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‘Hidden cell’ found in Manila Police District station

Detainees huddle in a makeshift detention cell hidden behind a shelf in the Manila Police District’s Drug Enforcement Unit office yesterday. MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

MANILA, Philippines - More than a dozen detainees were found in a nearly airless cell hidden behind a shelf at the Manila Police District (MPD) Station 1 yesterday.

Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and MPD officials clashed over the allegedly secret cell at the station in Tondo.  

The 1987 Constitution, which created the CHR, grants the agency the power to exercise visitorial powers over jails, prisons or detention facilities.

CHR-National Capital Region investigation chief Gilbert Boyser and his eight-man team made a “surprise visit” at the MPD Station 1 after receiving information that at least 12 persons were being held in a makeshift cell – only five feet wide and with no ventilation except for an exhaust fan – behind the station’s Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) office.

Boyser told The STAR the detainees were hidden from the public and did not undergo inquest proceedings. Their arrests were not properly logged, he added.

He said at least four individuals came forth to testify that they were being asked to produce money in exchange for their freedom.

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“These people are going to come out and file charges against the policemen. The process is highly irregular,” he said, adding that he will file charges against MPD Station 1 commander Superintendent Robert Domingo.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia told The STAR that the commission “confirmed that 12 people have been detained for at least 10 days without the filing of charges.”

De Guia said they are also investigating the allegations of those detained that they were tortured and suffered ill treatment while in detention. 

The detainees, however, told The STAR they were never tortured but some of them had been arrested over the weekend but no charges have been filed against them so far.

Domingo, however, claimed that all 12 detainees were arrested in a “One-Time, Big-Time” operation from Wednesday night to the wee hours of Thursday.

Haggling

Boyser said the detainees’ families told them they were haggling with DEU police officers on the “fee” for their release, which ranges from P40,000 to P100,000 per head.

Domingo and Boyser argued for several minutes in front of the detainees, with CHR representatives promising to dig deep and charge the erring policemen.

Domingo said he welcomed the investigation and the impending charges “because it is the only way for us to explain our side.”

Overcrowded

Domingo said the 12 detainees were temporarily held at the DEU office because their arrest papers were not yet completed.

“We only have one computer. We have very limited resources. All we can do is to process them very slowly,” he said, vowing to finish all the paperwork today and take the detainees to court.

The MPD Station 1 – a building that was formerly occupied by a Department of Public Works and Highways satellite office – has a detention facility that can only accommodate 40 males and 10 females, Domingo said.

There are currently more than 70 males and 15 females being held in the facility and a detainee told The STAR they sleep in shifts and take turns sitting down.

Breathless

Boyser said when they arrived at the station at past 6 p.m., the cell was covered by the shelf, making it harder for the detainees to breathe.

“It was like they were being hidden from plain view. Is that how we treat our suspects? These are suspects and have not been proven guilty yet. They have human rights to be protected,” he said.

Domingo, however, said he ordered the detainees be placed there because they cannot join the other inmates in the detention facility until they undergo inquest proceedings.

Domingo cited the case of his predecessor, Superintendent Redento Ulsano, who was relieved from his post as station commander after the CHR team who visited him last year filed cases against him for putting drug suspects in the cell of those who have already been inquested and are waiting for their transfer to the city jail.  – With Janvic Mateo

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