THE Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Friday said it would investigate the February 28 raid at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center where inmates were stripped naked, a practice condemned by a number of lawmakers.
Spokeswoman Jacqueline de Guia said CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana had given instructions to the CHR Central Visayas regional director Alvin Odron to conduct an investigation into the incident, which involved the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
She cited the United Nations Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which state that “intrusive searches, including strip and body cavity searches, should be undertaken only if absolutely necessary.”
The probe will seek to determine who is behind the stripping of inmates, and come up with recommendations to prevent such incidents from happening again, de Guia said.
“We seek guidance from PDEA as a part of the process of our investigation so that our inspection of the incident will not just be one-sided,” she said.
PDEA Central Visayas Director Yogi Filemon Ruiz admitted it was him who ordered the inmates stripped naked, insisting it was his call as ground commander of the raid.
Ruiz said he had explained the incident to the CHR regional director. “In fact, they understand why I had to do it,” he told The Manila Times.
“This is for the mutual safety of the inmates and the officers inside the facility considering that we received intelligence information that some of the prisoners were armed,” Ruiz explained.
“We actually found 60 knives and we were alarmed over that because, what if one of them had a mental problem?” he added.
Ruiz said he would take full responsibility for the incident.
During the dawn raid, PDEA and police anti-narcotics agents seized 80 cellular phones, 19 medium sachets of shabu, one laptop, two DVD recorders, 60 deadly weapons and cash amounting P91,000 from the detainees.
The money was turned over to the Cebu governor’s office, which requested the raid, while the cellular phones and shabu were given to forensics experts and the police crime laboratory, respectively, the agency said.
‘Like Nazi Germany’
The stripping of the inmates caused uproar on social media, and one lawmaker compared it with the Holocaust of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
“Such indignity made on those prisoners shows how low our law enforcement authorities can go. We denounce such Hitlerian action just to proceed with an already tainted war on drugs,” Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna party-list said in a text message.
Rep. Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers party-list said: “The public display of hundreds of naked inmates, forced to strip naked and paraded before the cameras during a drug raid in the Cebu Provincial Jail, is yet another blatant violation of human rights perpetrated by law enforcers in the course of the Duterte regime’s so-called war on drugs.”
“The raid could have been conducted and its objectives achieved without resorting to the public humiliation of the prisoners. It is a cruel and degrading punishment, for which those responsible should be held accountable,” Tinio added.
Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat asked: “Is it really the policy now to treat criminals as less than human?”
New York-based Human Rights Watch, which released a scathing report on human rights violations under the Duterte administration on Thursday, said the Cebu jail raid ignored international practices.
“International standards prohibit prison searches that are used to harass, intimidate or unnecessarily intrude upon a prisoner’s privacy. Strip searches and other intrusive searches should be used if absolutely necessary. Intrusive searches have to be conducted in private and by trained staff,” it said in a statement Friday.
“The facts as reported do not suggest that strip searching all of the prisoners was absolutely necessary. The conduct of these searches – out in the open and permitting photographs to be taken – was inhuman and degrading and violated the prisoners’ rights to privacy. There should be an outside investigation undertaken and the prison officials responsible should be appropriately disciplined,” it added.
WITH A REPORT FROM JING VILLAMENTE AND LLANESCA T. PANTI