Challenging the culture of violence

By Shay Cullen
27 Aug 2010

The culture of violence and torture is commonplace in the Philippines today. Young people in school fraternities are subjected to beatings and torture by their peers; called hazing, it is so severe that many have died.

The student torturers learn perhaps from what they know about the police and military who routinely torture suspects and summarily execute many with impunity. They learn from US trainers, as practiced in the Iraqi torture chambers of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. The torturers seem to enjoy inflicting pain on their victims and video and photograph the horrific acts.

The video games played on home computers or in internet shops turn killing, murder, violence and rape into entertainment for pleasure-seeking youth. Adults allow it, but is it the way to prepare them for life? Minors who commit violent crimes are born innocent but learn from adults and older peers. Children are exposed to violence in the home, on television, in the movies, classrooms, school yard and on the streets. Students can go wild and shoot dead teachers and [other] students.

When family, community, school and society provides little positive input to young people who are desperate for dignity, respect, attention, and acceptance, we can expect rebellious youth filled with anger or hatred because they are unwanted, excluded and hopeless. Many young people turn rebellious when they are excluded from a life of economic and racial equality, opportunity and education. With concern, respect, friendship and opportunity, they can be inspired to live a good life but they need trusting adults they can admire and imitate. If treated well, most will become good. If abused, some tend to become abusers. They will respond to the friendly attention of a role model, and fulfill their obligations and responsibilities.

I see this transformation every day in the lives of the 54 kids taken from prisons to an open trusting affirmative environment. Give respect and goodness to youth (if they are not too damaged) and you will get it in return.

Last week Filipinos here and abroad were filled with horror and disgust as they watched a cruel police torture session on television. The video showed a man lying naked on the floor of a Manila police station screaming and squirming in agony as the highly decorated senior police inspector sat over him viciously pulling a cord attached to his genitals while beating him with a belt to make him confess to a crime. Other police were standing around. One made the video recording of it on a cell phone. The victim is suspected to have been murdered later.

Another highly decorated former police inspector, Rolando Mendoza, 55, took hostage a bus load of Hong Kong tourists last 23 August in a Manila park, and murdered several of them before he was shot by a police sniper. The entire nine hour drama was broadcast live on television here and abroad. Mendoza was convicted of drug-related extortion and brutality against an innocent cook of the Mandarin hotel in Manila in 2008. He demanded to be reinstated despite his conviction and that of his extortion unit.

In another recent ANC television report, teenagers rescued from the Manila jails told of their harrowing experience of police torture and brutality. One boy showed his feet with the toenails extracted and cigarette burns on his neck. Conditions in the detention cells were described as subhuman. The videos can be viewed at www.preda.org

During a peaceful demonstration in 1996, I and my companion were arrested and beaten, punched and kicked. My head was banged repeatedly on the steel floor of the police van as I was taken to jail. My wrists were tightly handcuffed behind my back with two sets of cuffs for many hours so my wrists were cut and scarred. We were jailed, interrogated and subjected to psychological abuse and foul language by the lawyer of the former mayor.

To stop such horrific abuse we need to end the culture of violence, the impunity of the powerful, and work for a just and decent society where the rule of law and justice prevails and the dignity of everyone is respected and honoured.

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(c) Shay Cullen is a Columban priest and director of the human rights centre PREDA, which is best know for its campaign work and investigations into syndicates and paedophile rings, its rescue and rehabilitation of children, and for bringing successful prosecutions against Filipino and foreign offenders. Visit www.preda.org for more related articles. Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times and in publications in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

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