Secret hell | Inquirer Opinion

Secret hell

/ 12:20 AM May 02, 2017

Supt. Robert Domingo, the commander of Manila Police District Station 1 in Tondo where 12 men and women were discovered being held in a cramped, previously unknown detention cell, has been relieved of his post pending an inquiry into the controversy. Well and good—but the matter cannot end there.

A Commission on Human Rights team made the appalling discovery following a tip that drug suspects were being detained at the police station without any formal charges and that payment was being demanded from their families for their release. The surprise inspection revealed that the detainees were crammed inside a cell no more than five feet wide, the entrance to which was concealed by a bookshelf. Ventilation consisted of a single exhaust fan, and there was no toilet; some of the detainees said they had to perform their bodily functions with the help of plastic bags. To obtain release from such hellish conditions, their families had to cough up amounts ranging from P40,000 to P300,000.


According to the CHR, some detainees had been locked up for 10 days. Domingo denied this, claiming that the detainees were rounded up on April 27 and that their inquest was merely delayed because of the holiday connected to the Asean summit. Asked why he had to jam the suspects into a secret cell, Domingo said that he was just “maximizing space” given the overcrowded condition of the station’s regular cell, and that the detainees were not being fleeced for their release.

It was Director Oscar Albayalde, the chief of the National Capital Region Police Office, who made the laudable move to relieve Domingo the day after the CHR’s discovery. Notably, Albayalde also thanked the CHR “for taking time” to inspect police stations and providing “an eye-opener for all of us to revisit the need for better detention cells and improvement of our jail facilities.”


Albayalde’s words were a reassurance that at the very least, the Philippine National Police recognized the grave irregularity of what had been going on in MPD Station 1. Bafflingly, however, his sensible response was apparently not the spin the PNP wanted to deflect this latest blow to its image. PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa would eventually take to the cameras to lambaste, not the documented mischief of his men, but the CHR for allegedly timing its raid during the Asean summit.

There was not even a token promise to look into the matter: Dela Rosa basically absolved his men on the spot, saying they had done nothing wrong (“Ang pulis ko walang ginawang kalokohan”), and that “as long as they haven’t hurt or extorted from the detainees, it’s OK with me.”

Except, as pointed out by CHR Chair Jose Luis Martin Gascon, what the cops did was illegal: “The antitorture and antienforced disappearance laws specifically prohibit secret detention facilities.

The Constitution itself prohibits cruel and degrading punishment and solitary confinement… The law is clear on it: that it is illegal. The antitorture law specifies who is liable, which includes the commanding officer of the station, who should be held responsible immediately, prima facie, for facilities like this.”

The chief law enforcer of the Philippines is expected, above all, to know the law; he made an oath to uphold and enforce it. If he not only flouts the law but, worse, also uses the power of his office to unilaterally invest impunity on his men to do as they pleased, without accountability or consequences, then he is essentially betraying his oath. Dela Rosa’s rash defense of his men, and his shocking mindset that what they did was perfectly aboveboard, perhaps even expected of them, harm multiple constituencies: the institution he is sworn to serve, the men and women in it who end up with a fundamentally warped sense of what is right and wrong, and the public at large that ends up bearing the brunt of more corrupt, abusive cops.

How come Albayalde appears to know this, and his boss doesn’t?

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TAGS: Bato, CHR, Commission on Human Rights, detention cell, Editorial, opinion, Oscar Albayalde, PNP, tondo
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