“Aren’t you happy that the 12 of them are all alive?” asked MPD Station 1 Commander Robert Domingo to the Commission on Human Rights representatives after the discovery of secret jail cell situated behind a bookshelf in Tondo, Manila, on Thursday night. The detainees found were cramped inside the hidden cell and were all said to be involved in illegal drugs, CNN Philippines reports.
The Commission on Human Rights has received some valuable tips from informants of the irregularity in the police station, hence, Gilbert Boisner, the regional director of CHR for Manila, together with local media, went for a random inspection. The police commander initially denied the existence of the hidden cell, but with thorough effort, Boisner was able to hear someone from behind the shelf as he knocked on the wall. He then found the secret cell, which contained about a dozen of people. The cell condition was inhumane. No proper ventilation or lighting was provided, and the cell only stretched about a meter wide and was five meters long.
An unnamed couple, who used to be drug runners, revealed that they had been inside the cell for three days. They told the media that they ended up in jail when armed men with guns showed up outside their house and took them. Later on, Boisner told the local media that the detainees were forced to pee and defecate into plastic bags.
The people detained by the police revealed that the officers were extorting money from them in exchange for their freedom. The amount being extorted according to these people vary from PHP40,000 ($800) up to PHP200,000 ($4,000).
Domingo, on the other hand, denied all allegations. The commanding officer said that he welcomes any investigations on the matter to find out the truth.
“The allegations of these arrested…it’s their word against ours. So we will fight that in the end.”
When asked why the detainees were held in a secret cell, Domingo replied that they had not been “inquested” yet and that the regular cell can only house up to 40 people but currently has 70 already in it, CNN Philippines reports. Domingo and his men were reported to have been relieved from their posts.
The discovery of the hidden cell has caught the attention of international human rights groups. They were quick to express their disapproval of having secret jail cells. Amnesty International called for an independent investigation on the matter. Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement that there must be an independent body overseeing the investigations of the police on the campaign against drugs, USA Today revealed. She also said that “crucially, nobody should be under any illusions that the same police force that allowed thousands of killings to happen under its nose can be trusted to investigate itself now.”
Phelim Kine, the deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, has a similar undertaking on the said matter.
“The discovery of the secret jail is just the latest sign of how police are exploiting Duterte’s abusive anti-drug campaign for personal gain. Expect unlawful police abuses in the name of Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ to continue until the United Nations establishes an urgently needed independent, international investigation into the killings and the secret jails that are part of it.”
Government officials were also shocked to learn about this secret cell. Harry Roque Jr., the house minority deputy leader, wants to further look into this irregularity. He will be filing a resolution to conduct a congressional inquiry to dig deeper into the matter. The congressman expressed his concern that having a secret cell is, in fact, very worrisome, USA Today reports.
“I find it profoundly disturbing that these men and women were one, illegally detained – because there appears to be no records of their arrest – and two, subjected to cruel, degrading, and inhumane conditions.”
The only worry now is if there are more secret jail cells in existence.
[Featured Image by Ezra Acayan/AP Images]