Human rights officials fear that there are more ‘secret cells’ in other police stations across the country following the discovery of such a facility in Tondo, Manila on April 27, Thursday evening.
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairman Jose Luis Gascon challenged the leadership of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to order an audit of all police stations in the country to ferret out possible “secret” detention cells.
A CHR team checking on reports that persons were being detained for lengthy periods without being charged or their arrests being recorded at Manila Police District Station 1 were shocked to discover a dozen detainees, nine men and three women, crammed into the narrow, dark and airless cell hidden behind a bookshelf inside the police outpost.
Stunned detainees came stumbling out of the room; some begging for water while others, in tears, pleaded with the rights workers not to abandon them.
Gascon said the law against torture explicitly prohibits secret detention cells while the Constitution outlaws cruel, unusual and degrading punishment.
Section 12 of the Bill of Rights under the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that “secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.”
Gascon said in a press conference: “Ang tanong namin, kung sa Station 1 may ganyan, yun lang po ba ang may ganyan? Panawagan po namin sa buong kapulisan. Kung talagang sinasabi nila we intend to clean our ranks, simulan sa pag-audit sa lahat ng police stations. Alamin kung may mga ganyang solitary. At kasabay ng panawagang ‘yan kung may nagme-maintain nun ay panagutin”.
[We ask them, if such hidden cell exists in Station 1, we are urging the entire police organization that if they are serious in saying we intend to clean our ranks, they should start auditing all other stations and if there are similar solitary cells in existence, then those who maintain such should be held accountable.]
“Hold all the perpetrators to account for their human rights violations,” he stressed.
Gascon added he would “communicate” with PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa on the matter and would also see if the PNP Human Rights Office could issue a clear memorandum to field units reminding them of the strict prohibition on secret detention facilities.
It was imperative, said the CHR chair, to find out “how deep this goes, how far it goes.”
The hidden cell was criticized by an international human rights organization which called the jail ‘an unlawful secret detention facility.’
Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia at New York-based Human Rights Watch said that signs of abuses in President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs will continue to surface after the discovery of the hidden jail.
Kine warned that elements of the PNP are exploiting the deadly campaign for their personal gain.