THE Commission on Human Rights (CHR) exposed on Thursday, April 27, a secret detention facility in a Manila police station that squeezed in at least 12 suspected drug personalities.
CHR representatives led media to an unofficial jail hidden behind a bookshelf in a police station in Manila’s Tondo district.
The facility housed a dozen men and women in overcrowded conditions.
The detainees told CHR and journalists that police -- who claimed the detainees were drug suspects -- had abducted and held them in the facility for a week without notifying families or lawyers.
Detainees said they were tortured by police who demanded bribes of between P40,000 to P200,000 to secure their freedom.
The CHR described the facility as “atrocious and grossly overcrowded.”
Detainees said that inadequate lighting, ventilation, and toilet facilities forced them “to urinate and [do] bowel movements in plastic bags,” according to National Capital Region-CHR Director Gilbert Boisner.
Police denied the allegations, insisting they are still processing the detainees' arrest notifications and refused CHR requests to free the detainees.
Pending investigation, the commander of Tondo police station, Superintendent Roberto Domingo, was relieved Friday, April 28.
The investigation is being conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) together with the Internal Affairs Service (IAS).
Domingo will be replaced by Chief Inspector Gilbert Cruz.
In his defense, Domingo said he transferred the 12 detainees in the said hidden cell to “decongest” their jail facility, which only has a capacity of 40 inmates.
“Ang total nang nakakulong doon 70 na. Tapos 'yung nasa babae, ang capacity lang ng nakakulong dapat sampu lang. Ang nakakulong na, 15 (There are already 70 prisoners. The women's cell is supposed to accommodate only 10, but it houses 15 inmates already),” he said.
Domingo also refused to call it a hidden cell, saying the cabinet, which serves as the door, is just a "partition."
The Tondo station chief also belied the torture accusations of the detainees.
“Kung tinorture po 'yun e 'di sana kitang-kita nila. Kaya lang 'di na lang po ako nakipag-argumento dahil siyempre nga po CHR eh. Tayo naman po sumusunod lang (If they were tortured, they could have seen evidences. But I did not argue, since it was CHR. We are just following rules),” he said.
This was not the first time that the police found itself in the middle of a controversy in relation to their bloody war on drugs.
“The discovery of the secret jail is just the latest sign of how police are exploiting [President Rodrigo] Duterte’s abusive anti-drug campaign for personal gain,” the CHR said.
But CHR Chairman Chito Gascon said they do not have the power to press charges against the police officers of Tondo, as they can only make recommendations after their probe.
"We cannot ourselves file to the court. It has to be the prosecutor service or the Office of the Ombudsman that will have to file the charges," he said.
Gascon said charges of illegal detention, violation of Anti-Torture Law and Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law and obstruction of justice may be filed against the policemen.
He also urged the PNP to conduct a full investigation on the matter and punish those who will be found liable.
The agency said that since Duterte took office in June 2016, 7,000 persons were killed in line with the administration's war on drugs.
The PNP, however, had denied the claim. (Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo/With PR/AP/SunStar Philippines)