Arrested health workers, tortured

Antipolo City, February 9, 2010—This would be a test to the Anti-Torture Law of 2009: the Health Alliance for Democracy has revealed—the Morong 43 was heavily tortured, physically and mentally.

Over the weekend, 43 health workers, including two doctors, a nurse and a midwife were arrested by 300-member composite team of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippines Army (IB-PA) and the Philippine National Police-Rizal. They were accused as members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and allegedly were undergoing training in making bombs.

Dr. Alex Montes is said to be electrocuted and beaten while under interrogation. (Photo from the Council for Health and Development, Inc.)

One of the arrested, Dr. Alex Montes, who is a church worker for the United Churches of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and official of the Community Medicine Development Foundation or Commed, was branded as a top officer of the NPA and was on the mission of liquidating former general and now Bantay Partylist Rep. Jovito S. Palparan Jr.

The other two, who the military refused to name on their press releases, were proven to be medical officers of the NPA.

Dr. Genever E. Rivera, Head’s secretary-general and the one who accompanied Commission on Human Rights Chief, Atty. Leila B. De Lima said it was the detainees who shared their ordeal.

“For more than 36 hours, from the day of their arrest, they remained handcuffed and blindfolded. They were deprived of food and even disallowed to use the comfort room. Even if they are allowed, it was their custodians who pull their underwear. One female health worker complained that a female custodian was the one who washed her genitals when she used the bathroom,” said Dr. Rivera.

“Based on the accounts by the Morong 43’s relatives, the detainees were subjected to hours of interrogation despite their demands for legal counsel. The pregnant women were not spared,” she furthered.

The doctor also disclosed that the women detainees were sexually harassed.

Citing the detainees’ testimonies, Dr. Rivera said, they were all confined in dark cells and forced to listen to sounds of gunfire, the detainees were also forced to admit that they were members of the New People’s Army.

“They were not allowed to speak to each other and every night, they were slapped several times. Some had their pictures taken without their consent. One of the detained men already had sore arms and wrists from being tied down for so long,” says Dr. Rivera.

The 61-year old and hypertensive Dr. Montes, the alleged Gen. Palparan’s assassin, was said to be electrocuted and repeatedly hit on the chest while under interrogation.

“He told us, the pain was too much that after several hours, that he wanted to give in and admit that he’s an NPA—just to end the brutal punishment he was receiving,” Dr. Rivera revealed.

“The mental and physical torture inflicted by the AFP is inhumane and criminal. That they can do this to the very people who care for our lives and well-being speaks volumes as to the kind of soldiers and officers the military establishment employs,” furthers Dr. Rivera.

The militant doctor also assailed the statement of 202nd Infantry Brigade’s chief, Col. Aurelio Baladad that the relatives, who cried openly upon seeing the awful state of their loved ones, were just paid actors and not, in anyway, related to the detained.

Meanwhile, the socio-pastoral group, Promotion of Church People’s Response or PCPR condemned the alleged torture, illegal arrest and detention of Dr. Montes.

“We condemn the claims of the Philippine Army that Dr. Alexis Montes is a member of New People’s Army that plot to assasinate Gen. Palparan. Dr. Montes is active in health ministry of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. His involvement in the community health development is part of his faith and role as christian to lift and protect God’s given life especially of our marginalized brothers and sisters,” a blog entry of PCPR said.

Yesterday, human rights groups, families, and sympathizers have filed a petition for the issuance of Writ of Habeas Corpus before the Supreme Court.

The 17-page petition argued that “All the 43 men and women of the medical profession subject of this petition are presently detained and illegally and unconstitutionally deprived of their liberty by respondents, without any lawful cause and in utter disregard and violation of their constitutional rights.”

Moreover, it says, “The glaring truth is that the military and police really had no intention to search and apprehend a certain Mario Condes. Their intention is to harass, illegally search the farmhouse, plant pieces of evidence and illegally arrest the participants of the medical training using a patently unconstitutional search warrant in order for the search to have a semblance or appearance of legality.” (Noel Sales Barcelona/Pilipinas Reporter)