President Rodrigo Duterte’s top counsel on Saturday said he sees nothing wrong with the mass strip search at the Cebu provincial jail, saying it was part of necessary security measures to rid inmates of contrabands.
But Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo on Friday hit the strip search on the inmates.
“For me, if we’re talking about security, perhaps it was a necessary move,” Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo told government-run dzRB radio in Filipino, when asked about the incident.
“ I was listening to the explanation of the superintendent. He said if the prisoners weren’t ordered to strip, even if there was one bladed weapon that got through, it might have triggered a riot. If somebody tried to stab someone, there would be chaos. So they’re also right in that regard,” he added also in Filipino.
But the President’s lawyer stressed the photos of the naked prisoners should not have leaked or released to the public.
He explained that while the strip search in itself was justifiable, the photos should have been kept confidential as these violated the prisoners’ right to privacy.
For her part, Robredo said the incident clearly violated the human rights of the inmates.
“It is shocking, disturbing. There are many human rights issues that have become involved. We have a very specific law, the Anti-Torture Act, which provides that our government officials have no right to let even inmates undergo cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment that will further debase them,” she said also in Filipino.
“There are many ways to do this [searching for contraband]without harming or shaming our inmates at the Cebu City jail. So I hope that this will not happen again,” the vice president added.
Photos of inmates stripped naked during a surprise inspection by anti-drug operatives have caused uproar among human rights groups and the public. The drug enforcement agency said the raid had netted “several packets” of methamphetamines and marijuana leaves, as well as knives and mobile phones.
“This incident clearly amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners,” Amnesty International (AI) said in a statement.
AI cited the United Nations’ standards and Philippine laws in highlighting the obligation of authorities to ensure prisoners were not subjected to torture or ill treatment.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said international standards prohibited searches that intimidated or unnecessarily intruded upon a prisoner’s privacy.
“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,” HRW said in a statement.
The Commission on Human Rights said on Friday that it will look into the matter.