CHR-Central Visayas launches probe on Sawang's 'secret jail'

·4 min read

TWO more women accused 10 former anti-narcotics operatives of the Sawang Calero Police Station in Cebu City of detaining them inside a “secret jail” without filing charges against them.

The new complainants sought the assistance of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) 7, which deployed its investigators to inspect the police station and find the reported secret jail on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.

There are now four women who accused the 10 officers of committing irregularities.

CHR 7 investigators led by Leo Villarino were accompanied by the two women and the Integrity Monitoring and Enforcement Group (IMEG) Visayas Field Unit, the police unit that monitor erring cops and the same unit that filed charges against 11 officers of the Sawang Calero Police Station for their alleged illegal arrests of a woman from Minglanilla and businesswoman from Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City.

One of the new complainants is a resident of Sawang Calero. She accused the group of Sawang police officers led by Staff Sergeant Celso Colita of arresting her with her husband last March 9, detaining them for three days and stealing their money and valuables.

Maria (not her real name) said she and her husband were interrogated inside the “secret jail,” the room where the newly arrested persons were brought for interrogation and intimidation, about their alleged illegal drug operation. The police officers, she said, later stole the income of their store and jewelry.

She said they were accused of selling illegal drugs. The couple was transferred to the “regular” detention cells for women and men last March 10.

During the inspection led by the CHR 7, the “secret jail” was nowhere to be found inside the Sawang Police Station. The space where the “secret jail” was supposedly located was a space for miscellany—tanks of liquefied petroleum gas, an unused airconditioning unit and a pile of wood.

Nowhere ‘secret jail’

This led to suspicion that the “secret jail” was already destroyed to avoid scrutiny from human rights watchers, but this was denied by Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) Deputy Director for Operation Wilbert Parilla, who said there had been no changes inside the police station before the CHR 7-led inspection.

CCPO Director Josefino Ligan visited the Sawang Calero Police Station last April 1. He failed to find the “secret jail.”

The CHR 7’s inquiry is welcome as it is the agency’s duty, said Parilla.

Villarino said the CHR 7’s focus is to investigate the reported presence of a secret jail as detaining a person for days without filing complaints against him is a human rights violation.

The CHR’s duty as mandated by the 1987 Constitution is to investigate the reported human rights abuses committed by law enforcement agencies and the military.

Warning

Maria and the other complainant remembered that attached to the wall of the “secret jail” was an airconditioning unit.

Villarino, after noticing the confusing statements from the two women, warned them not to make up a story, saying their allegations were serious.

He told them: “Ayaw mog tag-an tag-an. Dili ko gusto nga iapil ko ninyo sa tag-an tag-an (Don’t make guesses. I don’t want to be part of your guessing game).”

“Nia ko dinhi para magsusi ta sa inyong alegasyon. Wa ko dinhi para mangita kog tag-an tag-anon (I am here to check on your allegations. I am not here to make guesses),” said Villarino, CHR 7 chief investigator.

Villarino said he does not want the women to use CHR 7 as their weapon to destroy the image of the police out of personal vendetta.

Charges

Colita is facing two counts rape for allegedly raping a woman from Minglanilla that his team arrested for her alleged involvement in illegal drug trade last March 9.

The team, composed of Colita and nine others, allegedly forced her to withdraw P170,000 from her bank account. The police officers are also facing robbery, coercion, grave threat and illegal detention.

Aside from Colita, the police officers who are facing charges are Chief Master Sergeant Eric Edgar Emia; Staff Sergeants Joseph Alcoseba and Michael Rhey Cabizares; and Corporals Rochelito Mabulay, Emmanuel Martinez, Carlo Irizari, Junel Pedroza, John Carl Aceron and Georny Abrasado.

The police officers, including their chief, were relieved from their posts as Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Ronnie Montejo ordered an internal investigation.

A businesswoman, who claimed to be a former drug user, lodged a complaint against Colita’s team before the IMEG. She said Colita and his five fellow officers arrested her last March 26 as she was suspected of being involved in the illegal drug trade, an allegation she denied.

Six police officers, including Colita, allegedly entered the businesswoman’s house on M. Velez St. in Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu city. They allegedly stole the jewelry and expensive cell phones of the businesswoman.

Villarino said the CHR 7 has not filed any complaints, saying it is still in the evidence-gathering stage.

Colita and nine other officers who were former drug enforcement unit members of the Sawang Calero Police Station are under camp restriction at the PRO 7 headquarters in Cebu City while facing an internal investigation. (AYB / KAL)