at them for even for the slightest things; they get yelled upon many times for just standing up to stretch their tired legs.  

 

After Aba’s fellow detainees were released, the officers left Aba in the room alone. They, then, deliberately placed a 9mm pistol and cellphone in front of him. Aba did not touch both items, thinking that they might do something to harm him. The officers returned frustrated and told him, “We know that you are trained to use this!”

 

To shake off his tension and exhaustion, Aba tried to do some physical exercises- planking and jogging in place. The officer returned once again to accuse him, “Where did you learn that? In the jungle? Are you a former military in your country? Do you have military background?”  Aba replied, “I am a former battalion commander in cadet training in high school, I memorized the 11 general orders.” The officer said that they know that Aba took qualifying exams for the Philippine Military Academy and passed. He prodded on and asked why Aba did not continue to enroll in the PMA. 

 

They took a photo of Aba in another room. They searched for matches of Aba’s photo in their system, which immediately turned up many links and data on him. Then, they scanned for his fingerprints. They said they know information about his personal background. 

 

Aba was shown pictures of him at the US embassy in the Philippines during a rally where a police vehicle recklessly rammed into protesters. They also showed him a picture of him with Jehad Mohhamad in a rally about asserting rights of national minorities in 2016 or 2017. They asked him on how he is associated with Teddy Casino of Bayan and on the individuals listed in his itinerary of activities as his contact persons. They reiterated questions they asked before—questions on personal information, questions on his whereabouts and his affiliates. 

 

Aba requested to use the toilet. He was granted permission but was escorted by five armed men to the toilet. With five guards in tow invading his privacy, Aba had difficulties in relieving himself. He was told that if he tries to do anything unusual, they will shoot him.  

 

It took more than 28 hours before his order for removal was released. He was transferred to a different office in a different wing of the building. The office looked similar to the previous one, but with different agents. At one time, Aba was left alone at a lobby area where they placed a grenade in front of him. Again, Aba did not touch the grenade. He was so exhausted from the interrogation and with the lack of sleep, but he forced himself to remain awake, fearing any harm they might inflict on him when he falls asleep. Two women, Agent Grass and Agent Tung, came to the room. All the agents and officers in the Homeland Security office carried pistols, except for Reyes who was carrying a long firearm, and wore gloves.   

 

After some time, Aba was returned to the wing of the building where he was first brought. Lopez said Aba was inconsistent in his answers and that he was lying. He said he was a veteran of the US war in Afghanistan and that he has experience in handling terrorists. Lopez was the most aggressive among the agents. “Don’t do anything funny, I won’t hesitate to shoot you”. During the interrogation with him, he was picking on Aba’s minutest move and his immediate response to any movement was to reach for his side arm. 

 

Grass entered and said, “We cannot hold him anymore, people are calling”. She said they were releasing Aba, but Lopez countered aggressively. He said that they have to continue extracting info from Aba. He also said that he has an extensive experience in Afghanistan and he strongly recommended that they continue interrogating Aba. Agent Witto returned. All of them continued howling questions at Aba, “What’s your true group? MILF? Tell the truth, are you a terrorist? Supporting terrorists? Giving money to terrorists?” They were repeating similar questions endlessly. 

 

At this time, they started typing notes on their computers. Aba was read his Miranda rights but they deliberately skipped the part on his right to remain silent. The agents are now insisting on Lopez that they should release Aba because calls are coming in. Lopez gave in and was suddenly quiet. 

 

Aba was forced to sign on a blank paper. He signed his name adding the initials “UP” (which means “under protest”). The agents were noticed the texts “UP,” and gave him new blank sheets to sign. Aba was told that he is signing because he agrees and confirms that he was not tortured and he was treated humanely by their office. After signing 5 or 6 blank papers, he was told to place his signature electronically. Once satisfied with Aba’s signatures, the officers collected the pile of papers they purportedly have on Aba’s profile. The pile was almost a foot tall. They made sure that Aba sees them shredding the pile of papers. 

 

He was also instructed to be interviewed through video. Thinking that it might make his release possible, he was forced to say on camera that he was not tortured. Aba was shown a video clip of the “interrogation process” to falsely show that he was not tortured. They however offered Aba no assurance on his release. Aba demanded to see a lawyer again. Agent Grass said, “You are not entitled to one. We are the law here”. 

 

Aba observed that crew members from the Philippine Airlines were escorting Filipino deportees from the Homeland Security office to their flights. A crew member said that Aba is on flight number PR105.

 

Aba was finally allowed to speak with the Philippine consulate over the phone. The individual who identified himself as being an official of the consulate asked if he was okay. The CBP officers were listening in to their conversation and ordered him to speak in English. Aba answered the consul, “I’m okay here, I am surrounded by 10 people”. The consulate official handed the phone over to Pastor Sadie Stone of Bethany United Methodist Church in San Francisco. Aba relayed that he will be put on flight PR105 bound to Manila. The officers were piqued to hear that Aba knows his designated flight even before they divulge this information. They were also upset to learn that he wasn’t solely speaking to the consulate official, but the consulate official took the liberty of turning over the phone to a colleague unbeknownst to them. 

