The Philippines’ official Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday exposed the latest abuses linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” – an unlawful secret detention facility in a Manila police station.
CHR representatives led media to an unofficial jail hidden behind a bookshelf in a police station in Manila’s Tondo district. The facility housed a dozen men and women in atrocious, grossly overcrowded conditions. The detainees told CHR and journalists that police – who claimed the detainees were drug suspects – had abducted them and held them in the facility for a week without notifying families or lawyers. Detainees alleged they were tortured by police who demanded bribes of between US$800 and US$4,000 to secure their freedom. Detainees said that inadequate lighting, ventilation, and toilet facilities forced them “to urinate and [do] bowel movements in plastic bags,” according to CHR Director of National Capital Region Atty Gilbert Boisner. Police deny the allegations, insisting they are still processing detainees’ arrest notifications and refused CHR requests to free the detainees.
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. A government investigation released in January documented how Philippine National Police (PNP) officers kidnapped a South Korean national, Jee Ick-joo, on October 18, 2016, after raiding his home in Angeles City. The officers – members of the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group – used a fake arrest warrant that falsely accused him of illegal drug activities. They reportedly strangled Jee to death that same day, but two weeks later demanded – and received – a US$100,000 ransom from his family.
Since Duterte took office in June 2016, police and unidentified gunmen have killed more than 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers – but this number doesn’t include the victims Duterte calls “collateral damage” – including children killed by stray police bullets. Police claim responsibility for 2,717 of the deaths – all justified, they assert. Human Rights Watch research has exposed a damning pattern of unlawful police conduct in these killings, designed to paint a veneer of legality over summary executions. Many of the 3,271 killings the police attribute to “vigilantes” are in fact death-squad-style extrajudicial executions by police and police agents.
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.