Jail authorities subject visitors of political prisoners to degrading practice of strip search - Karapatan

On January 22, 2017, political prisoners  (PPs) and Karapatan sent complaint letters to SICA 1 warden Joey Gencera and Director Deogracias Tapayan, Chief of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), and Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Jose Luis Gascon, respectively, with regard to violations done by Bureau of Jail Management and Penology personnel to families and visitors of political detainees.  The violations pertain to the humiliating and arbitrary jail policy of conducting strip searches.

“There was no compelling reason given as to why the relatives of political prisoners were subjected to such arbitrary and humiliating jail policies and procedures, which do not just violate the rights of the detainees and their families but also undermine domestic laws pertaining to violence against women (VAW) and policies regarding gender and development (GAD) and international standards on the treatment of prisoners, as well as the protection of their visitation rights,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay in the letter sent to the BJMP Chief. 

The said letter cited a violation of the 2015 Comprehensive Operations Manual of the BJMP, under the Searches-Procedures and Specific Functions of Searchers in Part IV (Custodial Unit) of Rule VI (Duties and Responsibilities of BJMP Personnel in the Frontline Service). Provisions under Point 8, Point 10, Point 11, and Point 13 were mentioned, which requires BJMP personnel to appraise visitors of their rights, provide a witness to the search, adhere to GAD and VAWC related rules, and present the issuing of a waiver as an option.

Accounts of Fe Cerillo, Siera Isabelle Castillo and Nimfa Lanzanas were narrated in the letter, specifying the violations done against the aforementioned individuals. Fe Cerillo, wife of political prisoner Rolando Carandang, was ushered in a “comfort room” and was instructed to unbutton and lower her pants and underwear down to knee level. The BJMP personnel did not appraise her of her rights. There were also no witness to the search and no waiver was presented as an option to Ms. Cerillo.  The incident happened on October 5, 2017.

On January 3, 2018, the daughter of political prisoner Ferdinand Castillo was instructed to unlock her brassiere and unbutton her pants down to knee level. Just like Ms. Cerillo, Castillo’s daughter was not provided with a witness nor presented an option to issue a waiver. Ms. Castillo has been visiting her father since April 2017.
On the same day, Nimfa Lanzanas also visited her son, political prisoner Edward Lanzanas. She was required to undergo the same search procedure as Castillo and Cerillo. She has been visiting her son since 2014. 

“Some of the relatives of prisoners have been undergoing strip searches without realizing that their rights have been wantonly violated. BJMP personnel either do not know their own procedures, or are deliberately foregoing their responsibilities. Relatives of political prisoners have already been severely affected by the injustice of the illegal arrest and detention of their loved ones on the basis of trumped-up charges, the least they need is to be traumatized by being subjected to such degrading and humiliating procedures,” ended Palabay.

*copies of the letter are available upon request at karapatan.pid2@gmail.com