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Congress holds inquiry on alleged police secret lock up cell

Balay participated in the investigative hearing on the discovery of an  alleged secret detention room which concealed some twelve suspects in a police station in Manila Police District.   The hearing was  convened by the Committee on Human Rights of the House of Representatives on May 29, 2017 in response to  a resolution filed by legislators that have been approached by Balay.

Josephine Lascano,  Balay executive director, said that keeping persons in hidden cells appears to be a  violation of  the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 and it’s implementing rules and regulations. Also known as the Republic Act 9745, the law 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.

Police station head Superintendent Robert Domingo, who was present during the committee investigation,  pointed out that  the controversial holding room is  not a “secret detention cell” but a staging area for arrested suspects waiting for inquest. He shared that he ordered the construction of the area in February due to the surge in numbers of drug surrenderees as a result of the war-on-drugs campaign of President Duterte.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which discovered twelve detainees inside a small and unventilated room   behind a makeshift bookshelf, has filed  cases against the police officers in charge of the police station. Thirteen police officials including the police station commander and his entire anti-drug unit were relieved from office shortly after the CHR made public its discovery. However, they were later absolved by the Internal Affairs Service of the Philippine National Police which concluded that there was nothing irregular in the conduct of the law enforcers implicated in the incident that happened  last April 27, 2017.

Representative Harry Roque, one of the proponents of the legislative investigation,  rejected  the police explanation saying that  the videos presented by the CHR clearly showed that the one meter room was a secret detention area as the entrance was deliberately hidden behind a bookshelf.  

CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said that the so-called lock-up cell is way below the basic standard of jails. 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. She added that they have witnesses and other  pieces of evidence to support their findings.  

Manila Police District  Director Joel Coronel admitted that the condition of detainees in that police station was indeed deplorable and assured the congressional committee that they will continue their investigation and address the issues.