Panelo backs mass strip search at Cebu prison
MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte's chief lawyer on Saturday, March 4, backed the controversial mass strip search at the Cebu provincial jail, saying it was a necessary security measure to rid inmates of contraband.
Asked about the incident, Chief Presidential Counsel Salvador Panelo said in an interview on state-run dzRB on Saturday: "Personally? Sa akin eh kung security ang pag-uusapan, eh siguro kailangang ganoon (For me, if we're talking about security, perhaps that really needed to be done)."
"Nakikinig ako doon sa paliwanag nung superintendent eh. Sabi niya, kung hindi kasi namin hubaran at merong isang, kahit na isang nakatagong bladed weapon doon…baka magtrigger pa ng riot ‘yan kung may manaksak diyan eh di syempre magkakagulo. Tama rin naman sila doon," he added.
(I was listening to the explanation of the superintendent. He said if the prisoners weren't ordered to strip, even if there was one bladed weapon that got through…it might have triggered a riot. If somebody tried to stab someone, there would be chaos. So they're also right in that regard.)
Panelo, however, questioned the dissemination of the photos of the naked prisoners who were gathered in the prison quadrangle during the joint raid of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and jail officials in the prison.
The release of the photos drew strong criticism from human rights groups and advocates.
Violation of privacy
Panelo said while the strip search, in itself, was justifiable, the photos should have been kept confidential as these violated the prisoners' right to privacy.
"Ang dapat lang nila pangalagaan, ang hindi ma-expose sa public ‘yung naked body ng isang bilanggo…..They should also be careful na ‘yung mga nakahubad ay hindi photographed at mailabas sa public," he said.
(They should have made sure that the naked bodies of the prisoners would not be exposed to the public….They should also be careful that the naked prisoners were not photographed and released to the public.)
Doing so, he said, "violates the right to privacy of a person."
Panelo said there would be no issue with the mass strip search if the whole matter was kept under wraps.
"Pero kung diyan lang sa loob ng bilangguan, sila-sila lang ang nakakakita, sa tingin ko puwede ‘yun para sa security process (If it only happened inside the prison and they were the only ones who witnessed it, I think this is alright for the security process.)
The operation yielded "several packets" of methamphetamine or shabu, and marijuana leaves; and knives and mobile phones.
'Human rights abuse'
Human rights groups called our Cebu prison officials for what they called the "inhumane" treatment of prisoners.
"This incident clearly amounts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners," Amnesty International said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for an independent investigation of the incident so that "prison officials responsible should be appropriately disciplined."
"International standards prohibit prison searches that are used to harass, intimidate or unnecessarily intrude upon a prisoner’s privacy. Strip searches and other intrusive searches should be used if absolutely necessary. Intrusive searches have to be conducted in private and by trained staff," HRW said in a statement on Friday.
"The facts as reported do not suggest that strip searching all of the prisoners was absolutely necessary. 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," it added. – Rappler.com