Tom Randall asserts corruption, violence, human rights abuses in NBI Manila custody
American pastor Tom Randall was arrested in the Philippines in January 2014 on suspicion of obstruction of justice and involvement in human trafficking at a children’s home he funded. He was released after three weeks and has spoken at many churches over the past five years about his experience. His stories generally begin at the mission trip he was on just prior to his arrest, which he describes as a wonderful, fruitful time of ministry. He goes on to describe a shocking, violent arrest, followed by corruption and abuse at the hands of the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Let’s start with what Tom Randall has said. Many of these stories were told many times in multiple venues; I have selected a few examples to quote in their entirety and noted additional dates/venues. If the original recording is no longer online, I have linked to a copy.
CLAIM#1: NBI has “some corruptness”, is somewhat “like the KGB”
Randall introduces the NBI as powerful and corrupt organization:
They’re the NBI, which is the National Bureau of Investigation, most powerful and lethal security agency in our country. It’s kind of like the CIA or the FBI. Maybe more like the KGB. Somewhere in between, that type of situation, you know. (May 31, 2015 @ First Baptist Church of Geneva, IL)
I went to the door, and they busted the door in, and here was the NBI, which is kind of like your FBI. Um and so they’re very scary because they’re very authoritative. And there is some corruptness in the NBI in the Philippines, so they’re scary.” (Aug 19, 2018 @ Church on the Hill, San Jose, CA)
CLAIM#2: Tom Randall was physically assaulted during his arrest
Randall describes the morning of his arrest:
And they busted in, and there must have been twenty men on our campus, with fifteen, twenty men with guns, and other type of people. And they were bringing the kids out of their houses and my staff out. We had staff that help us run the place. And then they had this big camera, and I could see “Channel 5.” And I’ve been on TV many times in my career, but this is not the time I wanted to be on camera. I said, “What is going on? And who’s in charge here?”
And this man stepped forward. “I’m in charge. I’m Lieutenant Roy this-and-that.” I said, “Well, what are you doing in my home?” He said, “Well, we’re here to talk to you.” I said, “This feels like an arrest. We can talk outside. You could have invited yourself when I could have had you for breakfast. This is not talking. You’re scaring the life out of my family, my staff, and most of all, my kids.” And he said, “Well, you’re going to have to come with us.” I said, “Well, do you have a warrant?” He said, “We don’t need one, we’re just talking.” I said, “Sure feels like an arrest.”
And they grabbed me by the arms and they took me down and brought all the kids out. My wife was there and I didn’t know what was going to happen next. And I said, “You need to tell me what’s going on. Am I being arrested, do you have a warrant, are you going to read me my rights? So what are you going to do? What’s happening?” And then I was assaulted. He just took me down and worked me over and put handcuffs on me. Unfortunately, he did that front of my kids and my wife, which probably was much, much harder on them than it was on me, and they dragged me into a van. And that was that, off we went toward Manila. And of course, my wife was standing there with some of the staff. They they herded up all of our thirty one kids and put them in a bus and took them away, too. (Aug 19, 2018 @ Church on the Hill, San Jose, CA)
In another clear recording, Randall names the agent he says assaulted him:
And even Roy, who’s the meanest, curliest — is — this is not taped, is it? — Oh. Actually, he wasn’t that bad (laughter). The one who, the one who handcuffed me and kind of you know worked me up a bit to get me down there where they wanted me.” (April 10, 2015 @ Christ Community Chapel, Hudson, OH )
CLAIM#3: NBI agents attempted to solicit a bribe during transport to Manila
Randall says that during the ride to Manila, NBI agents used “physical intimidation” on him and attempted to solicit a bribe:
On the way in, it was a bit of what you call a physically intimidating trip into the NBI as they tried to — um — persuade me to give them money to let me go. “Quarter of a million dollars, it’s all forgotten, Tom, we can take you right back to camp, and none of this ever happened.” And I said, “Well, I’m pretty beat up. They can’t take that back.” (Aug 19, 2018 @ Church on the Hill, San Jose, CA)
CLAIM#4: Tom Randall was interrogated and abandoned by US Homeland Security and the State Department
Randall says it took an exhausting 5 hours to get to the NBI headquarters in Manila.
