CHR investigates: Thousands of inmates stripped naked in Cebu jail raid

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is investigating a controversial drug raid, where thousands of inmates were stripped naked at the Cebu provincial jail.

In a statement sent to CNN Philippines on Friday, the CHR said strip searches "should be undertaken only if absolutely necessary," based on the United Nations' Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

"Also, the Commission is concerned because it may constitute a violation of R.A. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Law," the CHR said.

Prisoners at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) woke up to a surprise inspection at around 1 a.m. on Tuesday. Authorities asked them to remove their clothes and sit on the floor of the jail's open court while their cells were being searched.

Yogi Filemon Ruiz, the director of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas (PDEA-7) who commanded the operation, told CNN Philippines the raiding officers are willing to submit themselves to an investigation.

Ruiz said the strip search was a "drastic action" they had to make to prevent violence during the inspection.

"I wanted to ensure mutual safety - safety of the raiding team and also safety of the prisoners," Ruiz said. 

Ruiz said the 3,600 male inmates at the CPDRC outnumbered 289 raiding officers from PDEA, the Philippine National Police, and the Armed Forces.

Authorities also recovered 68 bladed weapons from the search, Ruiz said.

"Kahit isa lang dun nakasaksak sa tao ko, normal reaction, number 1 reaction namin is to subdue the perpetrator… baka mabaril namin (If just one of those stabbed my men, our initial reaction would be to subdue the perpetrator, we might have to use our gun). It can result [in] a bigger problem which could escalate quickly, it could spiral out of control, mas maraming masaktan (more will be hurt)," Ruiz explained.

But the "peaceful" operation Tuesday resulted in zero casualties, Ruiz said.

'Cruel, inhuman, degrading'

However, human rights groups have raised the alarm after seeing online photos of naked prisoners at the CPDRC's quadrangle, which was also where the famous Cebu dancing inmates used to perform.

Amnesty International cried foul over the "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" of prisoners.

It urged the government to impose disciplinary actions on officials found to be guilty of torturing the prisoners.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) believes the strip search of all the prisoners was not absolutely necessary.

"The conduct of these searches -- out in the open and permitting photographs to be taken -- was inhuman and degrading and violated the prisoners' rights to privacy," the HRW added.

Ruiz said he has no idea how the photos surfaced online, but several news websites attribute the photos to PDEA-7 and the Cebu Provincial Police Office. CNN Philippines also obtained copies of the photos distributed by PDEA-7 to local reporters.

Meanwhile, the acting provincial jail warden has been relieved from his post after prohibited items were found in the jail.

These include 19 packs of suspected methamphetamine hydrochloride, locally known as shabu, P92,000 cold cash, cellphones, laptops, and other contraband, PDEA said in a news release.

CNN Philippines' Digital Producer Eimor Santos and Cebu-based journalist Dale Israel contributed to this report.