CHR expresses 'grave concern' on strip searches done on wives of PDLs

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has expressed "grave concern" over complaints against strip searches aired by wives who visit their detained husbands at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP in Muntinlupa City. 

It cited the issue raised by KAPATID, a support group of families and friends of political prisoners, that strip searches at NBP were "humiliating, degrading, and traumatic."

Prompted by the complaints, the CHR said it has launched its own investigation, led by the Investigation Office and the Prevention Cluster, to take appropriate action if needed.

The CHR noted the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology's (BJMP) search guidelines as it cautioned that the strip search should not be applied arbitrarily and should not be directed at the families of political prisoners.

"While we recognize the importance of maximum security inspection to ensure the safety and security of correctional facilities, it is vital that these security measures do not jeopardize visitors' fundamental human rights. Inspections must be conducted in a way that respects the dignity, privacy, and rights of all individuals involved," the CHR said.

It urged the NBP administration, BJMP, the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and other relevant agencies to be mindful of Rules 51 and 52(1) of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, or the Mandela Rules, which state that security searches "shall not be used to harass, intimidate, or unnecessarily intrude upon a prisoner's privacy" and that "intrusive searches shall be conducted in private and by trained staff of the same sex as the prisoner."

"It is critical for these security personnel to strictly enforce their own guidelines when conducting body searches on jail visitors, particularly to ensure that such searches are reasonable and carried out with the utmost respect for human dignity," the CHR stressed.

Earlier, BuCor Director General Gregorio P. Catapang Jr. had  defended the conduct of strip searches as he pointed out that there has been an increase in the number of visitors caught sneaking illegal drugs and other contrabands. 

Catapang said that since October 2023, the BuCor has caught 30 visitors of PDLs trying to sneak in contrabands in their private parts and underwear.

“We have to be strict, without fear or favor in the implementation of strip search, otherwise we will negate in our responsibility of protecting our PDLs and if we exempt an individual, we might be accused of giving VIP treatment,” he said.

Catapang said that the only way for them to avoid the conduct of strip searches is to purchase full body scanners. However, these are expensive as they cost P20 to P25 million each, and the BuCor needs at least five units.