MANILA – The chief of the National Capital Region Police Office on Friday relieved of his command the head of Tondo’s Station 1 over the discovery of an alleged “secret detention cell” for drug suspects. NCRPO chief, Director Oscar Albayalde, appealed, however, to the Commission on Human Rights to also consider the sacked officer’s claim that he was merely trying to decongest the regular detention area owing to the new anti-crime sweep.
Quoting Supt. Robert Domingo, the sacked station chief, Albayalde described the room that CHR called a secret cell as just a “temporary staging area” while the suspects are being processed for inquest, since the regular detention area was filled to double its capacity.
Albayalde added that the situation at Station 1 could even find parallels in some other police stations elsewhere, which have also found themselves suddenly crammed with suspects way beyond their carrying capacity with the war on drugs.
The 12 suspects at Tondo Station 1 had told CHR and reporters who joined the CHR visitorial team that did the surprise inspection Thursday that they had been held for days with no charges filed, but Domingo insisted they were only picked up the day before.
Some of the one dozen suspects – male and female mixed in a small, hot room behind a Cabinet inside the drug enforcement unit towards the rear of the police station – alleged they were tortured in order to pressure them to cough up money for their release. One said he was told the other day that if his relatives still failed to deliver P50,000, “tutuluyan ka na namin.”
Besides being hot, the secret cell had no lights and windows – like the tiny cells used for solitary confinement.
The CHR, which is mandated by law to conduct inspections of police station detention cells and prisons nationwide, earlier received a complaint of a drug suspect who had been kept for days, but whose arrest was not reflected in the blotter. The suspect’s family was forced to cough up some money for his safe release.
The head of the CHR visitorial division that stumbled Thursday on the secret cell in Tondo, Atty. Brenda Canapi, barely hid her disgust: “Very low standard.. madilim.. wala ngang bintana…marami talagang violation.. Napaka… di makatao [It’s dark, windowless. There are many violations; it’s so inhumane].”
Recovered inside the secret detention cell was a device used to electrocute detainees.
One detainee said he had been there for one week, but no charges were filed. “Binugbog po ako..pinasok sa aparador.. pinlastikan yung mukha ko habang kinukuryente po ako, tapos tatadyakan nya po ako [I was beaten up, stuffed inside a cabinet, a plastic bag pulled down over my head while I was being electrocuted; I was repeatedly kicked],” said detainee Jervin Santos.
“Wala pa pong blotter, bago ka pumasok dun bubugbugin ka ulit [There’s no report on the blotter; before they put you in that cell they beat you up again].”
He said the policemen demanded P50,000 for his release, with a threat that if his family failed to bring the money by Friday, “tutuluyan na kayo, ha [we will go ahead and punish you].”
One woman, Grace de Guzman, cried because she said she was just washing dishes when police picked her up.
“Wala po akong kasalanan..ayaw po nilang maniwala kasi inalala nila pera pangtubos [I’m innocent. They refused to belkeve me because all they were after was the money to redeem me].”
Gross violations: CHR
The CHR said the act of detaining the suspects beyond the prescriptive period with no charges filed grossly violated their rights and legal procedures.
Domingo, however, insisted the papers of the detainees were being processed for inquest proceedings.
He said most of the suspects were picked up just last Wednesday in a one-time, big-time operation and were still being processed.
He said he had them moved to the small room at the back of the big cabinet in the anti-drug unit only because he wanted to decongest the station’s regular detention cell.
Tension at precinct
The atmosphere grew tense late Thursday when the CHR team tried to get the 12 detainees, with Domingo insisting they will all be charged. He said three had already undergone inquest and the others were just being processed.
The CHR team relented and left.
Albayalde, Coronel visit
On Friday, Albayalde, and Manila Police District Director Joel Coronel visited Station 1 and immediately relieved Domingo and one dozen members of the drug enforcement unit while they are being investigated.
Nonetheless, Albayalde insisted there was no “secret jail” in MPD Station 1.
He called it a temporary staging area for people arrested in the police’s anti-drug sweep, because the regular detention cell is very overcrowded. He said this could be happening not just in Station 1 but in many police stations around the country.
“We are grateful to the CHR for checking up on the stations but we also appeal to them to look at the situation, to consider the limited resources of the police force. When even the cops assigned here can barely fit in to the station, what more the detainees?” Albayalde said, speaking mostly in Filipino.
He also warned the CHR that its attempt to take out the detainees could make it liable for obstruction of justice.
“May mga kaso ho ang mga ito. They were arrested for violation of 9165; otherwise kung padrinohin nila ito, i-rescue nila . . . then baka ma file-lan din sila ng kaso ng obstruction of justice.”
Nonetheless, he assured CHR he will not tolerate the mistreatment of detention prisoners and will investigate the allegations of torture and extortion.
Actual detention cell too hot, stinks
Besides the so-called secret jail, Albayalde also inspected the actual detention cell at Station 1, where more than 80 detainees were cramped in a space that could fit at most 40.
The stifling heat and mix of body fluids caused an overpowering stench.
As a result, when three of the 12 who were kept in the so-called secret jail faced the media, they said the latter was better than the regular detention area.
Jervin Perez, for instance, said they could only sleep in a sitting position in the detention area; compared to the secret cell where they could still “lie down straight.”
Jervin and the two others belied the others’ allegation of mistreatment and extortion by cops.
Asked by reporters if anyone had been beaten up or electrocuted, one said, “I don’t know, sir. It didn’t happen to me.” One claimed the bump on his head was caused by an accident when he hit a corner.
Until the end, Domingo insisted, “hindi naman secret cell ito. Nakita nyo naman, bukas naman. Nakita nung mga pamilya . . . pumupunta rito, eh paanong secret? Kung secret, hindi na nila nakakausap pamilya nila.”
He said there was ventilation in the room and an area for urinating.