The Philippine government should immediately release the alleged drug suspects unlawfully detained in a Manila police station secret jail, and ensure their protection after release, Human Right Watch said today. The official Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the National Bureau of Investigation should conduct a joint investigation into the existence of other unofficial lock-up cells in police stations across the country and ensure they are shut down.
On April 27, 2017, a CHR team accompanied by journalists raided the Manila District Police Station 1 in Tondo district and found at least a dozen people in a cell hidden behind a bookshelf, suffering from grossly overcrowded conditions. 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. 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 said that they were still processing the detainees’ arrest notifications. They refused CHR requests to free them.
“These detainees have been wrongfully held and should be freed with adequate protections against police reprisal,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The police authorities should be put on notice that responsibility for the detainees’ safety rests with them.”
The Philippine National Police (PNP) have temporarily suspended the Tondo police station commanding officer and 12 other police personnel assigned to the facility. President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered PNP Director-General Ronald Dela Rosa to investigate the secret jail allegations. But a 2015 CHR study suggests that unofficial lockups are a common feature in police stations. The study concluded that detainees in police lock-up cells in the Manila National Capital Region routinely suffer “deprivation and neglect with respect to their fundamental human rights.” Abuses included failure to document the detention of suspects, illegal detention, torture, and overcrowding.