November 22, Manila – The ecumenical delegates led by 9 bishops of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) waited patiently forty-five minutes after the appointed time hoping to have an audience with President Benigno C. Aquino, III. In the end, the delegation was met by the Senior Deputy Executive Secretary and the Officer-In-Charge of the Office of the Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs (DSLA).
The audience supposedly with the President was initiated by the UCCP through its General Secretary, Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, to appeal to the President to order the release of the 43 health workers now entering their 10-month in detention at Camp Bagong Diwa. One of the detainees is Dr. Alex Montes, a member of the UCCP.
The delegation cited the earlier calls of President Aquino for a review of the case. Eventually, the Secretary of the Department of Justice sent her confidential report to the President. They also revisited the earlier comment of the President who, reacting to the arrest of the health workers said: “It is a generally accepted principle that what the lawyers call the fruit of the poisoned tree (or) evidence wrongly gotten cannot be used.”
For their part, Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Jose Amor Amorado and DESLA OIC Ronaldo Geron said the President has already read the confidential report of the Secretary of Justice. But they maintained that the President has left the matter to the courts.
Bishop Emeritus Jesse Suarez, referring to the President’s “tuwid na daan” said “the most upright of righteous thing that President Aquino can do now is to release the 43 health workers.” He added that “we shall always support the President as long as he does the right thing and we will oppose him when he treads the wrong path in his leadership.
Mr. Nardy Sabino, General Secretary of the Promotion of Church People’s Response expressed bafflement that the executive seemed helpless in the arrest and detention of the health workers despite the infirmities of the arrest. “This is the best opportunity to straighten a wrong.” Sabino said.
“We hope to see a speedy resolution of the case if not the unconditional and immediate release of the health workers as their continued detention has become a constant source of embarrassment before international community,” said Fr. Rex Reyes, Jr., General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, who was with the delegation.
Commenting on the dialogue later, Bishop Marigza welcomed the dialogue as an opportunity for the church people to be heard. “The ecumenical delegation will monitor and keep an eye on the case as it strongly believes that justice delayed is justice denied. The longer they are in detention, the more the Aquino government is exposed as incapable of dispensing justice,” Marigza said.
Other members of the delegation were a bishop from the United Methodist Church, Roman Catholic priests and the Religious of the Good Shepherd. The UCCP bishops represented their constituency in seven Episcopal jurisdictions spread out nationwide. Also present were some of the relatives of the detained health workers.
Earlier, on November 19, a full paid advertisement signed by Christian leaders in the Philippines, legislators and the international community landed in the pages of one national daily. The advertisement urged President Aquino to order the release of the health workers. ##
Bishop Reuel Marigsa
General Secretary, UCCP
Rev. Fr. Rex Reyes Jr,
NCCP General Secretary