By Ronalyn V. Olea,

9 February 2010

MANILA — The 43 health workers who were arrested Saturday morning in Morong, Rizal province have been subjected to physical and psychological torture, colleagues said.

After three days, relatives and colleagues were finally able to visit the 43 detainees in Camp Capinpin, in Tanay, Rizal, through the intervention of Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Leila de Lima, who earlier denounced the military for refusing access to those detained.

The military and the police arrested the 43 health workers, including doctors, nurses and midwives on Saturday morning. Colleagues and relatives said the 43 were holding a health training and seminar but the military insisted that they were NPA members and were caught in the act of making explosives. On Tuesday, the military announced that several of those arrested had pending cases in courts and that at least one of them allegedly took part in a failed plot to assassinated then general and now congressman Jovito Palparan.

Some of the relatives were not able to see their loved ones, though. “The security was tight. Upon entry, we were subjected to body search twice. The soldiers also took photographs and videos of us,” said Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary-general of Karapatan and husband of Merry, a medical doctor who was among those detained. Clamor told Bulatlat that the health workers were arrested “at gun point, they were blindfolded, handcuffed and made to kneel down.”

In fact, the detainees were blindfolded for 36 hours, said Dr. Geneve Rivera, secretary-general of the Health Alliance for Democracy (Head). “Their blindfolds were only removed at 8 a.m. today, before CHR Chair de Lima was allowed entry to the camp,” Clamor said on Monday.

Clamor said de Lima talked to the military officers and stayed at the camp for more than three hours. “She made sure that we would be allowed to see our loved ones.”

In the Facebook page “Release Thehealthworkers,” de Lima is quoted as saying: “They are continuously handcuffed and blindfolded… they are not allowed to sleep, somebody else feeds food into their mouths, even when they urinate — somebody else pulls down their underwear.”

On Sunday, the CHR-National Capital Region (NCR) team was prevented from entering the camp. They waited at Camp Capinpin from 11 a.m. until the afternoon, to no avail. Lieutenant Colonel Noel Detoyato, civil-military operations chief of the brigade, defended the refusal to allow entry, saying it was caused by concerns over a possible “jailbreak.”

Bulatlat tried to reach de Lima on her mobile phone but got no answer.


Clamor said all of the detainees were subjected to relentless interrogation and were deprived of sleep. “They were made to sit the whole time,” he said. “They [interrogators] played good cop and bad cop. They asked all the personal details and some tried to force the detainees to admit that they are NPA [New People’s Army] members.” On Monday, military officials said some of those arrested had confessed to being communist guerrillas and that they were willing to testify in court against the others.

Clamor said Dr. Alex Montes of the Community Medicine Development Foundation (Commed) was forced to admit that he is an NPA guerrilla. The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines that has been waging a Maoist revolution for more than four decades.

Rivera told Bulatlat that the detainees are heavily guarded, with a military officer — a lieutenant colonel as the lowest ranking officer — assigned to each of them. “They are being guarded even to the comfort rooms,” Rivera said. The 43 have been separated in different detention cells, added Rivera.

At 9:15 pm last night, the arrested health workers were subjected to inquest proceedings by a certain Romeo Samson of the Department of Justice (DOJ), according to Clamor. “Again, no counsel for the victims was present during the proceedings.”

“The military said they will file charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. They issued a defective warrant and planted evidence against the health workers,” said Clamor.

Defective Warrant

Lawyer Julius Garcia Matibag, one of the legal counsels, pointed out the illegality and unconstitutionality of the warrant. During the raid, the owner of the farmhouse, Dr. Melecia Velmonte, protested the illegal search and arrests; she was ignored. Upon the intervention of Velmonte’s son, the soldiers presented a search warrant against a certain Mario Condes. “Condes is neither a resident of the house nor known to the Velmontes and to the participants of the training,” Matibag said.

He said the warrant does not describe with particularity the place to be searchef as it only indicates the address as “Bgy. Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal.” Section 2, Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that a search warrant or a warrant of arrest must specify the place to be searched or the persons or things to be seized.

Matibag also said the arresting team violated Section 8, Rule 126 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure when they searched the premises without the presence of the owner of the house or witnesses. According to the rules, no search shall be made except with the presence of the lawful occupant or any member of the family or in the absence of the latter, two witnesses of sufficient age and discretion residing in the same locality.

After the raid, the military alleged they found bomb-making materials, guns, and even a claymore mine under the beds of the health workers.

Legal Moves

Matibag said they will file a petition for habeas corpus Tuesday morning at the Supreme Court. Clamor said the detainees are determined to file counter charges against their captors.

In a separate statement, the party list group Bayan Muna said that it will file the necessary criminal and administrative charges against those who led the raid.

The military presented as evidence supposed Bayan Muna election paraphernalia. “This is another attempt to harass Bayan Muna and feed government propaganda to link the organization with the New People’s Army. It is nothing more than a partisan political act by the Arroyo government aimed at ensuring the electoral defeat of Bayan Muna, a prohibited act under election laws,” the group said.

It also said the authorities violated the Anti-Torture Act, which provides under Section 4 (b) for the imprisonment of military and police elements who “prohibit the victims from communicating with members of his/her family” and who blindfold those in their custody.

Disservice to the Poor

Meanwhile, the Council for Health and Development (CHD) criticized the Arroyo government for “terrorizing health professionals who have chosen to stay to serve the country.”

The CHD is the national organization of more than 50 community-based health programs in the entire Philippines. Its staff members were among those arrested.

Dr. Eleanor Jara, CHD executive director, lamented that the abducted health professionals and CHWs are among those that serve far-flung villages where government personnel and services are lacking or are simply absent. “Because of their passion and dedication to serve their fellow Filipinos, these health professionals and CHWs brave difficult work environments and meager salaries just so they could be of service where they are most needed,” Jara added.

“Instead of supporting and lauding their efforts and sacrifices, what does Mrs. Arroyo’s government do? Her military and police abduct these health professionals and CHWs and violate their rights. In effect, the delivery of health services in the poorest communities is derailed,” Jara said.

The ratio of doctor to patient in the Philippines is pegged by the Department of Health at 1:30,000.

“The military has done it again, this condemnable incident adds up to the long list of human-rights violation against health workers and community-based health practitioners,” Jara said.

Martial Law, Counter-Insurgency

In a press conference on Monday afternoon, Makabayan senatorial bet Satur Ocampo called the incident “a classic throwback to the martial law era.”

“This governmment already has a lot to answer for attacking the human rights of the Filipino people… Now we have the AFP abducting and harassing health professionals and personnel,” Ocampo said, adding “It’s a grandslam day for impunity.”

Clamor, of Karapatan, said the incident was part of the implementation of the Oplan Bantay Laya II, the counter-insurgency program of the Arroyo government. “Once again, this proves that the Arroyo government has not adhered to [UN Special Rapporteur Philip] Alston’s recommendations. Even with the abolition of the IALAG [Inter-Agency Legal Action Group], the filing of trumped-up charges continues.”

Alston, who visited the country in February 2007, linked the extrajudicial killings and other rights abuses to the counter-insurgency program of the Arroyo government. One of his recommendations is the abolition of IALAG, a group created by virtue of Arroyo’s executive order and tasked to build up cases against so-called enemies of the state. (