Ombudsman drops charges vs cops behind 'secret jail' in Tondo

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 27 2021 01:48 PM | Updated as of Apr 27 2021 02:01 PM

Ombudsman drops charges vs cops behind 'secret jail' in Tondo 1
Detainees wait inside a hidden jail cell, masked by a wooden shelf, at the Manila Police District Station 1. Around 12 detainees alleged on April 27, 2017 that they were being held at the 1 x 3 meter detention waiting for ransom so they can be freed. Station 1 Commander Supt. Robert Domingo denied the allegation and said the detainees were awaiting inquest. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Office of the Ombudsman has dismissed criminal and administrative complaints filed by the Commission on Human Rights against Manila policemen for supposedly maintaining a secret detention facility in Tondo for arrested suspects.

On April 27, 2017, the CHR conducted a raid at the Raxabago Police Station 1 in Tondo, Manila to investigate allegations that policemen were illegally holding detainees to be released reportedly upon payment of ransom. The detainees were found in a cramped jail cell hidden behind a bookshelf in the Raxabago Police Station.

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CHR said there was no record of the arrest and inquest proceedings for the detainees, who alleged that cops held them in the facility for a week, without notifying their families or lawyers.

In a resolution approved by Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices Cyril Ramos dated Dec. 22, 2020, Police Supt. Robert Domingo, PO2 Dylan Verdan, PO1 Berly Apolonio and other John Does were cleared from complaints of arbitrary detention, grave threats, delay in the delivery of persons to the proper judicial authorities, grave coercion, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The Ombudsman resolution said the CHR failed to establish probable cause against the respondents as they failed to show strong evidence that the detained persons were being held beyond the period allowed by law.

In its complaint, the CHR said the detention cell with 3 females and 9 males inside measured 1x5 meters and had a wooden shelf serving as its door.

The Ombudsman, however, said that the CHR failed to sufficiently controvert the claim of the police that the cell had a separate ingress and that the shelf also served as a partition.

“PSupt. Domingo claims that budget constraints forced them to be resourceful. Contrary to the allegations of the CHR, the holding room has sufficient lighting, ventilation, water supply and urinals,” the resolution said.

DEFECATING IN PLASTIC BAGS

The CHR described the facility as “cramp, dingy, fetid and dark” and had only 1 male urinal, with some of the detainees urinating and defecating in plastic bags.

The commission also alleged that the names of the detainees who were unlawfully arrested were not recorded in the logbook, they were not subjected to inquest proceedings and some police officers demanded money in exchange for their release.

The Ombudsman, however, said Domingo denied the allegations of torture, inhumane treatment, unlawful arrest and extortion.

“In both criminal and administrative proceedings, the burden of proof lies with the complainant. He who alleges, not he who denies, must prove,” the Ombudsman resolution said.

The Ombudsman added that it was beyond dispute that the police put the detainees inside a cramped space but there was no showing that they did so in bad faith.

'OMBUDSMAN DECISION A SETBACK'

The Commission on Human Rights is appealing to the Ombudsman to review its decision.

“We appeal to the Ombudsman to thoroughly review their decision. It is crucial that we work together in ensuring that grave abuses are held to account to prevent such abuses from happening again,” the CHR said in a statement.

The CHR remained firm that the Manila policemen in their complaint must be held accountable as their supposed acts may also embolden other police officers inclined to engage in similar “wrongful” practice.

“Scalawags among the police ranks will not be truly dealt with if those who have committed serious violations, particularly concerning fundamental human rights, are not held to account,” the CHR said in a statement.

For his part, Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said a CHR video of the cramped jail cell shows that it was "not fit for living beings." 

"Wala bang malicious intent, walang bad faith iyong isiksik mo ang mga nahuli mo sa isang napaka-sikip na preso, kung saan doon mo rin sila pinaiihi at pinadudumi, wala silang ilaw, walang sapat na bentilasyon? This cell isn't fit for any living being much less for humans. Talagang inhumane, it is really torturous," Gaite said in a statement.

The CHR stressed that torture and degrading treatment, expressly prohibited by the Constitution and the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, usually took place in hidden jails

“The Ombudsman's decision to junk the case is a setback in our effort to eliminate the illegal practice of using secret detention facilities,” the agency said.

The CHR also noted that the House Committee on Human Rights had unanimously recommended the filing of charges against the erring police officers in 2017.

“The liabilities of the police not only breach human rights standards but also their very own police operational procedures. Their lapses and actions in this case negated their very mandate, which is 'to serve and protect,'” the agency added.

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