The secret police jail cell found by human rights lawyers in Manila was widely condemned. Lawmakers and police officials said on Friday they will investigate whether there were more hidden jails that exist in other police stations in the country.
Director Oscar Albayalde, National Capital Region Police Office chief, ordered the relief of Raxabago station commander Supt. Robert Domingo and his staff pending an investigation by the Philippine National Police Internal Affairs Service of their alleged abuses.
“Rest assured that we have in mind the best interest of the community and we will not tolerate any illegal act committed by our policemen,” Albayalde said in a statement.
Acting on a tip, a team from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) late on Thursday found a dozen men and women packed in a dark, cramped and windowless cell hidden behind a bookshelf at the Tondo police station. The narrow room measured 1 meter by 5 meters with a male urinal at one end.
CHR regional director Gilbert Boisner said the alleged drug suspects’ arrests were not recorded and they allegedly complained of being held for extortion for as much as P200,000 each.
Domingo has denied any wrongdoing, saying he merely used an empty space in his office to detain drug offenders.
CHR chair Chito Gascon slammed Domingo for justifying holding suspects in the squalid cell.
“The antitorture and antienforced disappearance laws specifically prohibit secret detention facilities. The Constitution itself prohibits … cruel and degrading punishment and solitary confinement,” Gascon said.
Duterte: I’ll look into it
President Duterte, who is leading the war on drugs, said he would ask PNP chief, Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, about the secret jail cell after his talks with visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
“I will look into this after, this afternoon. I will call Bato,” he told reporters before he welcomed Widodo, who is on a state visit to the Philippines.
House Deputy Minority Leader Harry Roque of Kabayan party-list said in a text message to the Inquirer that he wants to investigate the secret jail cell.
“There will be impunity unless these kind of cops are prosecuted for their misdeeds,” he said.
Opposition Rep. Teddy Baguilat told the Inquirer he will also seek an inquiry.
“This is beyond politics already,” he said.
An ally of the President who heads the House dangerous drugs committee, Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said Dela Rosa “should start investigating and check all police stations if there are still secret detention cells.”
Former PNP chief, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, said the police should also investigate whether this has happened before. He warned that the government’s gains in the anti-illegal drugs campaign “would be demolished” if there were other similar jail cells.
Sen. Bam Aquino said police officers involved should be punished, “otherwise these abuses will continue and even flourish.”
Instead of winning the war on drugs, such practice by law enforcers would lead to the spread of “police corruption and abuse,” according to Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
Albayalde said Domingo told him the hidden room was “not really a secret” jail cell.
He said that it used to be a “pathway that was closed off” and used as a “temporary staging area while suspects are undergoing booking proceedings.”
Domingo told journalists who accompanied the CHR team on Thursday that the room used to be a waste dump and was converted into a detention cell in a bid to “maximize” space.
Albayalde also said the secret cell highlighted the problem of almost all police stations in the country.
“This is an eye-opener for all of us to revisit the need for better detention cells and improvement of our jail facilities,” he said, adding that courts should speed up the resolution of cases to help decongest jails.
Critics of the President said he was ultimately responsible for the actions of the police officers.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, who filed an impeachment complaint against Mr. Duterte in March said the “encouragement to kill and tolerance of violations would give rise to impunity in the (police) organization.”
The President’s staunchest opponent, detained Sen. Leila de Lima, said the secret cell “only mirrors the complete breakdown of the rule of law in the country.”
“Once we allowed a mass murderer to take the helm of government and carry out a criminal policy of extrajudicial killings, there is pretty much nothing else that cannot be done with impunity under his regime,” De Lima said in a statement. —WITH REPORTS FROM CHRISTINE O AVENDAÑO, JULIE M. AURELIO, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, PHILIP C. TUBEZA, JOVIC YEE, DEXTER CABALZA, VINCE F. NONATO, JAYMEE T. GAMIL, AFP, AP AND REUTERS
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