And by the time I got there, I was exhausted and in pretty rough shape. They put me in the corner on a linoleum floor, and they said, “This is where you’re going to stay till we figure out what’s going to happen. (May 31, 2015 @ First Baptist Church of Geneva, IL)
Randall says that his first few days were spent in “solitary confinement” with no communication allowed:
So it got rougher, and I got into the NBI, and they put me in solitary confinement. So I couldn’t communicate with anybody, nobody could communicate with me. (Aug 19, 2018 @ Church on the Hill, San Jose, CA)
Randall describes being interrogated by US Homeland Security and the State Department during his time in solitary:
So I got interrogated by Filipino NBI agents for hours and hours, and then the Americans took a shot. Homeland Security and the State Department sent two agents, one agent, each department, and they wanted to interview me. And they said, “Do you have a lawyer?” I said, “Do I need a lawyer? You’re the Americans, I thought you’re going to take care of me, I’m an American.” They said, “Well, that’s great, if you don’t need a lawyer, that’ll make it a lot easier.” I said, “You know, let’s talk.”
So for hours, they interrogated. Then I realized they weren’t interrogating to help me. They were interrogating to try to find something on me. And I said, “Well, listen, why don’t you talk to all of the kids and anything you want. And when you find out there’s no complaints against me, make sure you protect me as an American, like you’re supposed to.” And the second day, and the third day, solitary, back into interrogation, solitary, back in.
And finally they said, “Tom, everybody’s interrogated, there’s not one complaint from anyone.” I said, “Am I supposed to be surprised?” And they said, “Well.” I said, “So, can I go home? Can I take my kids? Can we go back home?” And they said, “Yes. You will be out in a few hours, and then we’ll come over to check at the orphanage and talk with you and straighten anything up and see the kids.” I said, “Thank you. Could you tell my wife that? There’d be a lot, release off of her, pressure off of her.” And they said, “Sure.” And that’s the last I ever saw of the State Department, the US Embassy, or the Homeland Security. I’m sad to say the last administration was not kind to me. That’s all I know. I never saw them again. And then they put me in general population the next morning, they booked me and strip searched me and I went with forty other guys in a cell. (Aug 19, 2018 @ Church on the Hill, San Jose, CA)
CLAIM#5: No food or medical care was provided at NBI detention center
Randall describes a detention center without basic human rights provisions — neither food nor medical care was provided:
They said, ‘No, there’s no medical care in the Philippine prisons, and there’s no food.’ If you want to get food or medical care, you have to get food brought to you by a friend on the outside, but medical care doesn’t come. So a lot of people, if they get injured in a fight and stuff, the hygiene in there is so bad that sometimes they die in there because they can’t get medical care. So that’s part of the deal of surviving. And I saw a couple guys dying get carried out, and it’s a pretty grim situation. (Aug 19, 2018 @ Church on the Hill, San Jose, CA)
Additional sources: 17:03 — May 31, 2015 @ First Baptist Church of Geneva, IL; 20:00 — Nov 9, 2014 @ Purpose Church, Pomona, CA; 36m42s — Mar 22, 2015 @ Blossom Valley Bible Church, San Jose, CA; 24:19 — Jun 29, 2014 @ Venture Christian Church, Los Gatos, CA
CLAIM#6: Frequent riots and unrest resulted in life-threatening conditions
Then he [Tom] calls me [Joe Coffey]. He says, “They just let in seven or eight more guys. I think they’re drug dealers. There’s a big riot, starting for turf. There’s kind of a turf war going on.” And then he says, “Joe, I got to get out of here. I’m not going to survive.” Then the phone goes dead. (Jan 19, 2014 @ Christ Community Chapel, Hudson, OH)
Coffey tweeted updates from Randall during his time in NBI custody, often mentioning “riots” and “unrest”:
- 1/15/2014, 6:01 AM — Just talked w Tom Randall. He’s in real danger in prison right now. Please pray
- 1/15/2014, 8:30 AM — Riot has calmed down in the prison. Toms ok. Keep praying. Working hard and praying hard for release and safety
- 1/17/2014, 8:26 AM — Pray for Tom. More unrest in prison cell. Some danger. Not sure how much
- 1/17/2014, 3:55 PM — Haven’t heard from Tom since he said “trouble in the cell. Gotta go”. That was 8 hours ago. Pray for safety
- 1/21/2014, 5:17 AM — Pls pray for Tom now! New guys integrated into cell. Trouble brewing among inmates. Pray for safety for all
- 1/24/2014, 6:26 PM — No news about Tom today.his phone was confiscated bc of security crack down.lots of unrest in cell.pray 4 safety tonite
CLAIM#7: Detainees were deprived of water for punishment
NBI Detention Center, Manila, 2014
The guards handcuffed the prisoner to the cell bars adjoining the visitor’s area to humiliate him further as inmates and their visitors could witness his shame and pain. Without water to drink or a place to sit his discomfort escalated as the hours passed. Having experienced the mistreatment of prison personally I felt pity for him as I exited my cell and entered the visitor’s area. It is forbidden to interact with a fellow inmate while he is being disciplined, abused, or tortured.
