Of secret cells and impunity

ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas

Secret-Cell-TondoApparently, the Manila police station chief who detained 12 men and women inside a tiny secret cell was just following what appears to be the policy of the Duterte administration on drug pushers and users. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III once said in defense of President Duterte’s brutal drug war that the killing of the drug addicts did not constitute a crime against humanity because they “were not part of humanity.”

And so, policemen all over the country, including Superintendent Robert Domingo of Manila Police Station 1 in Tondo, felt it was okay to treat drug suspects as animals – slaughtering them in the middle of the night, pulling them away from their homes without the benefit of arrest warrants, putting them in overcrowded jails, and squeezing them into a hidden cell so tiny they couldn’t afford the luxury of lying down to sleep or rest, and so filthy they had to live beside their feces and urine.

This statement by Aguirre and repeated encouragement by the President himself that policemen – and even civilians – can go ahead and kill drug suspects if they resisted arrest have obviously been seen by the policemen as a go signal to do as they please with regards the alleged drug suspects. The President promised to defend the policemen and to pardon them if convicted of murder, again emboldening these crooks in uniform to do as they please.

After more than 7,000 deaths, not a single one has been investigated, or if investigated, has not resulted in any arrest of the killers. This and the irresponsible statements by Duterte and Aguirre have contributed to the worsening of the culture of impunity in the country.

So, it was not a surprise when Duterte’s most avid henchman, PNP chief General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa defended the Tondo police chief and personnel who have been accused of wrongful detention and of extorting money from the arrested drug suspects.

“As long as they haven’t hurt or extorted from the detainees, it’s OK with me,” Dela Rosa said. The PNP chief even questioned the timing of the raid by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), saying it was meant to embarrass the administration at a time it was hosting the ASEAN Summit.

But, General de la Rosa, sir, that was precisely the complaints of the detained drug suspects – that they were tortured, made to endure subhuman conditions, and asked to fork from P40,000 to P200,000 for their release. How about investigating the complaints before even defending your personnel?

De la Rosa’s defense of the Tondo policemen came just a day after the Manila police chief relieved the Tondo station chief and 12 other policemen, and thanked the CHR for exposing the existence of the secret cell. Director Oscar Albayalde of the National Capitol Region PNP thanked the CHR “for taking time’’ to inspect police stations and providing “an eye-opener for all of us to revisit the need for better detention cells and improvement of our jail facilities.”

Obviously, Albayalde knows that the mere existence of a secret cell was illegal under the country’s anti-torture laws. In fact, it is prohibited under the 1987 Constitution’s Bill of Rights, as pointed out by lawyers belonging to the Center for International Law.

“Under our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, “secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited,” they said. “The UN Convention on Torture (1986) and its Optional Protocol (2012), to which the Philippines is a party, also prohibit such secret detention cells.”

When confronted by the CHR about the existence of a secret cell in the station, Superintendent Domingo first denied its existence. But when the CHR raiders, accompanied by media, heard a woman’s voice behind the wall and found a secret latch that revealed the tiny cell that held the 12 men and women, Domingo said they were just trying to maximize space.

The CHR also found no record of the dozen’s arrest. When confronted by the CHR about this violation, Domingo again lied by saying that they had just been arrested and that the holidays resulting from the ASEAN meetings have prevented them from processing the arrests. The detainees said they have been inside the cell for more than a week.

One female former detainee said her family had to raise P40,000 before she was released after four days. Others were not as lucky as they had to endure the subhuman conditions inside the dark, cramped cell for many days before their families could raise enough to get them out.

It was clear as day that Domingo and his subordinates have violated the Bill of Rights, the Anti-Torture Law (Republic Act 9745), the UN Convention on Torture and the 2013 PNP Operations Manual that requires the immediate documentation of detainees, arrested suspects, and suspects killed in police operations. And yet, De la Rosa still defended the policemen and the Department of Justice has kept silent on the matter.

Duterte promised to look into the matter and said he would call De la Rosa. But on the same day, the PNP chief said his men had nothing wrong. So what do we expect now from the President’s promise? Will he ignore De la Rosa’s comment and order the DOJ to investigate the matter? Or will he just stand by and let the controversy settle down? Or maybe even divert the people’s attention by killing Abu-looking suspects in another tourist resort?

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, said De la Rosa’s defense of the secret cell was “incomprehensible” and “very arrogant.” “Defending policemen for maintaining an unlivable secret prison cell hidden behind a book shelf inside a police station is incomprehensible. It is also very arrogant,” he said.

This secret cell incident, the killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo allegedly after the family’s failure to pay the money being demanded by the policemen who were holding him, and the daily murder of drug suspects on the country’s streets clearly show that Duterte’s brutal drug war had gone on a spiral. Who knows how many more secret cells there are all over the country, or how many more Jee Ick-joos are being held illegally by some unscrupulous policemen while awaiting payment of ransom by their families?

And all De la Rosa could say was that his men had done nothing wrong?

