EJKs, secret cells, and hope for ‘homo sacer’ | Inquirer Opinion

EJKs, secret cells, and hope for ‘homo sacer’

An inspection by the Commission on Human Rights last April 27 exposed a “secret” detention cell hidden behind a bookshelf in Tondo’s Manila Police District Station 1. Twelve men and women—alleged drug suspects—walked out of the smelly, damp, 1×5-meter room with tales of torture, ill-treatment and extortion.

Their link to the war on drugs is crucial.


Eight thousand casualties confirm the disturbing emergence of what Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls “homo sacer”—beings reduced to mere biological existence, denied of all rights, marked for execution anytime and anywhere.

The Philippine National Police has apparently been playing fast and loose with its own operating procedures since July 2016, when the government launched Oplan Double Barrel.


The commander of MPD Station 1, Supt. Robert Domingo, claims the detainees were still being processed; this was why their names do not appear in the station’s blotter.

He must be ignorant of the 2013 PNP Operations Manual, which requires the immediate documentation of detainees, arrested suspects, and suspects killed in police operations. Or perhaps he is trying to save his own skin. He could be prosecuted due to command responsibility under the Anti-Torture Law (Republic Act No. 9745).

Last April 26, the terrible realities of the war on drugs prodded our young lawyers at the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) to submit a letter-petition to the Supreme Court seeking the issuance of new rules “Contra Homo Sacer.” These rules would require the effective investigation of deaths resulting from police antidrug operations or vigilante-style killings.

MPD Station 1’s secret detention cell symbolizes the rise of many such “camps,” those “zones of anomie” reserved for the “homo sacer.” There, their fate is uncertain at best and they may be targeted for elimination at any time, in the name of public order, at worst.

Giorgio Agamben warns us of the reemergence of such a disturbing situation, where legalized illegalities become the norm rather than the exception.

Under our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, “secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.” The UN Convention on Torture (1986) and its Optional Protocol (2012), to which the Philippines is a party, also prohibit such secret detention cells.

Only in 2010, 10 policemen at Tondo Station 11 were implicated in a torture case. A video was leaked of Insp. Julius Binayug torturing suspect Darius Evangelista by pulling at the latter’s genitals with a string.


Centerlaw represents the victims in the case they filed—the very first antitorture case—at the Manila Regional Trial Court.

In its letter-petition, Centerlaw implores the Supreme Court to issue rules requiring the police to automatically turn over to prosecutors all investigation records each time a suspect dies in a police operation or a
vigilante killing. The prosecutors must also inform the CHR of such incidents when
reported to them.

Currently, the police make no such reports to prosecutors, preventing any independent investigation of deaths under
suspicious circumstances.

The petition for rules “Contra Homo Sacer” comes at an opportune time. We are marking the 10th year since the Supreme Court’s rules on the writ of amparo were crafted in 2007. These rules emerged from an unprecedented summit organized by the high court in response to the spate of killings of activists and journalists during the Arroyo administration.

The Supreme Court and its Philippine Judicial Academy are now reviewing the protective writs of habeas corpus, amparo, and habeas data.

Centerlaw is hopeful that the high court will once again rise to the occasion and add rules “Contra Homo Sacer” to the great suite of human rights protections it created in that time of darkness 10 years ago.

Lawyers Romel Regalado Bagares and Cristina Ignacio Antonio of Centerlaw won the first challenge against “tokhang” at the Supreme Court. They obtained a writ of amparo for the families of four men executed by Quezon City policemen, as well as for the lone survivor, Efren Morillo.

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