Randall goes on to claim he broke the rules to offer this man a drink of water, for which he said he received “consequences”:
… the room went quiet and all eyebrows raised with mouths open when I handed him the cup of water. I had broken man’s command to obey God’s command and consequences would follow. But, the cost of my actions were quite reasonable when you measure them against that of a new friend and his decision for Christ a week later.
CLAIM#8: Detainees were beaten with 2x4s to the kidneys
Randall claims that the cell block had an “inmate council” which had a “mayor” and “vice mayor” and that these people punished other detainees by beating them with 2x4s to the kidneys. Randall heavily implies he himself received this treatment:
Discipline — they have people that are inmates that are called vice mayors and they give you the punishment, and everyone gets 2x4s — 2x4s to the kidneys. It’s even written on the wall. Any misbehavior? First offense, two 2x4s to the kidneys. It keeps everyone in line, and it makes your back hurt, I can tell you that [rubs back]. (Aug 19, 2018 @ Church on the Hill, San Jose, CA)
CLAIM#8: Guards beat and tortured detainees
Randall describes witnessing detainees beaten severely and tortured by the NBI guards:
If you really did something really wrong, the guards will discipline you. And they take you into this room, down at the end of the cell block, and it’s a big metal door. And they close you in there. It’s not soundproof. I can tell you that, because I could hear the guy screaming in there. And then I could see him delivered into my cell block again, and trying to help them survive. And I thought to myself, ‘Lord, I’ll do anything, but don’t send me to that room.’ (Mar 1, 2015 @ Venture Christian Church, Los Gatos, CA)
More references: 38:41 — Aug 19, 2018 @ Church on the Hill, San Jose, CA; 24:55 — Aug 19, 2018 @ Church on the Hill, San Jose, CA; 52:05 — Mar 22, 2015 @ Blossom Valley Bible Church, San Jose, CA; 35:20 — May 31, 2015 @ First Baptist Church of Geneva, IL
Summary of claims
To recap, Randall has said at various occasions:
- The NBI has “some corruption” and is “more like the KGB” than the American FBI, maybe somewhere in between.
- He was assaulted by an NBI agent named Roy during his arrest.
- While in custody on the way to Manila, NBI agents attempted to solicit a bribe from him, which he refused.
- Randall was interrogated by an agent from US Homeland Security and an agent from the US State Department, both of whom told him he had been cleared; but he was still detained, and he never heard from them or the US Embassy again.
- No food or medical care was provided to detainees.
- Riots and unrest resulted in life-threatening conditions multiple times during his three week stay.
- Guards handcuffed a detainee to the bars and would not allow him to sit or drink water for hours.
- An “inmate council” beat other detainees with 2x4s to the kidneys to enforce discipline.
- Guards took detainees to “The Room” at the end of the hall to beat and torture them; the detainees could be heard screaming.
Other sources regarding these claims
If you are like me, you have no firsthand knowledge of Filipino law enforcement or prison conditions. So let’s consider what can be established from other sources.
The NBI is a national service similar to the FBI
“The NBI is a government entity that is civilian in character, and national in scope which is under the Department of Justice,” says the NBI Overview page. It was “patterned after the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Its stated mission is “to provide quality investigative and forensic services to the people through advanced methods and equipment in the pursuit of truth and justice.”
The NBI provides a number of services, including investigative services. One of those is the Anti-Human Trafficking Division, or AHTRAD. This was the group responsible for investigating the allegations at Sankey Samaritan children’s home and then executing the raid/rescue operation.
NBI AHTRAD works with IJM on anti-trafficking projects
International Justice Mission, a Christian nonprofit that fights trafficking in many countries including the Philippines, often works with the NBI to rescue trafficking victims. In IJM’s 2017 program evaluation of their work in the Philippines, they describe NBI AHTRAD as a small and well-trained division:
Although based in Manila, NBI AHTRAD’s jurisdiction is the whole of the country; this has been a challenge at times, given the division is made up of approximately 20 agents. Nevertheless, the “NBI AHTRAD conveys a strong message that the government is serious in addressing trafficking” (1, IJM, Manila). Over the years, IJM did not provide as much training or support to the NBI as it did to the PNP. This is mainly because the NBI AHTRAD “are more resourced; they have higher capacity” (1, IJM, Manila). NBI AHTRAD agents were also more specialized and tended to receive more training than PNP officers. NBI agents often have a legal background, so they were more aware of the legal aspects of case buildup, and their cases were more likely to reach conviction.
Yes, corruption is an issue in the Philippines
Corruption does appear to be an issue in general in the Philippines. The Business Anti-Corruption Portal classifies the Philippines as “high” in corruption. An online guide for visitors to the Philippines offers tips on how to slip 200 pesos into your wallet when you hand it to a policeman during a traffic stop. The guide also says corruption is an issue in the judicial system: it is very possible to buy a judge in your favor.
