A LITTLE past eight in the evening of February 3, 2011, a group of plainclothes policemen raided a high-end relaxation spa in the Metrowalk Ortigas Center on Meralco Avenue. Clients on massage tables heard shouts from the outside??Dapâ, dapâ!? One man sweating alone inside the dry sauna, shouted at by one of the policemen??Nagtatago ka, ?no???left the sauna to join the six other men sitting along the hallway. He thought it was a holdup. It never occurred to him that the spa was in any fashion illegitimate. When he asked a woman who stood in the hallway speaking into a police radio, she told them it was a raid.
There were no police uniforms, although two wore pale blue CIDG shirts and jackets. Twenty women from the iSpa staff were put inside a jeepney. Seven customers, including two British nationals, were directed to enter a police FX. They were told they were proceeding to the headquarters of the Philippine National Police for identity validation. They were not told what crime demanded validation of identification. They asked again when they arrived at the CIDG building in Camp Crame. They asked what was happening, if they did anything wrong, if they were witnesses or suspects to a crime. They were told to follow the process.
A television played the news in the lobby. Chief Inspector Trajano, an affable policewoman who met with friends of the detained in the lobby, said that the raid was a result of a tip-off from a source. She said the police suspected that some masseurs had faulty papers, and that it was standard operating procedure to take everyone from the site and bring them to Camp Crame for validation. Asked why validation could not be done on site, why it was necessary to bring these men and women to the police headquarters unprotected, she said it was because there would be too many people asking too many questions.
The man from the sauna did not know this, sitting with strangers inside a room in the CIDG. He was waiting to be questioned, waiting to prove his identity, waiting, with six other confused men, to be told what was happening. The women sat in rows, in their jeans and shirts, and they did not know either. And because this was the PNP, whose reputation for torture and violence had its director general assuring the public that his men could be trusted, many of them were afraid. For as long as an individual is detained, against his will, in connection with an unspecified crime, it is an arrest. They waited two hours, and eventually a sheet of paper was passed around with instructions to detail name and address. It was, as it turned out, the extent of the ?validation of identification.? No IDs were checked. There were no questions or affidavits. The man from the sauna volunteered to show his ID. The 20 women were processed before the customers. When it was their turn, the customers were taken to medical and told to sign papers they were not physically harmed by the experience. They followed ?process.? When they were allowed to leave, there was relief.
I am told that the raid was unsuccessful, that the tip was proven false, that all papers were in order, and no charges were filed against any of the 27 people who were in iSpa on February 3, 2011. Republic Act 9208, the Anti-Trafficking of Women and Children Act, does not supersede the right of citizens against illegal seizures and searches. It does not, for example, permit unidentified policemen to escort individuals to the police headquarters without informing them of their rights, or telling them in what capacity they are being escorted. According to the men and women of CIDG, this is ?process.? CIDG Public Information Officer Francis Vargas claims this is not standard operational procedure, that verification of identity, if necessary, should be done on-location. Neither is it procedure to raid any establishment without a pre-operation plan that testifies enough evidence exists to justify the belief that crime is being committed?evidence that appears to have been missing given that not a single charge was filed.
This is what happened when the man from the sauna was walking down the steps of the building with the friends who had arrived to make sure he was safe. A woman arrived, strode up the steps carrying her purse, in jeans, a red shirt and red shoes, a woman who demanded to know if all four of those walking away were free to go. The men at the door said only one of them had been arrested, that the rest had come to pick him up, that they were not certain if they had been released.
I know this because I was walking down the steps of the CIDG myself, after signing the form confirming I had witnessed the release of Paolo Villaluna, acclaimed filmmaker and director of ANC?s ?Storyline,? my documentary partner of three years who did not understand why he was being described as an arrested man when all he did was drive to Metrowalk to sit in a sauna. He asked if he could leave, and they told him to go back inside. And so when he walked back up the steps he insisted on being told why he was being detained, and why he was being described as ?nahuli.? And because I am a journalist as well as a friend, and because I knew there was only so much you can accept in the interest of keeping the peace, I asked for the name of whoever was in charge to put on record. The woman in red, angrier at every question, demanded to know who I was and why I was asking. I said I was from the media, and showed ID.
?Isulat mo ito,? she said. It is difficult to describe on paper the degree of resentment that came with the answers. ?Police Superintendent Emma Libunao, chief of the CIDG?s Women and Children Protection Division.? And she cocked her head. ?Ako ?yun!?
She announced that what had occurred was a legitimate police operation under Republic Act 9208. I wrote it all down, bent to press my sheaf of papers against my thigh, as a policeman and the crowd of alleged arrested looked on. I saw a finger thrust at my writing, looked up to see Libunao glaring a foot away. I straightened up, still writing, and I asked if there was a problem.
And this is when Superintendent Emma Libunao, chief of the CIDG?s Women and Children Protection Division, drew her arm back and lunged. I do not know if she meant to punch or to slap, but I saw my director?s hand snapping against hers, saw her face thrust against mine, the hand stopped just short of my neck. And the seething woman said, ?Kanina ka pa!? One of her men held her back. Assault, we said. That?s assault.
Her men stepped between us, with Chief Inspector Trajano calmly asking me to step back, saying everyone was having a bad day, saying it would all pass. It did not stop one of Libunao?s men from jeering. We were asking for it, he said, because we kept asking questions.
That the chief of the women?s desk is comfortable swinging her fist at a female civilian is not an incident of monumental concern in a state where torture, rape and drug trafficking in the hands of the PNP headline the newspapers. Yet it is not difficult to imagine how the PNP treats its detained, those without the protection of press IDs hanging around their necks, or friends who are there to bear witness. It is also not difficult to imagine what happens if they demand answers.
When we left, Libunao was prancing around the lobby of the CIDG building, describing how she had been assaulted by questions.
Perhaps she was having a bad day.