By Lucia Edna P. de Guzman

Senate minority slams hidden jail cell, calls for investigation

Posted on May 01, 2017

SENATE MINORITY Leader Franklin M. Drilon on Sunday called on authorities to investigate and prosecute the policemen who were behind the secret prison cell discovered last week by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in a police station in Tondo, Manila.

Human rights workers, accompanied by members of the media, found a dozen people on April 27 kept inside a dark, closet-sized jail cell hidden behind a bookshelf at the Drug Enforcement Unit of the Manila Police Department’s Police Station 1 in Tondo, Manila. -- AFP
“I condemn this illegal, inhumane and outrageous action committed by some of our policemen,” Mr. Drilon said in a statement yesterday.

On April 27, members of the CHR, accompanied by journalists, found a hidden jail cell behind a bookcase at the Manila Police District (MPD) Station 1, where 12 men and women were allegedly illegally detained on drug-related charges.

“There is no doubt about the illegality of this type of detention. This is even enshrined under Section 12 (2), Article III the Constitution, which explicitly prohibits ‘secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention’,” Mr. Drilon said.

In addition, the former Justice secretary said that any detention that has lasted for more than 12 to 36 hours, depending on the gravity of the crime, while failing to deliver the detained to the proper judicial authorities, is considered illegal detention.

Officers of the MPD station have been suspended and an official inquiry by the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Regional Internal Affairs Service has been launched.

On Friday, President Rodrigo R. Duterte told reporters in Malacañang that “I will look into [it] this afternoon” when sought for comment.

His spokesperson, Ernesto C. Abella, said in a separate statement issued later that day that “The report of the investigation will be forthcoming, and only then do we release further comment on the matter.”

PNP Chief Ronald M. Dela Rosa, meanwhile, visited the police station, also on Friday, and defended his men’s actions.

“As long as the prisoners were not tortured or extorted, it’s okay with me,” Mr. Dela Rosa said in a press conference on Friday.

Mr. Dela Rosa also criticized the CHR for allegedly plotting to embarrass the government, as the discovery was made while high-level meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were being hosted in Manila.

CHR Chairperson Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon, for his part, said that it is possible that the secret jail cell was not an isolated incident.

On Saturday, international advocacy group Human Rights Watch called on the Philippines to free the “unlawfully detained” suspects and abolish the unofficial jail cells.

“Secret jails may just be one more form of police criminality that has multiplied during the drug war,” said HRW Deputy Asia Directory Phelim Kine said in a statement.

In another development related to the administration’s controversial narcotics war, Lawyer Severo L. Brillantes, in a letter to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno on Friday, supported the petition of the Center for International Law (CenterLaw)-Philippines to issue additional rules on inquest as a safeguard against the spate of extralegal killings in the country allegedly related to the anti-drug campaign.

“The Philippine National Police has admitted that as of April 2017, 2,710 have already been killed as a result of police anti-drug operations, giving the usual explanation that the drug suspects were killed because they fought back,” Mr. Brillantes said. “But has an honest-to-goodness investigation ever been conducted to establish such claim as a fact?”

Among the proposed rules by the CenterLaw include strict supervision by police superiors over arresting authorities, immediate submission of written reports on all killings or injuries during police operations by policemen to their superior offices, and for preliminary investigations on these cases to be conducted by the Office of the City/Provincial Prosecutor based on the reports.

“We believe that among others, what will deter extrajudicial killings is the certainty of investigation, prosecution, and eventual conviction of their perpetrators; that is, for everyone to be made aware that an investigation will inevitably automatically be conducted, with the suspected perpetrators subsequently prosecuted and those found guilty thereafter meted the punishment due to them,” Mr. Brillantes added.

The proposed rules, Mr. Brillantes said, could be incorporated with the Rule of Arrest and Rule on Preliminary Investigation under the Rules of Court. -- with a report from AFP