Twelve prisoners found in cell hidden behind police station bookcase

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Despite having to record of their arrest, the police station chief refused to release the detainees. Picture by Eloisa Lopez of Rappler

In a surprise inspection today (Thursday, April 27) investigators from the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) discovered 12 people detained in a secret cell concealed behind a bookcase in a Manila police station.

A shocked Gilbert Boisner, Metro Manila CHR director, said the alleged drug suspects’ arrests were not even recorded.

Despite this police refused to free them, saying: “We arrested them. You can’t take them”.

“They have been picked and they have to pay up to be freed. That’s the allegation,” he told reporters. “I’m really mad. Did you see that? It’s terrible. My God!”

Station commander Superintendant Robert Domingo initially denied there was a hidden cell inside the station.

But Boisner, following a tip off, took a closer look at a brown bookcase in the office. After knocking against the wood, a woman’s voice was heard to say: “Someone’s here.”

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The inspectors discovered the cell behind this bookcase. Picture by Eloisa Lopez of Rappler.

Further investigation revealed an L-shaped piece of metal serving as a lock.

Behind the shelf was a passage that led to the dark, cramped and windowless cell.

The sight shocked the CHR team. “The police asked if this was a surprise inspection. But I’m the one surprised,” Boisner said.

The 12 men and rescued from the secret cell said they were arrested but no cases had been filed against them. Boisner confirmed that there was no record of the drug suspects’ arrests.

Lawyer Brenda Canapi, head of the CHR’s jail visitorial division, expressed disgust at the “inhumane” conditions endured by the suspects.

Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Domingo denied any irregularity, claiming the prisoneres were arrested during a “one time, big time” anti-narcotics operation the previous day.

However, Grace de Guzman, aged 44, one of the detainees, told she had been locked in the cell with her for a week. She says she was forcibly taken from her house for no clear reason.

Domingo said he couldn’t mix the drug suspects with other detainees in the station’s official cell “because cases have yet to be filed against them.”

He said cases against the detainees in the main lockup had already been filed with the Manila prosecutor’s office.

Domingo also denied allegations that his men were extorting money from the suspects.

Although he agreed to release the detainees from the secret cell, they would not be freed from custody.

The cell, about a metre wide and five metres long, was originally used to hold trash. It  had no light and was poorly ventilated. Boisner said: “Detainees claim the lock-up cell does not have any source of light and ventilation. The two urinals inside do not function, forcing many of them to urinate and do bowel movement in plastic bags.”

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The chief of the police station says he will contest the prisoner’s version of events, saying: “It’s their word against ours”.

“It’s such a waste of space. Why should I not maximise it?” Domingo said, adding that the bookcase was used merely to cover the entrance to the cell.

Shamelessly, he also said the police enjoyed the presumption of regularity, and that it was “their word against our word”, referring to the suspects.