MANILA — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Tuesday reminded the Office of the Ombudsman of its mandate to "check abuse of power" after it exonerated the Manila City cops allegedly behind the controversial secret jail cell discovered in 2017 that shocked the nation.
"The Ombudsman's decision to junk the case is a setback in our effort to eliminate the illegal practice of using secret detention facilities... As institutions tasked to check abuse of power, the protection of the rights of all, particularly the vulnerable sectors, is the essence of our mandate," the CHR said in a statement.
In a resolution dated Dec. 22, 2020 but was only made public Tuesday, Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices Cyril Ramos said Police Supt. Robert Domingo, PO2 Dylan Verdan, PO1 Berly Apolonio and other John Does were not liable for the charges of arbitrary detention, grave threats, delay in the delivery of persons to proper judicial authorities, grave coercion, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
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 inside the station.
The detainees accused policemen of torturing them and demanding money for their freedom.
The Ombudsman resolution, however, said the CHR, which acted as complainant, failed to establish probable cause against the respondents, citing weak evidence to prove that the detained persons were being held beyond the period allowed by law.
In its statement on Tuesday, the CHR noted that the House Committee on Human Rights unanimously recommended the filing of charges against the erring cops.
It warned of the consequences should the Ombudsman stand by its resolution.
"The shocking and dehumanizing violations against the rights of detained persons in the MPD secret cell necessitate accountability. Such practice may persist and may even embolden police officers and authorities who are inclined to engage in such wrongful practice," the CHR said.
The commission appealed to the Ombudsman to revisit its decision, reminding it of its "crucial" role in maintaining the people's trust in legal institutions.
"We appeal to the Ombudsman to thoroughly review their decision... It is crucial that we preserve the faith of the people in the rule of law by demonstrating with resolve that justice can ultimately prevail."