How Should A Strip And Cavity Search At The NBP Be Conducted?
The Commission on Human Rights is looking into the complaint of a political prisoner’s partner for alleged violation of her rights during a strip and cavity search on Dec. 29, 2019.
On Jan. 6, a political prisoner’s common-law wife filed a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) against the New Bilibid Prison for allegedly subjecting her to a “degrading” and “inhumane” strip and cavity search when she went to visit her husband at the NBP maximum security compound on Dec. 29.
In her letter-complaint addressed to CHR chairperson Chito Gascon, Jimmylisa Badayos, a human rights activist from Central Visayas, detailed one of the female searchers’ instructions to her during the search, which she felt violated her rights.
Badayos said she arrived at the NBP at 9 a.m. but got to enter the searching area only at 3 p.m.
In Filipino, Badayos complained she was asked to remove her shirt and was frisked from the breasts down. Then she said she was told to put her pants and underwear down to her knees and then squat three times.
A mirror, she added, was placed between her thighs and then near her anus as she was ordered to bend and “cough.”
“Tapos pinabihis na niya ako. Lahat ng sinabi ng searcher ginawa ko na labag sa kalooban pero ginawa ko para lang makapasok at makita ang asawa ko,” Badayos said, noting that what was done to her was traumatizing despite her being married.
Badayos said she asked the searcher if that was really how the strip search was conducted. The searcher replied, “yes, that’s how it is.”
The searcher then signed the call slip. Badayos said she was not able to get the name of the searcher and also could not remember her face but that her signature could be verified through the call slip.
Strip searches have become common in the NBP amid reports of drug trafficking operations run by inmates as well as the proliferation of many types of contraband. Female visitors have been caught trying to smuggle into the NBP shabu hidden in sanitary napkins and tampons they are wearing as well as prohibited items such as cell phones in their underwear.
According to Badayos, they are aware that all visitors at the NBP are subject to frisking, but even in the past years, she found the process really degrading.
“Pero nang ikinukwento ko sa ibang mga political prisoner, sabi nila mahigpit talaga dito at susunod na lang tayo kung anong patakaran nila para hindi raw ako ma-ban at hindi rin sila pag-initan ng mga empleyado,” Badayos said.
Badayos also noted that the conduct of the body and cavity search differs based on the other political prisoners’ visitors. “Pinababa lang ang pants hanggang tuhod tapos pinaupo tayo ng tatlong beses,” Badayos quoted a visitor inspected after her as saying.
Badayos likewise lamented they had to wait for a long time before they could enter the NBP and thus could no longer eat breakfast or lunch. “At isa pa, sa tagal ng pila, gusto na naming umihi pero madumi at mabaho ang comfort room at walang tubig kaya nagtiis na lang kami hanggang makapasok sa loob. Ang iba pumunta na lang sa tindahan at nagbabayad para umihi, kung may pera,” Badayos said.
“Sana po, matulungan ninyo kaming mga asawa ng mga political prisoner na itigil na ang strip search at cavity search sa amin. Tao rin kami at sana respetuhin din kami bilang tao. At may mga dalaw ding anak na dalaga ng political prisoner na ganito rin ang ginawa at naaawa ako sa kanila,” she claimed in her complaint.
The Bureau of Corrections has denied that the strip search conducted on Badayos was “inhumane,” saying the search was made in accordance with world standards.
In an interview with The Philippine STAR on Jan. 7, BuCor public information chief Gabriel Chaclag said the claims are “exaggerated” as they have been following the same strip search method for many years now.
He said the BuCor adheres to the “universal standard” for a strip search and the way this is conducted is a prison guard’s judgment call.
“We ask visitors to sign a waiver first, explaining the process since it is a necessary activity. Why? Because there are people who smuggle in contraband by hiding these inside their private parts,” Chaclag told The STAR in Filipino.
The BuCor official said Badayos should know the process by now because that has been the practice for years now.
He said she might simply be trying to put the BuCor in a bad light, given that “she is part of a militant group.”
“Why did she not complain (right then and there)? Maybe she is just trying to criticize us. Why did she not complain about this years ago?” Chaclag asked. “Maybe it is another distraction.”
Chaclag said officials of the NBP and the BuCor do not intend to degrade people and they are for upholding human rights.
“That is standard. We follow the universal standard. We have no intention (to degrade). What will we get out of it?” he said.
Chaclag said the BuCor is prepared to answer questions about the strip search.
He conceded that there is always room to improve their procedures and to train their personnel to be more humane.
“No matter how high the volume of the visitors, (prison guards) should not get tired of explaining what they have to do, because they have to explain their actions,” Chaclag stressed.
Based on the BuCor’s Visitation Work Instruction, a searcher may conduct a thorough inspection of visitor belongings for any form of contraband; body frisking and, in extraordinary cases, a strip search in private and with the visitor’s expressed consent. The searcher must inscribe his or her initials on a call slip.
CHR vows probe
In a statement on Jan. 9, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia reminded the government, especially the officers and personnel of the NBP and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, to strictly enforce their guidelines in conducting body searches for jail visitors, to ensure that such searches are reasonable and carried out with respect to human dignity.
The CHR said this is affirmed by the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, which provide that strip and body cavity searches should be done only if necessary and should not be used to harass, intimidate or unnecessarily intrude upon a prisoner’s privacy.
“Qualified health-care professionals or those trained by health-care professionals are also expected to be the only ones to conduct body cavity searches should these be warranted. In the end, different types of searches are done to ensure the safety of persons deprived of liberty, as well as all persons in the jail facility, by preventing the entry of contraband,” the CHR said.
“Relative to the complaint, CHR is committing to look into these allegations of human dignity being violated, further checking the details of the allegations, toward improving safety protocols in the national penitentiary and jails elsewhere in the country,” it added.
Kapatid, a support organization of families and friends of political prisoners in the Philippines, which works for their release and the protection of their rights and welfare, is also citing the provisions of the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders of the Bangkok Rules in seeking an end to degrading strip and cavity search.