PNP human rights chief on Manila's 'secret jail': Are we to blame?

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 16 2017 08:13 PM

Fernando G. Sepe, Jr., ABS-CBN News

Risks of human rights violations high in overcrowded jails, says Siervo 

MANILA - The Philippine National Police Human Rights Affairs Office (PNP-HRAO) chief said the risk of committing human rights violations is high in overcrowded facilities, like what happened in the Manila Police District (MPD) Station 1 where arrested drug suspects were kept in a "secret jail."

Chief Supt. Dennis Siervo, director of the PNP-HRAO, said officials of the MPD Station 1 had no choice but to put those arrested in a temporary make-shift cell because of the overcrowded detention facility of MPD Station 1. 

"Are we really to be blamed for all of these? Ginawa naman namin, ininquest namin, why andiyan pa rin sa amin? We did not order that the suspect will remain with us," Siervo told reporters in a press briefing at Camp Crame on Tuesday.

Siervo explained that the custodial facility for arrested male personalities at the MPD Station 1 can only hold 30 persons. But the number of persons in the main cell of the station at the time when the "secret jail" was discovered was at least 70.

He said the police had no choice but to transfer the other arrested suspects in a temporary area, and the only available space at the time was the MPD's supply room -- a 1.2-by-7-meter area which had to be closed with a bookshelf because it had no doors. 

"We wanted them [the arrested suspects] out of the facility because we do not have food provisions for them. But there is an order from the court na dito [muna sila] sa amin. We had to bear with it," he said. 

More overcrowded MPD stations bared

Siervio said the increase in the number of suspects in police stations' custodial facilities is due to the high volume of arrests in anti-drug operations. He said MPD stations 4, 6, 8 and 10 are also crowded with an excess of 13, 26, 9 and 8 arrested personalities, respectively.

He said the suspects cannot be transferred yet to the detention facilities of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) because they are still waiting for commitment orders from the courts. He added they already requested the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) to act on this immediately. 

But the BJMP has problems of its own. It reported a 558% congestion rate with 135,052 detainees in their detention facilities. BJMP Chief Serafin Barretto Jr. said they expect the total number of the detainees to rise to 200,000 before the end of the year.

Siervo said there is a need to discuss overcrowded custodial and detention facilities with the other pillars of the criminal justice system, which include the courts and the BJMP. He believes there is a need to revisit existing policies and laws on where to detain arrested suspects. 

"Vulnerable kami niyan. The risk is very high of violating human rights conditions under the present situation," he added, stressing that the overcrowding of cells do not meet the standards of the United States.

Siervo clarified that his statements are just based on the information his office has gathered, and that they are still coordinating with the PNP - Internal Affairs Service (IAS) for more data. 

The police official said he committed to answer questions on the "secret jail" because members of the media were sending him questions when he was busy attending the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva.