Philippine National Police chief Dir. Gen. Ronald dela Rosa has defended the detention of a dozen people inside a closet-sized secret cell at the Manila Police District Station 1 in Tondo in a case that raised further alarm about abuses under President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.
The Commission on Human Rights discovered a dozen men and women packed into the tiny cell behind a wooden cabinet during an unannounced visit to the police station in a Manila slum neighborhood late Thursday evening.
The resulting outcry saw officers suspended and an official inquiry launched, but on late Friday Dela Rosa visited the police station and defended his men’s actions.
“As long as the prisoners were not tortured or extorted, it’s okay with me,” he told reporters.
The detainees said they had been held for about a week after being arrested on allegations of drug use or trafficking and that police had demanded hefty payments in exchange for their freedom.
Dela Rosa rejected the allegations and accused the CHR, an independent government body, of plotting to embarrass Duterte’s government.
The scandal came to light as Duterte, who won last year’s presidential election on a pledge to kill tens of thousands of criminals, hosted fellow leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at their annual meeting.
Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde has conceded that congested detention facilities are widespread.
Police have since reported killing 2,724 people as part of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, although authorities insist the shootings have been in self-defense.
Many thousands of others have been killed by shadowy vigilantes, according to rights groups.
International rights monitor Human Rights Watch on Saturday called on the Philippines to free all “unlawfully detained” suspects and abolish unofficial police lock-up cells.
“Secret jails may just be one more form of police criminality that has multiplied during the drug war,” the group’s deputy Asia director Phelim Kine said in a statement.
A party-list lawmaker has also sought a congressional probe into the secret detention cell.
Deputy minority leader and Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, a former human rights lawyer, said he will file a resolution for the probe on possible violations of Republic Act No. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 once Congress resumes session on Tuesday.
“I find it profoundly disturbing that these men and women were illegally detained—because there appears to be no records of their arrest—and subjected to cruel, degrading, and inhumane conditions,” Roque said.
“The PNP should step back in the manner the war on drugs is being carried out because it appears to embolden scalawags. The PNP leadership should prosecute these miscreants to show resolve to follow the Rule of Law,” Roque added. With AFP