Philippines: Outrage over Arrest of 43 Health Workers

On February 6, 43 community health workers holding a medical training mission in Morong, Rizal, Philippines were arrested by the military on accusations of being armed communist rebels.

On that day around 300 soldiers and police forcibly entered the private resthouse of Dr. Melecia Velmonte, Philippine General Hospital infectious disease expert and University of the Philippines College of Medicine professor emeritus.

The health workers were lined up, frisked, blindfolded, and brought by force to Camp Capinpin to be detained. They were refused legal counsel, subjected to various forms of torture, and prevented from meeting their relatives.

This latest case of human rights violation under the Arroyo government has caused public outrage and international condemnation and spawned a running legal drama with the military initially defying a Supreme Court ruling to present the victims in court.

With my white uniform rebuts a military spokesman’s statement in a television show justifying the illegal arrests, the points of which were (1) the low educational attainment of the arrested, (2) lack of publicity for the training event, (3) vocal leftist support for the 43, and (4) their revelation of their NPA affiliations during their detainment.

The first two reveal how ignorant the military is regarding the prevailing approach towards community health. Educational background is irrelevant in health skills training. You do not need a college degree to be able to protect you and your community's health. You do not need to be the brightest one in the community to be able to pick up these skills. That is the purpose of the training anyway.

Trainings of community health workers are not publicized or advertised in the usual ways. It is not only due to the effin high expense to do these things but also the uselessness of these publicizing modalities… These are not huge events needing humongous number of attendants. They don't need to tell everybody, they just need to tell the involved communities…

For the fourth, confessions made during torture is and should be invalid. Under torture and extreme stress, a normal person can be made to do anything. Given that the detainment seem to be one big torture fest, why give weight to their confession?

And for the third. That's one of the stupidest things I've heard in a long time (and I frequently read posts regarding quackery in SB). These groups are supporting the Morong 43 not because they are necessarily involved in them. Rather, they saw that attack on HR and the illegal nature of how the AFP handled the Morong 43 from capture to detainment. If you can let go of your bias against the left maybe you can realize that your attempts at hiding your mistakes is failing, greatly.

Carol P. Araullo writes on the incredulity of the military’s arguments. She also contrasts the government’s treatment of the 43 health workers to that of the Ampatuan clan, former ally of the Arroyo administration and main suspect to last year’s gruesome Maguindanao massacre:

This is the same Secretary Ermita who, along with other Arroyo henchmen, immediately invoked the right to due process of the Ampatuans, Arroyo’s warlord allies in Muslim Mindanao suspected to be behind the gruesome mass murder of relatives and supporters of their political enemies, a bevy of media personnel as well as innocent bystanders.

The illegal detention of the 43 makes kape’t yosi sick:

Consider these: forcible entry to a private place of domicile, a search warrant that was only produced after the operation and was issued by a Cavite court for a person that the house's owner – a respected consultant at the Philippine General Hospital – has never heard of, finding a grenade under a pillow, a so-called witness who miraculously came out and pointed fingers to his “comrades”. It gets more incredulous every day the arresting military unit tries to stick the “NPA” tag to those they are currently holding that even include two pregnant women.

Daily Musings reposts and comments on an anti-communist Philippine political party’s statement on the arrest of the Morong 43:

…it’s understandable that [PDSP] would defend the military in its actions. For me, though, the fact that the military saw fit to deny legal representation to the 43 members, who have yet to be proven to be NPA cadres, is rather disturbing, and could be a prelude of things to come.

The other thing that I'm bothered about is the fact that the military saw fit to delay the observance of the writ of habeas corpus. The PDSP email follows the military line that security details had to be prepared, considering the number and the sensitivity of the supposed ranking of the detainees. Still, considering that the military should observe the legal remedies available to the detainees, shouldn't they have considered that the detainees would file for a writ, and have the necessary security measures all planned out in advance? Contrary to what the PDSP communication says, I think that the delay in complying with the writ of habeas corpus is a show of defiance; the military could be testing the limits of how far they can push legal remedies.

Wawam! Afterhours doubts the military’s accusations that the Morong 43 are communist rebels:

first thing that came to our mind – since when were the NPAs that stupid?

they hold a seminar for bomb making in morong, that is almost metro manila, in big numbers, without any kind of security preparation?

the NPA have been soldiers for decades. they are one of the most organized and most trained, perhaps matching the skills of the Philippine Armed Forces. they have been pursued by the law for as long as they have existed, through those decades, they should have mastered the art of hiding and not getting caught.

all of a sudden, they are lazy, incompetent and extremely careless. really?

