Members of the United Nations have called on the Philippines to strengthen its judicial system.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald De La Rosa backed his men in the controversy over a secret cell, supporting them in their decision to “maximize space” inside an already overcrowded jail in Tondo, Manila.
On April 27, officials of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) discovered a dozen men and women hidden inside a dark, squalid, windowless passage without a toilet, shut tight by a wooden bookshelf.
Drawing flak from human rights groups and public officials, among them former police chief Senator Panfilo Lacson, De La Rosa said in news reports:
“Para sa akin, kawawa naman yung mga pulis ko. Gumagawa na lang ng diskarte para ma-maximize ‘yung space, masikip na masyado doon, hinanapan ng lugar, sus, sila pa may kasalanan. Legally, may pananagutan sila kasi hindi 'yun talaga authorized but ano ngayon? Isaksak nila ipilit doon hanggang mamatay sa suffocation ‘yung mga nasa presuhan?”
[“I feel sorry for my police officers. They were just being resourceful, they thought of maximizing space by improvising an already congested cell and now they’re the ones at fault. Legally, they are accountable because the jail cell wasn’t really authorized, so what? Should they hold detainees (in regular, crowded cells) until they die of suffocation?]
(Sources: Inquirer: Bato: Secret cell inmates lied to CHR; ABS-CBN News: Bato: 'Secret jail' illegal but was necessary; Interaksyon, watch from 0:22 to 0:29: Bato on Manila police’s secret cell: Unauthorized and legally questionable, but so what?)
What laws, treaties and police protocols are violated by the PNP in keeping secret and unofficial prisons?
Here’s a rundown.
Are secret detention places allowed?
The 1987 Constitution explicitly forbids secret detention places. Article 3, Section 12 (2), reads: “No torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will shall be used against him. Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.”
Section 7 of Republic Act No. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 prohibits “secret detention places, solitary confinement, incommunicado or other similar forms of detention, where torture may be carried out with impunity.”
Republic Act No. 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act also states that all persons detained shall be “placed solely in officially recognized and controlled places of detention.”
In keeping a secret jail cell, the PNP has violated not only laws but also its own rule.
Rule 13.6 (g) of the PNP Operational Procedures states, “The bringing of arrested persons to secret detention places, solitary confinement and the like is prohibited.”
What are the minimum standards for detention facilities?
Substandard use or inadequate penal facilities under subhuman conditions is punishable by law, according to Article 3, Section 12 (2) the 1987 Constitution.
The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners prescribes the following conditions, among others, which appear to have been violated by the sordid condition of the secret jail cell in Tondo:
- All accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health, due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation;
- The windows shall be large enough to enable the prisoners to read or work by natural light, and shall be so constructed that they can allow the entrance of fresh air whether or not there is artificial ventilation;
- The sanitary installations shall be adequate to enable every prisoner to comply with the needs of nature when necessary and in a clean and decent manner;
- Adequate bathing and shower installations shall be provided so that every prisoner may be enabled and required to have a bath or shower, at a temperature suitable to the climate, as frequently as necessary for general hygiene according to season and geographical region, but at least once a week in a temperate climate.
- All parts of an institution regularly used by prisoners shall be properly maintained and kept scrupulously clean at all times.
- Separation of categories
- Men and women shall so far as possible be detained in separate institutions; in an institution which receives both men and women the whole of the premises allocated to women shall be entirely separate.
- Every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served;
- Drinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he needs it.
- Contact with the outside world
- Prisoners shall be allowed under necessary supervision to communicate with their family and reputable friends at regular intervals, both by correspondence and by receiving visits.
How should prisoners be treated?
“Physical, psychological or degrading punishment” of prisoners is punishable by law according to Article 3, Section 19 (2) of the 1987 Constitution. RA 9745 also bans “deliberate and aggravated treatment or punishment.”
The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights safeguards the right of arrested persons to dignity. Article 10 says, “All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”
Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no one shall be subjected to “torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which was cited by the CHR in its 2015 report on the state of detention facilities in Metro Manila, prohibit the following: Corporal punishment, punishment by placing in a dark cell, and all cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments.
What follows an arrest?
Police can detain arrested persons for 12 hours for crimes punishable by light penalties; 18 hours for crimes punishable by correctional penalties; and 36 hours for crimes punishable by afflictive or capital penalties. Failure to deliver the arrested persons to judicial authorities within the prescribed period shall be punished by imprisonment, depending on how long detainees have been held.
When a public official detains a person without legal grounds and delays his or her release, it shall be considered arbitrary detention under Articles 124 to 126 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Executive Orders. No. 56 s. 1986 and 272 s. 1987.
The detainees in the Tondo secret jail cell told the CHR they have been held for a week, allegedly for being involved in illegal drugs. But National Capital Region Police Office Chief Oscar Albayalde said the prisoners were picked up only on April 27.
Under Article 124 of the Revised Penal Code, a public officer or employee shall face imprisonment from four months and a day to four years and two months, if the detention did not exceed three days.
If the detention lasted from four to 15 days, the penalty of from four years, two months and one day to 10 years' imprisonment shall be meted out.
Other possible violations of Tondo police
The CHR also found that there were no records of the arrest and inquest proceedings for the prisoners, violating the rights of those who were arrested.
Article 3, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution states, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”
A written custodial investigation report signed or thumbmarked by the arrested person and prepared by the investigating officer is among the rights of detained persons, based on Republic Act No. 7438 or the Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation as well as the Duties of the Arresting, Detaining and Investigating Officers.
Rule 21 of the PNP Operational Procedures requires inquest proceedings to begin upon the presentation of arrested person and witness/es by the police officer before the inquest prosecutor.
An official up-to-date register of arrested persons, which can be accessed freely by relatives, lawyers, judges, official bodies and other interested parties, is mandated by the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act.
Public officials found to have violated the law shall be punished by reclusion perpetua, or shall be preventively suspended or summarily dismissed from service, depending on the result of a preliminary investigation.