Secret cell in police station 'absolutely prohibited' – CHR

BOOKSHELF? Detainees are kept behind a bookshelf in Manila Police Station 1. Photos by Eloisa Lopez

BOOKSHELF? Detainees are kept behind a bookshelf in Manila Police Station 1.

Photos by Eloisa Lopez

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Commission on Human Rights said on Friday, April 28, that the secret detention cell discovered in Police Station 1 in Tondo, Manila, is "absolutely" against the law.

"The maintenance of secret detention facilities are absolutely prohibited by the Constitution as well as both Anti-Torture and Anti-Enforced Disappearance Laws," CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon told Rappler on Friday.

During a surprise inspection on Thursday night, April 27, a team led by Gilbert Boiser of CHR National Capital Region (NCR) found 12 men and women allegedly illegally detained in a "lock-up cell."

The cell, which had no electricity and no functioning toilet, was hidden behind a bookshelf.

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."

Section 10 of Republic Act No. 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 provides that "all persons detained or confined shall be placed solely in officially recognized and controlled places of detention or confinement where an official up-to-date register of such persons shall be maintained."

When asked about the blotters of the detainees, Station Commander Superintendent Robert Domingo claimed that they had not yet prepared them after the supposed "one time, big time" operation on Wednesday, April 26.

He added that the detainees were locked up as their documents were still being “processed."

Following the incident, Domingo was relieved from his post on Friday, and will be investigated by the Philippine National Police regional Internal Affairs Services. (READ: Police station chief relieved over secret jail cell)

'Strict obligation'

The CHR, which can exercise “visitorial powers” over any jail, prison, or detention facility as enshrined in the Constitution, was prevented from taking custody of the detainees. The police told the team that they had already arrested the suspects.

Gascon reminded the law enforcement units that they have the "strict obligation to act only in accordance with law."

"If a crime is committed, the police have the duty to maintain peace and order by filing appropriate charges in accordance with established procedures," he explained.

Boiser told Rappler on Friday that the CHR will investigate the incident, specifically allegations that the detainees were tortured.

Gascon, meanwhile, said that the commission is ready to help the detainees.

“Aggrieved persons can be provided legal aid to secure justice,” he said.

Erring cops in the Duterte administration's war on drugs have been the subject of reports of human rights watchdogs. (READ: Cops are paid to kill in PH war on drugs – Amnesty Int'l)

A 10-part investigative story published by Rappler  named witnesses who identified Manila policeman Ronald Alvarez as behind drug-related summary killings in Tondo. (READ: Witnesses name Manila policeman behind drug-related summary killings– With reports from Eloisa Lopez/Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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