Political detainees’ wives reveal humiliating strip search at Bilibid

The wives of political prisoners were subjected to “degrading and traumatic” strip search last April 21 at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), formal complaints filed at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said.

Despite pleas and assurances that they carried no illegal drugs and other contraband, NBP personnel ordered them to completely disrobe and conducted cavity search upon “orders from above,” political prisoner support group Kapatid reported.

Even senior citizens were not spared from being ordered by the NBP the Inmate Visitation Service Unit to squat and suffer the humiliation at the Maximum Security Compound, the group said.

“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,” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said.

The wives filed their complaint at the CHR last Monday, May 6.

Kapatid further revealed the wives were made to sign a waiver, a consent form allowing strip searches.

Lim however said the NBP is using the waiver as a tool of abuse and body cavity search has become the rule rather than the exception for most PDLs.

The exercise is in violation of the United Nations Standard on the Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners that intrusive searches should be undertaken “only if absolutely necessary,” Lim explained.

Driven to shame

Gloria Almonte, 64, said she was forced to sign the waiver to be allowed to see and talk to her husband, political prisoner Dionisio Almonte.

“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,” recounted Gloria.

She said the April 21 incident was the first time it happened to her during the 10 years of her husband’s political imprisonment.

“I felt shame during those moments. It felt like my dignity as a human being was being trampled upon,” Gloria recounted in her complaint.

Another wife, Maricel, 43, said she was instructed to remove her pants, t-shirt, bra and panty and made to squat 10 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 recounted.

Maricel said she suffered extreme embarrassment because she had to repeat the procedure at least ten times.

“The searcher said I wasn’t doing it right and to do it properly next time. It was really traumatic and shameful to experience such things. For now, I am still considering whether I can visit my husband despite our longing to see him as a family. It’s like I can’t face being stripped down and searched again by the BuCor body searchers,” Maricel said.

M.C., another wife, experienced body cavity search twice, on March 31 and again on April 21, Kapatid said.

During the second time, she reiterated to the searcher that she was the wife of a political prisoner but was ignored.

Political prisoners and their families are well known in various jail facilities across the country to not to engage in illegal drugs.

 “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.

Makabayan to push for Congressional investigation

Kapatid said they hope the CHR will take action as it did in January 2023 to address the complaint of the daughter of a political prisoner who was subjected to strip search at the Metro Manila District Jail Annex 4 in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City.

The CHR issued a statement at the time that “the application of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s search guidelines should not be arbitrary and searches should not be targeted toward the relatives of political prisoners.”

Joining the Kapatid group and the wives in filing the complaint were ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and Gabriela Women Rep. Arlene Brosas.

They said the Makabayan bloc will 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 of harassment.”

Kapatid also demanded that the Bureau of Corrections and New Bilibid Prison must not retaliate in any way against the political prisoners and their families. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)