Marya Salamat speculates that the Philippine military may well be aiding the communist movement with its recent brazen acts:

The AFP tries to malign the 43 health workers by calling them communists. Instead, it is suggesting to the country that NPA guerrillas are dedicated and seriously serving the people, against all odds. Come March 29, when the NPA celebrates another anniversary, their leaders can simply choose to link to the AFP’s website to show the international community how good they are in providing services for the Filipino people. Maybe it is time other countries stopped calling the CPP-NPA as “terrorists” and start giving them the aid money that are currently being given to the Arroyo government. This aid seems destined to be really put to good use by the NPA. Just imagine the health services the guerrillas would be able to provide with some funding?

The Four Eyed Optimist Blog thinks that the military’s treatment of the Morong 43 is outrageous:

One of my nephews is in the army and he'd been ambushed several times by these terrorist rebels. I have no sympathy for the NPA and whatever the heck they are fighting for (communism, really?) is nonsensical to me. But even if the so-called Morong 43 are in fact members of the NPA, they still have rights under our constitution and the military should respect those rights.

Achieving Happiness attacks the Arroyo government for its horrific human rights record – “human rights which also includes the right to benefit from adequate and affordable health service.”

Who isn’t aware of how expensive medicines are, how difficult it is to get treatment for even the simplest illnesses because of the exorbitant rates hospitals charge? Instead of increasing allocations for health and developing the country’s public hospitals, the government resorts to privatizing these same hospitals, making health services way beyond the reach of ordinary Filipinos. Now here’s the AFP illegally arresting and harassing health personnel and professionals, people who have done nothing but dedicate their lives and efforts to providing health care for the poor and marginalized and making health services more accessible to these sectors.

Council for Health and Development (CHD) staff Terence Krishna Lopez introduces two of his CHD colleagues who became part of the Morong 43, Dr. Merry B. Mia-Clamor and Ma. Teresa Quinawayan. Adarna’s attic quotes Dr. Clamor:

“I was doing this with the purest intention—to train volunteers and to give them skills so they themselves can help others in their community. It’s a shame… I chose to stay here in the Philippines instead of going abroad. I chose to stay [despite] the knowledge it would be a thankless job.”

For Filipino cultural critic E. San Juan Jr, the arrest and torture of the 43 might just be a dress rehearsal for a desperate scheme by the Arroyo regime to declare emergency rule and perpetuate itself in power:

The case of the Morong 43 may well be a none-too-subtle maneuver to warn opponents, deflect public attention from the Ampatuan carnage, and assure her supporters that she is not a “lame-duck leader” but a clever politician determined to perpetuate her putrid and moribund dynasty. However, there are signs that the rising upsurge of public anger in the media, as well as a multitude of unreported grassroots mobilization in the provinces, will surely not allow this to happen.

Like a Rolling Store reposts a fact sheet on the arrest of the 43. Nobody.Else.Like.Me notes a suggestion for the Morong 43 to file a case using the Anti-Torture Law. Asteroid-B612 calls for the release of the 43. Meanwhile, the Free the 43 blog has been put up to gather facts and statements on the issue.


  • Health Worker

    The Barangay Health Workers are protected and given the privileges under a Law. They are first recommended by the local health personnel, undergo several trainings and workshops and they were trained, funded by the Local Government Unit or Department of Health. If anyone will identify herself as a barangay health worker, she must have an identification card signed by the local government executives, meaning, their presence in the barangay is legal and that their trainings are relevant to their jobs. They cannot just do what they want in an area, or else, the local health personnel will answer if something happens in her area of responsibility. Anyone can’t just go to the barangay and say, she is a barangay health worker. The issue is about legality of her activity in the barangay. Or else, someone might accuse her as a ‘bogus’ health worker. Let’s be cautious about people claiming they are health workers. We have seen people in white uniform going around, asking for a sum after taking one’s blood pressure. As to the Morong training, the facilitators know what the Law is on Barangay Health Workers. Maybe, the LGU was not informed or the local health office. There was surely a problem in communication. It could have been prevented…

  • A “problem of communication” still cannot justify the illegal arrest, torture, and various other violations of the human rights of the health workers.

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