At a more serious level, Duterte’s controversial “war on drugs” has been reported to coincide with an uptick in extrajudicial killings after his election. The Philippine National Police are accused of killing or turning a blind eye to the killing of thousands of poor Filipinos involved in drug-related crimes since 2016.
Corruption reports at NBI exist but seem to be taken seriously
But corruption at an FBI-investigation level is another story, particularly the kind of greedy, violent corruption Randall describes. I haven’t found any other allegations that corruption is widespread in the NBI. I did find two reports of the NBI hearing about alleged corruption and launching a probe.
In February 2019, the NBI launched a probe into allegations that its agents acted improperly during an arrest by preventing bystanders from filming it. (Filming an arrest is legal in the Philippines, as it is in America.) “If warranted, we shall take the appropriate disciplinary action,” the Manila Bulletin quoted Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra as saying. The probe appears to be ongoing.
And in April 2018, the NBI Manila office ordered a probe into the death of an American detained by NBI Cebu. An American had been arrested on suspicion of child trafficking; the next day, he was found dead. The NBI Cebu office reported it a suicide, but the family of the deceased ordered a private pathologist report and believed it to be an extrajudicial killing. The family commissioned a private investigation as well. I haven’t found any reporting on the conclusion of the probe or the private investigation.
News photos confirm Randall’s arrest on January 13 but do not show mistreatment
These photos show that NBI agents arrived while it was still dark and the operation continued into daylight. The agents in the photos do appear to be armed, but the photos only show a few of them. All of the photos in the news segment were attributed to the NBI. There are no news crews or cameras visible in the photos. The Sankey youth appear to be guided by social workers. The faces are blurred, and it’s possible based on their posture that they are crying, or perhaps trying to hide from the camera. Tom and Karen Randall and other Sankey staff are seen standing in the background. In these photos, Tom Randall is standing. He doesn’t appear to be cuffed in back, but it’s possible he’s handcuffed in the front — his hands are not visible in the photos.
News video shows an aggressive side to Randall
There is news video of Tom Randall once he reached NBI headquarters in Manila (skip to 0:52). He is not handcuffed. He does look like he’s not feeling well in some clips. But he was well enough to be aggressively approach a man in the NBI office, who backs away. Toto Luchavez pulls Randall back:
Joe Coffey was communicating with Randall throughout
In a sermon on Jan 19, 2014, Joe Coffey read texts he had received from Randall:
- “Arrested in handcuffs 6am Manila time, please pray, Tomas.”
- “Still in custody, they tell me we were on TV, will hold me at least 36 hours.”
- “Homeland Security agents here for questioning in one hour, hope to give whole story and get things turned around. Ironic, it was US that’s the problem.”
These texts begin soon after arrest and continue throughout his time in NBI custody. It’s unclear when exactly Randall was “in solitary” and “not allowed to communicate with anybody”.
US Embassy claims it provides services for arrested Americans
Randall says he was interrogated by US State Department and Homeland Security agents and never saw them again. This seems quite unfortunate, as Randall’s later stories describe human rights abuses while in custody, which of course the US Embassy is supposed to help with. The Manila embassy website says:
A U.S. Embassy officer will make every effort to contact an arrested U.S. citizen promptly to assess his/her personal welfare. … While the Embassy will attempt to address egregious violations of basic rights, an individual’s private legal counsel should address procedural issues through the legal process. … Since consular officers make periodic visits to U.S. citizen detainees, they may discuss with him/her any problems arising from their confinement.
I’ve reached out to the State Department and US Embassy in Manila for comment.
No comparable reports of abusive conditions in NBI detention center found
I have been scouring the news to try to find any other reports of abusive conditions in the NBI detention center in Manila. I haven’t found any. The Manila City Jail is notoriously overcrowded — even more so now than before Duterte, reported the New York Times — but even that doesn’t report life-threatening beatings of the kind described by Randall.
On the contrary, in May 2018, several young men at the NBI detention center filed urgent motions to stay in NBI custody instead of being transferred to the Manila City Jail, “citing their safety.” Similarly, in February 2018, a man in NBI custody for involvement in drug smuggling filed an very urgent motion to stay in the NBI detention center, citing threats to his life if he was moved. The same thing happened in another drug-related case in August 2018.
We all know that corruption and police brutality exist. But for it to happen at the level Randall is suggesting — against an American citizen, in a high-profile detention center, with zero news coverage — is extraordinary. More evidence is needed to confirm or deny. I’ve reached out to the NBI and others for comment, and I hope to write a follow-up post with more details soon.
Correction (Mar 29, 2019): The identity of the man Randall approaches in the NBI office is unknown; an earlier version of this story called him an NBI agent.
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