Female jail visitors forced to remove undies
ILOILO CITY—Teresita Grace Quimpo thought her visit to the Aklan provincial jail in Kalibo town on Aug. 14 would be uneventful.
A gender rights advocate, she wanted to check on the condition of alleged communist rebel leader Maria Concepcion “Concha” Araneta-Bocala, who has been detained near a jail in the village of Nalook in Kalibo following her arrest early this month.
While undergoing security checks, Quimpo and her husband, Franklin, were asked by jail guards to leave their belongings, including cell phones. She was then frisked by a female guard, who later told her to sign a waiver stating that she agreed to the body search.
“What if I will not sign?” Quimpo asked the guard, who replied: “Then you cannot enter.”
Bocala is temporarily detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) office due to crowded cells in the main detention facility. She is considered as a high-risk inmate, being the alleged head of the regional committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines on Panay Island.
Sensing no other choice, Quimpo signed the waiver and was told to proceed to a small room. She was asked to raise her blouse, with the female guard watching. Then, she was told to lower her pants and underwear.
“I was shocked and felt numb. I’ve never felt so humiliated and dehumanized in my life,” the 53-year-old grandmother of four told the Inquirer.
What was more surprising for her was when she later learned that her husband was simply frisked by the guards.
“In this age of the Magna Carta of Women, we still see the policies and programs that truly discriminate women,” Quimpo said in a letter to Director Diony Mamaril, BJMP chief, referring to Republic Act No. 9710 which was enacted in 2009.
According to Aklan’s jail warden, Senior Jail Inspector Jairus Anthony Dogelio, body searches, including the removal of underwear, is a national policy as part of measures to deter smuggling of illegal drugs, weapons and other contraband by visitors.
The strip search is not imposed on all visitors but subject to the discretion of guards, Dogelio said.
Strip searches have been strictly imposed in the jail after three instances of female visitors attempting to smuggle in illegal drugs. “One placed it inside a sanitary napkin while another inserted it in her sex organ after placing it inside a condom,” Dogelio told the Inquirer.
But Quimpo said the measure “is demeaning,” especially to female visitors even if conducted by female guards.
“Granting that there were cases where women acted as drug couriers, are men not capable of the same? We were visiting a political detainee and a high-profile one at that, it behooves us to bring in drugs and other prohibited items to this visit,” she said in her letter, copies of which were furnished the Philippine Commission on Women, Commission on Human Rights and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Quimpo said security measures that do not humiliate and violate the privacy of visitors should be instituted in jails.
The women’s party-list group Gabriela has demanded a stop to strip searches on jail visitors, especially women.
“While we understand the concern on smuggling of illegal drugs in jails, the government should invest on electronic and other security measures that do not demean visitors,” said Joms Salvador, Gabriela secretary general.
“Strip searches are just a step to rape,” added Salvador. Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas