Rights group calls on CHR to probe secret prisons

“If there is anything that recent abduction cases prove, it is the existence of secret prisons maintained by state forces, in violation of Republic Act 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012.”


MANILA – Human rights group Karapatan is calling on the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the existence of what they perceive as secret prisons maintained by state forces.

The group made the statement after victims of recent incidents of activist abductions surfaced, revealing that they were abducted by state agents. The most recent was the sudden disappearance of two activists, Patricia Cierva and Micheal Casaño on May 18 who were later presented to the public as “surrenderees”.

Read: ‘Respect rights of 2 surfaced youth activists,’ group urges gov’t

“If there is anything that recent abduction cases prove, it is the existence of secret prisons maintained by state forces, in violation of Republic Act 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012,” the group said in a statement.

Enforced disappearance is punishable with life imprisonment under the RA 10353. The law also requires authorities to regularly submit to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) a complete and updated list of all detention facilities. The CHR, on the other hand, has the mandate to make unannounced visits to these prisons.

Karapatan recalled that it was during CHR’s unofficial visits that an “unofficial jail” was discovered behind a bookshelf in a police station in Tondo, Manila.

“The detainees found huddled in the said secret jail accused the police of torturing and detaining them for a week without informing their families and lawyers and extorting money from them to secure their release,” the group said.

Meanwhile, Karapatan asserted that the “‘surrender’ of Ciervo and Casaño does not in any way diminish the 501st Brigade’s liability under the Anti-Desaparecido Law by not disclosing the custody of Cierva and Casaño for 15 days.”

“Since neither Cierva nor Casaño is facing criminal charges, the 501st Brigade should immediately release them or be held liable for its continuing illegal detention of the two activists,” Karapatan said in a statement.

Karapatan also cited the abduction of Cordilleran activist Stephen “Steve” Tauli who was taken outside the office of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in Ag-a Road, Appas, Tabuk City on August 20, 2022.

Tauli was found on the night of August 21 last year. During his arrest, Tauli reportedly underwent interrogation about his work as well as the identities of certain alleged personalities of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).

“His captors transferred Tauli to another vehicle and took him to a house where he was forced to sign a document stating his supposed position in the CPP-NPA. Tauli’s captors said they’ll let him live if he signs the document,” Karapatan said.

On Oct. 25, 2020, Karapatan said a young urban poor activist from Pandi, Bulacan was also abducted by four men in a mall in San Jose, Bulacan. He was forced into a vehicle and was brought to a hut in an isolated farm area. One of his captors introduced himself as a soldier from the 48th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

Like Tauli, this young activist was also accused of being an NPA member. He was also told to identify Kadamay leaders and forced to be recruited as an asset of the military.

“Out of fear, he agreed to be their asset, was given money and told to regularly report on his assignment. After four days, he was brought back to his community,” Karapatan said.

Cebu-based activists Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha also experienced the same. They were abducted on Jan. 10 this year at Pier 6, Cebu City. Their abductors also introduced themselves as police officers. They were blindfolded for five days while they were being held captive. On Jan. 15, Gumanao and Dayoha’s abductors dropped them off at a resort in Cebu where they were picked up by their families and colleagues.

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Karapatan said there may be hundreds of secret prisons scattered and maintained across the country “as part of the state’s repressive machinery.”

“And many of the desaparecidos like Dexter Capuyan, Bazoo de Jesus, Elgene Mungcal, Ma. Elena Pampoza and many others may be in them,” Karapatan said.

“We call on the Commission on Human Rights to stand by its mandate and initiate a thorough investigation of the State’s network of secret prisons and hold liable those found to be maintaining these prisons and/or holding victims of enforced disappearance in them,” they added. (RTS, RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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