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Detainees crouch on the floor inside a secret jail after being discovered by the Commission on Human Rights at Police Station 1 at Tondo district in Manila, Philippines on April 27, 2017. © 2017 Associated Press/Ezra Acayan

(New York) – 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.”
Secret jails may just be one more form of police criminality that has multiplied during the drug war.
Phelim Kine

Deputy Asia Director

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.

The Philippine National Police has long had a horrific record of mistreatment of suspects in custody. In 2014, the CHR exposed the existence a secret detention facility in Laguna province in which police officers tortured detainees using a so-called “wheel of torture.” In another infamous case that went viral on social media, a police officer interrogated a crime suspect by yanking a rope tied to the suspect’s genitals.

Police abuses of criminal suspects in detention is an even greater concern given revelations of deadly police criminality linked to Duterte’s “war on drugs.” 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. A government investigation released in January documented how PNP anti-drugs personnel kidnapped and murdered a South Korean national, Jee Ick-joo, on October 18, 2016 as part of a scheme to extort ransom from his widow.

“The government should direct the CHR and the National Bureau of Investigation to locate other secret police jails in the country and prosecute all those responsible,” Kine said. “Secret jails may just be one more form of police criminality that has multiplied during the drug war.”

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