Kin, friends of Morong 43 filing habeas petition before SC

MANILA, Philippines – Relatives and friends of the 43 health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal over the weekend are asking the Supreme Court on Tuesday to issue a writ of habeas corpus even as they raised allegations the military has been torturing and violating the rights of the detainees.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Teodoro Casiño said on dzXL radio that once the petition is granted, “we will file administrative charges.”

The health workers, who include two doctors, were arrested Saturday morning in a raid on a farm in Morong by the military and police, who claim the suspects were New People’s Army members undergoing explosives training.  Authorities also said the raiders seized weapons and explosives from the farm.

But colleagues and relatives of the health workers, who remain detained in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, said the suspects were being trained in community health work.

Over the same station, Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, spokesman of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, urged media to stop describing the detainees as health workers, saying they should be referred to as NPA “sympathizers.”

“Mali pong health workers. Sila ay tumutulong sa New People’s Army. Sila ay umamin na rin. Hindi sila health workers dahil wala naman masama sa pagiging health worker. Sila po ay inaresto dahil may kasama silang mga criminal (Health workers is wrong. They are helping the New People’s Army. They have admitted this. They are not health workers because there is nothing wrong with being a health worker. They were arrested because they were with criminals),” Detoyato claimed.

Earlier, Detoyato also claimed that one of the arrested doctors, 61-year old surgeon Alexis Montes, “is a member of the NPA’s Special Operations Group (SOG) and was tasked to kill (retired) major general Jovito Palparan,” now a representative of the party-list Bantay and who had been accused of sanctioning extrajudicial killings when he was a military commander.

But Dr. Geneve E. Rivera, secretary of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), belittled Detoyato’s claim against Montes, who belongs to the Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED).

Rivera said Montes is also an elder of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).  “After receiving his medical degree from the University of the East College of Medicine in 1976, he has been active in the community service and had been the UCCP’s national coordinator for health and services for two decades,” she said.

She urged the release of Montes who, she said, “is suffering from hypertension.”

Casiño said the arrest of the health workers was reminiscent of martial law. “Dudukutin kung sino ang pinaghihinalaang rebelde. Hindi ko maintindihan kung bakit naging ebidensya ang polyeto ng Bayan Muna (They arrest anyone suspected of being a rebel. I cannot understand how Bayan Muna pamphlets came to be evidence),” he said, referring to materials of his party-list that the raiders said was among the evidence they had seized.

The lawmaker also accused the military of inhumane treatment of the detainees.

“Hindi sila pinapatulog. Kapag nag-C-CR, hindi sila ang pwedeng maghubad ng kanilang underwear. Ang mga militar ang naghuhubad ng underwear nila (They are deprived of sleep. When they need to use the toilet, they cannot undo their underwear. It is the military who undresses them),” he said, adding that some of the health workers were forced to confess to what he described as false charges.

Citing conversations between the detainees and their relatives, who were finally allowed inside Camp Capinpin Monday, Casiño said the raiders herded the health workers out before conducting the search authorities would later claim yielded the weapons, explosive and other supposed evidence.

But Detoyato brushed this aside, claiming there were village councilors who witnessed the search.

Rivera, meanwhile, also urged the military to release another doctor, Merry Mia of the Council for Health and Development, for the sake of her two sons, the youngest of whom is turning one-year old on February 19.

“When they arrested Dr. Mia, it (was) just like they have left two young kids orphaned,” Rivera said.

Rivera said Mia and Montes had been actively involved during relief operations following typhoons “Ondoy” and “Pepeng”.

“Yet instead of recognizing their contribution and sacrifice, these people are being vilified and demonized by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). Military officers like Brigadier General Jorge Segovia, Colonel Aurelio Baladad, and Lieutenant Colonel Noel Detoyato are worse than criminals for the sheer number of laws they violated in conducting their illegal arrest and detention,” she said.

Aside from the habeas corpus petition, Bayan Muna is also filing a separate case against the military for the allegedly illegal raid and for waging partisan politics against the party-list.

Representative Neri Colmenares, who is also a human rights lawyer, said the military officers who cited the Bayan Muna materials as part of the evidence against the health workers “are public officials” who attempted to link the party-list to “a fabricated crime.”

“Their black propaganda efforts (constitute) partisan political activity and an election offense under the Omnibus Election Code,” Colmenares said. (By Dateline Philippines, with a report from Noel Sales Barcelona)