(valabelgas@aol.com)

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Page 1 of 3

ON DISTANT SHORE

By Val G. Abelgas

05/01/17

Of secret cells and impunity

Apparently, the Manila police station chief who detained 12 men and women inside a tiny

secret cell was just following what appears to be the policy of the Duterte administration

on drug pushers and users. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III once said in defense of

President Duterte’s brutal drug war that the killing of the drug addicts did not constitute a

crime against humanity because they “were not part of humanity.”

And so, policemen all over the country, including Superintendent Robert Domingo of

Manila Police Station 1 in Tondo, felt it was okay to treat drug suspects as animals –

slaughtering them in the middle of the night, pulling them away from their homes without

the benefit of arrest warrants, putting them in overcrowded jails, and squeezing them into

a hidden cell so tiny they couldn’t afford the luxury of lying down to sleep or rest, and so

filthy they had to live beside their feces and urine.

This statement by Aguirre and repeated encouragement by the President himself that

policemen – and even civilians – can go ahead and kill drug suspects if they resisted arrest

have obviously been seen by the policemen as a go signal to do as they please with regards

the alleged drug suspects. The President promised to defend the policemen and to pardon

them if convicted of murder, again emboldening these crooks in uniform to do as they

please.

After more than 7,000 deaths, not a single one has been investigated, or if investigated, has

not resulted in any arrest of the killers. This and the irresponsible statements by Duterte

and Aguirre have contributed to the worsening of the culture of impunity in the country.

So, it was not a surprise when Duterte’s most avid henchman, PNP chief General Ronald

“Bato” de la Rosa defended the Tondo police chief and personnel who have been accused of

wrongful detention and of extorting money from the arrested drug suspects.

“As long as they haven’t hurt or extorted from the detainees, it’s OK with me,” Dela Rosa

said. The PNP chief even questioned the timing of the raid by the Commission on Human

Rights (CHR), saying it was meant to embarrass the administration at a time it was hosting

the ASEAN Summit.

But, General de la Rosa, sir, that was precisely the complaints of the detained drug suspects

– that they were tortured, made to endure subhuman conditions, and asked to fork from

P40,000 to P200,000 for their release. How about investigating the complaints before even

defending your personnel?
Page 2 of 3

De la Rosa’s defense of the Tondo policemen came just a day after the Manila police chief

relieved the Tondo station chief and 12 other policemen, and thanked the CHR for exposing

the existence of the secret cell. Director Oscar Albayalde of the National Capitol Region PNP

thanked the CHR “for taking time’’ to inspect police stations and providing “an eye-opener

for all of us to revisit the need for better detention cells and improvement of our jail

facilities.”

Obviously, Albayalde knows that the mere existence of a secret cell was illegal under the

country’s anti-torture laws. In fact, it is prohibited under the 1987 Constitution’s Bill of

Rights, as pointed out by lawyers belonging to the Center for International Law.

“Under our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, “secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado,

or other similar forms of detention are prohibited,” they said. “The UN Convention on

Torture (1986) and its Optional Protocol (2012), to which the Philippines is a party, also

prohibit such secret detention cells.”

When confronted by the CHR about the existence of a secret cell in the station,

Superintendent Domingo first denied its existence. But when the CHR raiders, accompanied

by media, heard a woman’s voice behind the wall and found a secret latch that revealed the

tiny cell that held the 12 men and women, Domingo said they were just trying to maximize

space.

The CHR also found no record of the dozen’s arrest. When confronted by the CHR about this

violation, Domingo again lied by saying that they had just been arrested and that the

holidays resulting from the ASEAN meetings have prevented them from processing the

arrests. The detainees said they have been inside the cell for more than a week.

One female former detainee said her family had to raise P40,000 before she was released

after four days. Others were not as lucky as they had to endure the subhuman conditions

inside the dark, cramped cell for many days before their families could raise enough to get

them out.

It was clear as day that Domingo and his subordinates have violated the Bill of Rights, the

Anti-Torture Law (Republic Act 9745), the UN Convention on Torture and the 2013 PNP

Operations Manual that requires the immediate documentation of detainees, arrested

suspects, and suspects killed in police operations. And yet, De la Rosa still defended the

policemen and the Department of Justice has kept silent on the matter.

Duterte promised to look into the matter and said he would call De la Rosa. But on the same

day, the PNP chief said his men had nothing wrong. So what do we expect now from the

President’s promise? Will he ignore De la Rosa’s comment and order the DOJ to investigate

the matter? Or will he just stand by and let the controversy settle down? Or maybe even

divert the people’s attention by killing Abu-looking suspects in another tourist resort?

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, said De la Rosa’s defense of the secret cell was

“incomprehensible” and “very arrogant.” “Defending policemen for maintaining an
Page 3 of 3

unlivable secret prison cell hidden behind a book shelf inside a police station is

incomprehensible. It is also very arrogant,” he said.

This secret cell incident, the killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo allegedly after

the family’s failure to pay the money being demanded by the policemen who were holding

him, and the daily murder of drug suspects on the country’s streets clearly show that

Duterte’s brutal drug war had gone on a spiral. Who knows how many more secret cells

there are all over the country, or how many more Jee Ick-joos are being held illegally by

some unscrupulous policemen while awaiting payment of ransom by their families?

And all De la Rosa could say was that his men had done nothing wrong?

(valabelgas@aol.com)
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