Kapatid spox: Why investigate us on ‘dehumanizing’ strip searches?

Political prisoner support group Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim slammed “harassing invitations” to her by the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) about her group’s report of degrading strip and cavity searches implemented at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP).

Lim said that while they welcome announcements of the immediate stoppage of the practice, she said she feels harassed by the two so-called invitations to an investigation issued to her by BuCor’s Intelligence and Investigation Division.

Lim revealed that the first summon is in relation to a supposed complaint by Inmate Visiting Services Unit head Evangeline Rabara who supervises the strip and cavity searches while the second is from NBP Medium Security Camp Commander Ruben Formoso.  

“’Invitations’ from security units are always alarming and even dangerous because they are not truly optional. They are in fact coercive and a form of intimidation to compel obedience yet create uncertainty and anxiety for the individual summoned,” Lim said.

Lim added that she has sought legal representation from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) on the matter.

FLAG lawyer Evelyn Dominguez already sought clarification from BuCor director Gregorio Catapang to ask if the so-called invitations “were done with his knowledge and approval,” Lim further revealed.

In a May 10 memorandum, Catapang ordered all BuCor superintendents to stop strip and cavity searches among jail visitors following revelations made by Kapatid in a press conference at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) last week.

BuCor chief Catapang’s memorandum ordering a stop to strip searches in jails.

“In view of the ongoing review of the BuCor’s Procedures and Protocols on Strip Search and Cavity Search on PDL (persons deprived of liberty) visitors, you are hereby directed to immediatelystop the conduct of such searches until further notice,” Catapang’s order reads.

READ: Political detainees’ wives reveal humiliating strip search at Bilibid

The CHR last May 8 urged the BuCor to ensure that such searches “are reasonable and carried out with the utmost respect for human dignity.”

“While we recognise 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 national human rights institution said.

CHR pointed out 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 also reminded BuCor of its January 19, 2023 statement that strip and cavity searches in jails “should not be directed at the families of political prisoners.”

Lim, through FLAG, told BuCor about her reluctance to appear in the “troubling investigations” and shall instead by represented by Atty. Dominguez.

“At any rate, this matter is already the subject matter of a separate complaint lodged with the (CHR). Hence, it is no longer within the purview of your intelligence office,” she added.

Lim however said she welcomes the BuCor’s response to their complaints and hopes that the order will permanently translate into full compliance with international human rights standards that prohibit the use of strip and cavity search as a routine and regular policy measure. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)