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'Hidden jail' seen as sign of PNP's abuse in drug war

Detainees huddle in a makeshift detention cell hidden behind a shelf in the Manila Police District’s Drug Enforcement Unit office on Thursday, April 27, 2017. "The facility housed a dozen men and women in atrocious, grossly overcrowded conditions," Human Rights Watch said. STAR/Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines —  Signs of abuses in President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal war on drugs will continue to surface after an allegedly hidden jail was discovered in Tondo, an international human rights organization said on Friday.

Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia at New York-based Human Rights Watch, warned that elements of the Philippine National Police are exploiting the deadly campaign for their personal gain.

Representatives from the Philippines' Commission on Human Rights trooped to Manila Police District Station 1 yesterday after receiving a tip that several personalities are held up and being extorted of P40,000 to P200,000 in exchange of their freedom.

The surprise visit of CHR led them to an airless cell concealed by a bookshelf at a police station in Tondo, an urban poor district in Manila.

"The facility housed a dozen men and women in atrocious, grossly overcrowded conditions," Kine said in a statement.

Gilbert Boisner, a lawyer who serves as CHR's head in Metro Manila, said that the detainees suffer from inhumane conditions inside the cell.

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He earlier told the STAR that the detainees were hidden from the public and did not undergo inquest proceedings. At least four individuals also said they were being asked to produce money in exchange for freedom.

"Detainees said that inadequate lighting, ventilation, and toilet facilities forced them 'to urinate and [do] bowel movements in plastic bags," Kine said, citing Boisner.

In a television interview, Tondo station 1 commander Superintendent Roberto Domingo claimed that it was his initiative to use the vacant space in their office to accommodate other detainees since their cell is congested.

Domingo also denied the allegations they are extorting money.

"Hindi po tagong kulungan 'yun, 'yun po ay holding area kasi doon ang investigation room ng drug enforcement unit… wala na po kami mapaglagyan ng preso dahil sa dami," Domingo told "State of the Nation" of GMA News TV.

The HRW, meanwhile, noted a similar case of alleged police abuse in the killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo. The victim was abducted and killed by cops inside the PNP national headquarters in Quezon 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 $100,000 ransom from his family," Kine said.

Earlier, HRW research also exposed the death squad-style extrajudicial executions by police and police agents.

Kine believes that the key to stop the abuse of human rights in the Philippines is an investigation by United Nations.

"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," Kine said.

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