Commuters decried ‘intrusive’ body searches and bag inspections in police checkpoints in Mandaue City
Does the Philippine National Police (PNP) conduct intrusive body search in the checkpoints they have set up in Cebu?
This issue cropped up after some commuters complained about how some personnel from the Mandaue City Police Office (MCPO) have been conducting their checkpoints.
A business process outsourcing (BPO) employee, who requested anonymity, complained how his bag was forcibly opened allegedly by one of the police officers when the motorcycle he was driving was stopped in a checkpoint in Barangay Subangdaku, Mandaue City, in the morning of September 2.
“Human na ko og check sa usa ka police but after two meters giharangan ko sa usa nga naka civilian. I told him nga human na ko og check. (But instead) he dragged my motorcycle while I’m still on board and grabbed my arm padulong sa ilahang team leader,” the worker said.
(One police officer already checked me and cleared me but two meters away from them, one officer in civilian clothes blocked my path. I told him I was already checked and cleared. But instead he dragged my motorcycle while I’m still on board and grabbed my arm as he brought me to their team leader.)
The BPO worker said he once again tried to explain that some policemen had already frisked him, but the new group of policemen allegedly ignored what he said and went on to grab and search his bag — in broad daylight and in the presence of several other motorists stopped in the same area by policemen from the MCPO.
The BPO worker said he felt violated but could not do anything about it since he was scared to confront the policemen.
A warehouse worker also said that he was forced to open his bag when the vehicle he was riding was stopped in a checkpoint in the same barangay in the evening of last Thursday, September 21.
He said that he was on his way home to Danao City from Cebu City on board a public utility jeepney (PUJ) when policemen stopped the PUJ and ordered all male passengers to alight from the jeepney.
“Our bags were checked and our pockets were searched by the police officers,” said the worker in Cebuano.
He said there had been checkpoints manned by the policemen along routes in Mandaue City in the past, but the previous inspections were not as strict nor as intrusive as the one he experienced last week.
The two employees, who separately raised their concerns to Cebu Daily News, said they understood the need for policemen to ensure public safety, but they asked up to what extent they could invade into the privacy of the commuters.
Senior Supt. Roberto Alanas, MCPO chief, affirmed that they had been conducting random checkpoints in key intersections for a while now.
He, however, said he did not know there were complaints about how his policemen had been conducting their checkpoints.
“Pa-check ko and aalamin ko (I’ll check and investigate the incident),” Alanas said in a phone interview on Sunday.
But he firmly said that they observe the proper procedure in conducting checkpoints, following the police protocol that inspections have to be done in plain view of everyone.
No intrusive body searches
As to the legality of conducting checkpoints, the Supreme Court (SC) already ruled that these checkpoints are not illegal per se, according to lawyer Mundlyn Misal-Martin, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu Province Chapter president.
Martin, reached by phone on Sunday, however stressed that checkpoints are not illegal for as long as the vehicles are neither searched nor its occupants subjected to body search, and the inspection of the vehicle is merely visual.
This means that the body searches, which some commuters were subjected to the Mandaue City checkpoints, shouldn’t have happened.
According to Martin, the search should only be limited to routine checks — visual inspection or flashing light inside the car, without the occupants being subjected to physical or body searches.
“In other words, in the absence of probable cause, the authorities cannot compel the passengers to step out of the car, cannot conduct bodily searches, and cannot compel the motorist to open the truck or glove compartment of the vehicle, or any package contained therein,” Martin added.
Intrusive body search is not acceptable in a checkpoint, said human rights lawyer Democrito Barcenas.
Barcenas said the police can only do checking in plain view.
“Against ang bodily frisk unless it is incident in a lawful arrest,” Barcenas said.
Mandaue City Vice Mayor Carlo Fortuna, sought for comment Sunday, said they would look into the matter but would need a formal complaint from aggrieved commuters.
“While this has not reached us, the police have been reminded by their higher leadership to ensure that in the conduct of their checkpoints, they must not conduct it in violation of the constitutional rights of the people against illegal searchers and seizures,” Fortuna said.
He said that if this is formally brought to their attention, the Mandaue City Peace and Order Council can conduct an investigation.
For his part, Alanas said that they will investigate the incident through the Investigation and Detection Management Branch (IDMB) of the city.
“Patatawag ko mga station commander at para ma remind at sundin tamang procedure sa checkpoint. Para kung may mga mali ay maicorrect agad natin,” Alanas said.
(I’ll call the attention of all the station commanders to remind them that they have to follow the right procedures in manning checkpoints. So that if there are wrongdoings it will be corrected). With Correspondent Benjie Talisic