Balay calls for police accountability and better implementation of Anti Torture Act over the discovery of ‘secret jail’
Balay has called for accountability of authorities who are implicated in the ill treatment of detainees as it asked the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to convene immediately the Oversight Committee in order to review the implementation of the Anti Torture Act.
The human rights organization raised this call following the discovery of a secret detention cell in the Police Station 1 (Raxabago) in a slum neighbourhood in Tondo, Manila. A CHR team accompanied by news reporters found twelve persons cramped in a closet-sized space hidden behind a bookshelf in the police station under the jurisdiction of the Manila Police District (MPD) on April 27, 2017. The detainees told the CHR and journalists that the police had arrested them on purported drug charges and held them in the secret cell for a week without notifying families or lawyers.
Balay Executive Director Josephine Lascano deplored the ill treatment of the detainees citing that the so-called lock-up cell is way below the basic standard of jails. Detainees claim the lock-up cell does not have any source of light and ventilation. The two urinals inside do not function, forcing many of them to urinate and [do] bowel movement in plastic bags. She raised concern that similar places of detention might also be in existence in other police stations at the heels of the government crackdown against criminality.
Lascano said that keeping persons in hidden cells is a violation of Republic Act 9745. Also known as the Anti Torture Act, it prohibits, among others, the maintenance of secret places of detention, the non-registration of persons under police custody, and the physical and psychological maltreatment of detainees.
She also renewed the appeal for Congress to pass the law that would establish a national monitoring body with a mandate to undertake preventive monitoring visits to all places of detention in line with the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) which the Philippine government has acceded to six years ago.
Media reports said that the practice of putting persons in the ‘secret’ detention area in Police Station 1 may have been going on in the last five years. But Station Commander Superintendent Robert Domingo claimed the detainees were locked up as their documents were still being "processed." He also told reporters that "lock up cell" was constructed only recently to accommodate the growing number of persons arrested since the government intensified its so called war-on-drugs. He added that the police are compelled to use every space available to keep the suspects as they do not have the resources to build new cells.
Some of the detainees alleged that they were tortured by police who demanded bribes of between US$800 and US$4,000 to secure their freedom. Police denied allegations of unlawful detention and refused CHR requests to free them.
“The deplorable condition of the detainees in the police jail has brought to attention the issues that need to be addressed under the Anti-Torture Act, such as the need for a regular system for monitoring places of detention, the impediments to torture monitoring, documentation, and reporting as well as the challenges in obtaining redress, including the rehabilitation, of victims of torture and ill treatment,” Balay Executive Director Josephine Lascano said in a letter sent to CHR Chairperson Luis Martin Gascon.
Section 20 of Republic Act 9745 mandates the CHR to convene the Oversight Committee in order to “periodically oversee the implementation of the [the Anti-Torture Act is Act]”. The committee counts as members the chairpersons of the human rights committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Lascano said that CHR would be in the best position to take the lead in bridging policy and actual implementation of the law.