 

Since he was incommunicado, Aba was not aware that all throughout his ordeal, numerous US-based church people, lawyers, human rights activists and concerned individuals have been calling the CBP office to ask on his status and whereabouts, and a rally had been going on for several hours at the San Francisco International Airport for his release from detention. Most are representatives and members from organizations and institutions such as the National Lawyers Guild, General Board of Global Ministries-United Methodist Church, Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ-Disciples of Christ, ICHRP-US, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Asian Law Caucus, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Critical Resistance, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Anakbayan USA, BAYAN-USA, GABRIELA USA, National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, National Ecumenical Forum for Filipino Concerns-Northern California, Philippine Solidarity Task Force of the United Methodist Church-California Nevada Conference, Bay Resistance Network, Kabataan Alliance, PACE San Francisco State University, Occupy SF, Communities United for Housing Justice, Migrante Northern California, Salupongan International, Malaya Movement - South Bay, and Jews Against Zionism-San Francisco State University. 

 

At 12:30 AM San Francisco, US time, Aba was put onboard flight PR 115. As soon as Aba felt that the plane has taken off, he cried, out of relief that he was going home to the Philippines, and out of exhaustion and anger at what happened to him. His phone was not turned over to him upon leaving the Homeland Security office but it was given to the cabin crew with instructions to only give it to him once they landed in Manila.

 

Once the plane landed in Manila, at NAIA Terminal 1, the cabin crew handed Aba his phone together with his flight ticket from Manila to Davao. Upon deplaning, two airport staff were hounding him and forcing him to board the connecting flight to Davao. One of them said, “May naghihintay sa iyo sa Davao airport (Someone is waiting for you at the Davao airport).” Aba asserted that he will not be boarding that plane and he needed to talk to his lawyer and colleagues in Manila immediately. He invoked his right as a Filipino citizen, to which the airport staff paid no heed. 

 

Aba was relieved to see Rep. Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis Partylist and Rep. Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela outside the immigration queue. The two airport staff stopped badgering Aba when he told them that the two legislators were there to fetch him. The first thing he blurted to Rep. de Jesus was “Pinahirapan nila ako. (They tortured me.)” Former Rep. Satur Ocampo and paralegals of Bayan, Karapatan and Sandugo were also among the delegation who met Aba at the airport. 

 

 

Recommended Action:

 

Send letters, emails or fax messages calling for:

 

1.     The accountability of the US government on the torture, illegal arrest and detention, and other violations of Jerome Succor Aba’s civil, political, and socio-cultural rights;

2.     The US government to scrap its national security and immigration policies that violate basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, including its arbitrary Muslim ban; 

3.     The Philippine government to investigate on these rights violations against Aba as both the Philippine and US governments are signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that they are also parties to all the major Human Rights instruments, as they are bound to observe, promote and protect all of these instruments’ provisions;

4.     The Philippine government to lodge a diplomatic protest for the violation of rights of a Filipino citizen and pursue all means to attain justice and accountability, in defense of the country’s sovereignty as mandated by the Philippine Constitution; and 

5.     The Philippine and US government to stop its common policy of using immigration laws to restrict the freedom of expression, of association, and peaceable assembly, and other civil liberties.  

 

 

You may send your communications to:

 

Donald Trump

President of the United States of America

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

E-mail: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ 

Twitter: @realDonaldTrump 

 

Rodrigo Duterte

President of the Republic

Malacañang Palace,

JP Laurel St., San Miguel

Manila Philippines

Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80, 784-4286

Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968

E-mail: Send message through https://op-proper.gov.ph/contact-us/

 

John Sullivan

Acting Secretary of State, United States of America

7th Floor, Harry S. Truman Building, 

2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 

E-mail: Send message through https://register.state.gov/contactus/ 

Twitter: @StateDept

 

Alan Peter Cayetano

Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs

Philippines

2330 Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City, Philippines

Phone: (+632) 834-4000, (+632) 834-3000

Email: osec@dfa.gov.ph

Twitter: @alanpcayetano 

 

Kirstjen M. Nielsen

Secretary, Department of Homeland Security

United States of America

Washington, D.C.  20528

E-mail: DHSSecretary@hq.dhs.gov

Twitter: @DHSgov 

 

Kevin K. McAleenan 

Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20229

Email: https://help.cbp.gov/app/ask 

Twitter: @CBP_McAleenan

 

Menardo Guevarra

Secretary, Department of Justice

Padre Faura St., Manila

Direct Line 521-8344; 5213721

Trunkline: 523 8481 to 98 loc.214

Fax: (+632) 521-1614

Email: communications@doj.gov.ph

 

Jose Luis Martin Gascon

Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights

SAAC Bldg., UP Complex, Commonwealth Avenue

Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines

Voice: (+632) 928-5655, 926-6188, 377-2477

Fax: (+632) 929 0102

Email: chairgascon.chr@gmail.com 

 

Sung Y. Kim

Ambassador

Embassy of the United States of America to the Philippines

1201 Roxas Boulevard, Ermita, Manila, 

1000 Metro Manila, Philippines

Phone: (+632) 301-2000

Fax: (+632) 301-2017

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/manila.usembassy/ 

Twitter: @USAmbManila

 

 

Please send us a copy of your email/mail/fax to the above-named government officials, to our address below:

 

KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights

National Office

2/F Erythrina Bldg., #1 Maaralin cor Matatag Sts., Brgy. Central,

Diliman, Quezon City 1100 PHILIPPINES

Voice/Fax: (+632) 435 4146

Email: urgentaction@karapatan.org; karapatan@karapatan.org 

Website: www.karapatan.org

 

 

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Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights

2nd Flr. Erythrina Bldg., #1 Maaralin corner Matatag Sts., Central District

Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES 1101

Telefax: (+63 2) 4354146

Web: http://www.karapatan.org

 

KARAPATAN is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties.  It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign.