CEBU - The regional director of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency denied accusations of rights abuses after hundreds of prisoners in a Philippine jail were ordered to strip naked while being searched for contraband.
PDEA-7 Regional Director Yogi Ruiz assured that no human rights were violated in the conduct of the greyhound operation at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC).
Ruiz said the inmates were ordered to remove their clothes inside the detention cells before proceeding to the quadrangle.
Male and female prisoners were also separated during the search, with lady agents inspecting the female inmates. Ruiz said female prisoners were directed to a specific area, separate from the male inmates.
Photos released by the PDEA and provincial police showed the inmates sitting naked and cross legged in neat rows on the concrete quadrangle, illuminated by spotlights, as armed police guarded them.
With the photos gaining traction on social media, human rights groups voiced concern.
"This incident clearly amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners," Amnesty International said in a statement.
Amnesty cited United Nations' standards and Philippine laws in highlighting the obligation of authorities to ensure prisoners were not subjected to torture or ill-treatment.
Human Rights Watch also said international standards prohibited searches that intimidated or unnecessarily intruded upon a prisoner's privacy.
"The conduct of these searches -- out in the open and permitting photographs to be taken -- was inhuman and degrading and violated the prisoners' rights to privacy," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
Ruiz said that it was a judgment call for them to have inmates naked, instead of facing the risk of having one of his agents killed. He said law enforcers had to make sure that the inmates were not armed to prevent possible riots and no other contraband will be hidden under any clothing.
Authorities found 80 cellphone units, laptops, bladed weapons, P90,000 cash, and 19 sachets of suspected shabu from the cells of over 3,000 inmates of the CPDRC.
Investigators of Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas visited CPDRC on Friday morning. They interviewed randomly picked inmates of the facility about how the operation was conducted.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman Derrick Carreon said the stripping of the inmates was on the order of the provincial governor and the guards.
"We just provide technical expertise," he said.
Provincial government information officer Jethro Bacolod told AFP the mass stripping was "an SOP", or standard operating procedure for raids to detect contraband.
He said the prison warden had been sacked because of the contraband that was found during the raid.
The Cebu prison became famous in 2007 due to popular YouTube videos showing inmates performing choreographed dances to hits such as Michael Jackson's "Thriller". With Agence France Presse