In-house police investigators have concluded that the jail cell carefully hidden behind a hinged bookcase at a Manila police station was not “secret” — and has cleared officers involved of any wrongdoing.
Inspector General Alfegar Triambulo of the Philippine National Police-Internal Affairs Service (IAS) said imprisoning 12 undocumented suspects in the squalid, cramped cell did not violate any human rights or police regulations.
The illegal and unconstitutional holding pen was discovered last month during an unannounced inspection by the Commission of Human Rights (CHR), a government watchdog.
Despite denials by the station chief that he was holding people in a hidden cell, an investigator’s tapping on the wooden back of a bookcase elicited cries of distress from people hidden behind it.
Once released (from the cell, but not from custody), they claimed that they had been kept locked up without toilet facilities for several days, and that their families had been extorted to pay cash for their release.
However, Mr Triambulo said his investigators found that the hidden prisoners at Raxabago Police Station, Tondo, showed no “visible signs” of torture, had been allowed visitors and were legally processed 18 hours after their arrest.
Immediately after they were found by the CHR inspectors, they were formally charged (presumably just minutes before the officers involved were about to complete this crucial paperwork).
“They did not see any human rights violation,” said Mr Triambul, speaking of his investigating team, “That was the result of the investigation.”
He also claimed that the cell-behind-the-bookcase was nothing more than a “holding cell” and that local baranguay [village] officials knew it existed.
“They got testimony [from the detainees’ relatives] and two barangay chairs even made a certification that the cell had existed publicly for a long time, so that means that is not secret detention,” he said.
After the initial “discovery” of the cell, national police chief Ronald dela Rosa issued an angry defence of his minions, denying any wrong-doing.
He then claimed the CHR were trying to embarrass the Duterte administration, before suggesting that the hidden cell was nothing more than a “creative solution” for temporary overcrowding.
He later retracted this denial and apologised. He then “relieving” station chief Robert Domingo and 12 members of his Drug Enforcement Unit.
He followed up by pledging a thorough audit of all the country’s many hundreds of police stations to check for any other hidden detention facilities.
Remarkably, in just 24 hours, this exhaustive search was complete — and dela Rosa announced that the cell-behind-the-bookcase was one of a kind, giving his entire 160,000-strong force a clean bill of health.
In the interests of absolute transparency, he then asked Mr Triambulo to conduct a thorough investigation into the apparently “one-of-a-kind” case uncovered in Manila.
As well as issuing the justifications as outlined above, Mr Triambulo also accused the CHR of malpractice, saying the findings of their inspection — which was attended and recorded by several journalists — should have been kept under wraps until the police had completed their own internal investigations into the case.
He said: “What happened was even before the papers were completed, the CHR filed a case before the Ombudsman so immediately I directed the fact-finding team to give the results, which I had not seen at that time, to the Ombudsman because it might help.”
It’s good to know that the Philippines National Police (PNP) have such stringent and transparent internal mechanisms to uncover and punish wrongdoing in the ranks. It’s just a shame that meddling do-gooding “human rights” outsiders keep poking their noses in and making them look bad.
I mean, if people just took a step back, and thought about it a little, what could possibly be suspicious about holding a dozen undocumented prisoners in a makeshift cell carefully hidden behind a hinged bookshelf?
According to the PNP’s “painstaking and thorough” internal investigators, that’s just routine stuff (even though it hasn’t ever happened anywhere else, ever, of course).