CHECKPOINT COPS UNDER SCRUTINY
Police Regional Office, CHR say subjects’ permission needed for body searches, bag inspections
Complaints on alleged body searches conducted by police manning the checkpoints in Mandaue City had reached both the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) and the regional Commission on Human Rights (CHR-7) yesterday.
Chief Supt. Jose Mario Espino, PRO-7 director, ordered an investigation, while CHR-7 Regional Director Arvin Odron said they would call on the Mandaue City police to address the complaints of body searches and bag inspections.
“That is clearly against our police operational procedures in conducting checkpoints,” Espino said.
He reminded the police to adhere to proper procedure in conducting checkpoints, which should be done in plain view.
He said inspections should be done with utmost courtesy to the vehicle owners and the commuters.
Odron said the police should be reminded of their obligation to respect a person’s rights when they are doing their job.
“They have their manual which will guide them on how to enforce the law and practically on how to go about their dealings with every person,” Odron said.
But unlike Espino who said they will investigate the incidents even without a complaint, Odron said aggrieved motorists and commuters need to file a formal complaint or give firsthand information that would validate their claims.
“We need to validate what is the extent of the alleged intrusive body searches,” Odron said in a text message to Cebu Daily News.
A business process outsourcing (BPO) employee, who requested anonymity, complained that his bag was forcibly opened by a police officer during an early morning inspection at a checkpoint in Barangay Subangdaku, Mandaue City, last September 2.
The BPO worker said his bag was opened even if he was already checked by uniformed policemen just a couple of meters away.
A warehouse worker also said that he was forced to open his bag when the vehicle he rode in was stopped in a checkpoint in the same barangay last Thursday evening (September 21).
Both employees recounted their experience to Cebu Daily News.
Espino clarified that the only exception for the plain-view inspection is when there is an ongoing pursuit of a specific person or vehicle.
“Body searches and bag inspections are allowed only when there was a robbery or other crimes or when we are pursuing a person. That’s why there are checkpoints, to keep track of vehicles used in crimes,” Espino said.
And even then, Espino said the motorist cannot be forced to submit to body searches or bag and vehicle inspections.
“If the owner declines, further search cannot be done,” he said.
Espino said that while checkpoints are set up as a deterrent against crime, proper procedure should be observed at all times.
“When they conduct the checkpoints, it should be in a well-lighted place, and the personnel conducting it should be in uniform. Also, they should remember to do this with courtesy and respect,” Espino said.
Senior Supt. Roberto Alanas, Mandaue City police chief, said he ordered an investigation into the complaints.
At Mandaue City Hall, the mayor’s chief of staff Elaine Bathan said any motorist or commuter who has a complaint against Mandaue City’s checkpoints are welcome to seek assistance from Mayor Luigi Quisumbing’s office.
Bathan said they are willing to mediate between the complainants and Mandaue City police to resolve the complaints.
“We will be very willing to mediate and thresh out whatever miscommunication perhaps and explain the guidelines so the police can continue to do its job (of securing the city),” Bathan told reporters.
Bathan said Mayor Quisumbing is very confident on the professionalism of the Mandaue City police and their adherence to proper, legal protocol in manning the checkpoints.
“The Supreme Court ruled on the validity of checkpoints by the police. We do welcome the efforts of the police in manning checkpoints for the past weeks in order to ensure the safety and security of the city residents,” Bathan said.
Bathan said complaints or any feedback can help further improve the conduct of police operations.
“The city is open to accept whoever. We will be willing to assist. This can turn out into something positive both on the part of the city and police, if there are certain feedback,” Bathan said.
Bathan said the Mandaue City government is satisfied with how the Mandaue City police have been securing the city and that the mayor is ready to lend support to them.
Chief Insp. Mercy Villaro, Mandaue City police’s information officer, said they always adhere to operational procedures and guidelines on how to conduct checkpoints.
“Body search and bags inspections are not allowed in checkpoints. Whatever contraband is seen in plain view, that will serve as basis in arresting the motorist. But we will not conduct body searches without permission from the subject of the search,” Villaro said.
But Villaro said there are some cases in which police will require persons to open their bags and the motorcycle’s utility box for inspection especially if there is initial information of crimes that occurred near the checkpoint’s jurisdiction.
“Any initial information of criminal suspects carrying contraband like firearms or drugs and details like description, plate numbers and so on. But we still require that body searches are done with the permission of the subject,” Villaro said.
She said the subject of the search will open the bags for inspection, but he or she has the right to refuse to open them and the police cannot force them to do it.
Bathan said they will investigate the complaints if someone comes forward and files it at their office.
Senior Insp. Genilo Veraque, Subangdaku Police Precinct chief, said he couldn’t remember any motorist complaining about their checkpoints.
But he said some commuters headed to work or home may have complained about the delays in the inspection.
“Magyawyaw nang uban pasahero kay malangan daw sila. Mao siguro nga pangitaan na lang mi og sala (Some passengers complain since they feel inconvenienced by the delay. That may be why they find fault with us),” Veraque said.
He said he will look into any complaints and that he had not been remiss in reminding his personnel to always be courteous in asking for the cooperation of motorists and adhere to the plain-view inspection to avoid inconveniencing them.
Veraque said his precinct conducts random checkpoints in their areas to arrest drug suspects transporting illegal drugs on board jeepneys and motorcycles.
He apologized to those who felt violated and inconvenienced by their inspections, saying they are only doing their job which is to ensure the protection of Mandaue City residents. /With Correspondent Norman V. Mendoza
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