Sat, Apr 29, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Detainees found in hidden Manila cell

‘PERSONAL GAIN’:The detainees said they were picked up about a week ago on the pretext of drug trafficking and that police demanded money for their release

AFP, MANILA

People sit inside a hidden cell at a police station in Manila’s Tondo area on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

A dozen people have been found stuffed inside a closet-sized cell hidden behind a bookshelf in a Philippine police station, triggering further alarm about abuse under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.

Members of the government’s human rights commission, accompanied by journalists, on Thursday evening found the men and women in a surprise visit to the station in the heart of capital Manila’s slum area.

Cries of “here we are, here we are” were heard from behind a wall, the rights workers and journalists said.

The rights workers then found a hidden door behind a bookshelf, leading to the cell.

Stunned detainees came stumbling out of the room, some begging for water while others, in tears, pleaded with the rights workers not to abandon them.

The detainees said they had been held for about a week after being arrested on allegations of drug use or trafficking and that police were demanding hefty payments in exchange for their freedom.

“They were picked up on the pretext of drugs, but they had not filed any charges against them,” Gilbert Boisner, Manila director for the rights commission who led the inspection, told reporters yesterday.

The station commander, Superintendent Robert Domingo, told reporters at the scene the detainees were arrested only the previous night and police were preparing to file charges against them.

Domingo was yesterday suspended pending an investigation, Philippine national police spokesman Senior Superintendent Dionardo Carlos said.

“He [Domingo] will undergo an administrative case. If evidence warrants, a criminal case will also be filed against him and the persons involved,” Carlos said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch said the incident was another sign of widespread rights abuse under Duterte’s war on drugs, which has seen thousands of drug suspects killed either by police officers or vigilantes.

“The discovery of the secret jail is just the latest sign of how police are exploiting Duterte’s abusive anti-drug campaign for personal gain,” a Human Rights Watch statement said.

Duterte in January briefly suspended all police from the crackdown after an official investigation found that drug officers had kidnapped a South Korean businessman and murdered him as part of an extortion scam.

Duterte then described the police force as “corrupt to the core” and vowed it would not be allowed to prosecute the drug war until its ranks had been “cleansed.”

Duterte redeployed police onto the drug war about a month later, without major reforms.

A Philippine lawyer on Monday filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court accusing Duterte of mass murder, saying his war on drugs had led to about 8,000 deaths.

The incident occurred as Duterte began welcoming Southeast Asian leaders for an ASEAN summit in Manila.

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