‘Dehumanizing and traumatic’ | Kin of political prisoners assail strip search

Photo by Kapatid

By DOMINIC GUTOMAN
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Prison visitation is becoming difficult for families of political prisoners as they suffer a degrading and traumatic strip search, prompting them to file a complaint at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on May 6.

Gloria Almonte, 63, wife of political prisoner Dionisio Almonte, is one of those who experienced the “degrading and traumatic” strip search at the New Bilibid Prison (NPB) when she opted to visit her husband on April 21, around 1:45 pm.

“I was nearly in tears and trembling as I lifted my t-shirt and bra, and also removed my pants and panties. I was made to squat three times and then bend over while opening my private parts to check for any hidden illegal items,” Almonte said in Filipino.

Almonte, accompanied by Kapatid, a support group for the families and friends of political prisoners, urged the CHR to investigate the harassment they suffered at the NBP.

“The humiliating experience of the wives of political prisoners need to be investigated for outright violations of international and national laws governing the treatment of prisoners and visitors and violence against women as well as for brazen harassment,” said Fides Lim, spokesperson of Kapatid.

The United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) states that search and entry procedures for visitors shall not be degrading. Body cavity searches should be avoided for visitors, and in case of doing so, they shall be conducted by qualified healthcare professionals in a private space.

The complaint submitted to the authorities detailed that the body cavity search took place at the visiting area of the NBP Maximum Security Compound, under the Inmate Visitation Service Unit (IVSU).

Almonte added that she was also forced to sign a waiver, indicating her permission to conduct the body search, so that they could allow her to visit her husband.

“They were ordered to do frisking if the families were only handing out supplies, but a body search is necessary for those who will be visiting. I initially denied it and told them that I would file a complaint for their actions,” she said.

The jail searcher, which Almonte identified as “Ma’am Serrano”, told her that they were implementing “an order from above,” handed down a week ago.

Lim said, “The waiver is used as a tool of abuse and body cavity search has become the rule rather than the exception for most PDLs in violation of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners that intrusive searched should be undertaken ‘only if absolutely necessary’.”

Similar accounts were also gathered by Kapatid from other wives of political prisoners. For instance, Maricel, 43, recounted the same experience in the NBP.

“I was instructed to remove my pants, t-shirt, bra, and panty. I was made to squat ten times, completely naked. After each squat, I had to bend over with both hands on my buttocks, making sure my private parts were visible while the body searcher, Serrano, looked on,” she said.

Maricel had to repeat the procedure at least ten times. “The searcher said I was not doing it right and to do it properly next time. It was really traumatic and shameful to experience such things.”

This prompted her to reconsider her visit to her husband due to the extreme embarrassment. “It’s like I can’t face being stripped down and searched again by the BuCor body searchers.”

Another wife of a political prisoner under the alias of M.C. also experienced a body cavity search twice, particularly on March 31 and April 21.

“I was very upset. It’s not right to make you squat five times and also to be searched three times as if waiting for something to come out of my body. Only animals do that. I signed the waiver against my will, otherwise, I won’t be able to see my husband,” M.C. said.

Just last year, Bulatlat also reported a case of traumatizing strip search of the daughter of a political prisoner.

Bona Fides Lucania, daughter of political prisoner Julio Lucania, said she was subjected to a humiliating strip search on January 8, 2023, which was her first visit to her political prisoner father since the pandemic broke.

The strip search was done just a few steps from the door, without any benefit of privacy. She was told to remove her polo, later frisked from head to toe, while passing guards could see her in full view.

Read: Daughter of political prisoner assails ‘inhumane’ strip search during jail visit

In a statement by CHR last year, they affirmed that the searches should not be targeted towards families of political prisoners, underscoring that searches should be conducted with utmost respect to individual dignity and privacy.

Kapatid hopes that the CHR will take the same course of action it did in January 2023. They were also joined by progressive lawmakers ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas, intending to push for a “congressional investigation into the dehumanizing incidents when frisking could have sufficed to avoid these humiliating search procedures that are uncalled for and smack for harassment.”

Almonte also ended her testimony by questioning the necessity of the newly imposed rules.

“If possible, other wives, families, and friends should not be subjected to this kind of body searching. We are not involved in entering anything illegal or contraband,” she said. (RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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