THE chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) has defended the detention of a dozen people inside a closet-sized “secret cell” in a case that raised further alarm about abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) discovered a dozen men and women packed into the tiny cell behind a wooden cabinet during an unannounced visit to a police station in Manila’s Tondo district on Thursday.
The resulting outcry saw the station commander, Supt. Robert Domingo, and 12 anti-narcotics officers suspended and an official inquiry launched.
On late Friday, however, Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa visited the police station and defended his men’s actions.
“As long as the prisoners were not tortured or extorted, it’s okay with me,” the PNP chief told reporters.
Secret detentions are prohibited by the 1987 Constitution. Section 12 of Article III, the Charter’s Bill of Rights, states: “Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.”
The detainees have since been moved to a regular prison cell.
They had told the rights commission they had been held for about a week after being arrested on allegations of drug use or trafficking and that police had demanded hefty payments, P40,000 to P100,000, in exchange for their freedom.
‘Not meant to embarrass Duterte’
De la Rosa rejected the allegations and accused the rights commission, an independent government body, of plotting to embarrass Duterte’s government amid Manila’s hosting of the 30th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which gathered 10 leaders of the regional bloc.
The commission’s spokeswoman, Jacqueline Ann de Guia, denied the prison visit had been organized deliberately to coincide with the Asean summit, which Duterte was hosting Saturday.
“The [commission]cannot sit idly nor ignore any information which may involve a serious human rights violation,” de Guia told AFP in a text message, adding the government body was “impartial and non-partisan.”
Oscar Albayalde, director of the National Capital Region Police Office, has conceded that congested detention facilities are widespread.
Duterte won last year’s presidential election on a pledge to kill tens of thousands of criminals.
Police have since reported killing 2,724 people as part of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, although authorities insist the shootings have been in self-defense.
Many thousands of others have been killed by shadowy vigilantes, according to rights groups.
‘Corrupt to the core’
Duterte briefly suspended all police from the crackdown in January after an official investigation found drug officers kidnapped a South Korean businessman and murdered him as part of an extortion scam.
At the time, Duterte described the police force as “corrupt to the core” and vowed it would not be allowed to prosecute the drug war until its ranks had been “cleansed.”
But he redeployed police onto the drug war about a month later, without major reforms.
International rights monitor Human Rights Watch on Saturday called on the Philippines to free all “unlawfully detained” suspects and abolish unofficial police lock-up cells.
“Secret jails may just be one more form of police criminality that has multiplied during the drug war,” the group’s deputy Asia director Phelim Kine said in a statement.