Nine months have passed since the illegal arrest of 43 innocent health care workers on 6 February 2010 by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). These doctors, nurses and midwives now known to human rights defenders across the world as the “Morong 43” were arrested while participating in a one week First Responders Training, sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation, Inc. and the Council for Health and Development at the farm of Dr. Melecia Velmonte located in Bgy Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal. Dr. Velmonte is a respected infectious disease specialist as well as a consultant at the Philippine General Hospital and her farm is a regular venue for medical health trainings that attract community workers, hospital staff and academicians.It is also now one hundred days into the presidency of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III who has failed to decisively address ongoing human rights abuses jeopardizing his stated commitment to justice, protection and promoting of human rights articulated during the presidential campaign and inaugural address.
Contrary to constitutional and international law the health workers were on a materially flawed warrant and were detained incommunicado without access to legal counsel or visits from their families for their first two days in military custody.
The Philippine Commission on Human Rights has categorically stated that its own findings and initial observations confirm formal complaints that the health workers were subjected to mentally and physically degrading treatment while in military custody.
The illegal arrest, illegal detention, denial of justice and abuse committed against the 43 health workers are gross violations of their human rights. The methods resorted to by the military are clearly unconstitutional and show a blatant disregard for the rule of law as well as gravely threaten the credibility of the Aquino administration.
The health workers, save for five who remain in military custody at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, are currently detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Local health groups and civil society, however, have maintained that the 43 are community health workers and doctors who were conducting a health skills training in a private farmhouse when they were illegally arrested and arbitrarily detained.
o Judilyn Oliveros, one of those arrested, gave birth in July and is now under hospital arrest with her baby at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila but will only be able to stay there for four months after the birth after which Judilyn will be separated from her baby and returned to prison.
o Among the 43, is also Maria Mercedes Castro who on Monday, 18 October also gave birth at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), making her the second among detained health workers to give birth in custody.
o As women political prisoners, their rights have been doubly violated as they are vulnerable to sexual abuse, humiliation and torture.
o As mothers, the human rights abuses compound again as conditions in detention are not suitable for pregnancy, recovery, breastfeeding and proper care for children.
o President Aquino has even publicly admitted on 14 October that the Morong 43 were arrested on an improper warrant and should be release by the courts. Therefore Castro, Oliveros and the rest of Morong 43 should be immediately released from incarceration.
o President Aquino as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, order the immediate and unconditional release of the five health workers at Camp Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal and move for the courts unconditional release from police custody of the remaining Morong 43 who have now been held for more than eight months.
o Have the prosecutor drop all charges.
o Torture in all its form be unequivocally and immediately condemned.
o The government to ensure the safety of the Morong 43 so that they are not harmed while in custody ; and their belongings be returned immediately to them.
o Justice be served to the health workers and their aggrieved families.
o Instil human rights protections in governance and fulfil the Aquino campaign commitment to abolish “private armies,” provide justice for human rights abuses, and address impunity by the police and military.
o The military to stop the labelling and targeting of human rights defenders as “members of front organizations of the communists” and “enemies of the state.”
o The Philippine Government to be reminded that it is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that it is also a party to all the major Human Rights instruments, thus it is bound to observe all of these instruments’ provisions.
United the undersigned stand with numerous other local and international NGO’s to demand for the immediate and unconditional release of the “Morong 43” and to keep to the human rights based promise of genuine change in the Philippines.
o CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation (South Africa)
o Pedro Nikken, Former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
o Karapatan Alliance For The Advancement Of People’s Rights (Phillipines)
o Sinergia, Venezuelan Association of Civil Society Organizations (Venezuela)
o Women Promotion Centre (Tanzania)
o The Helps Organisation (Nigeria)
o Heuristic Management, LLC (United States of America)
o Association Camerounaise pour le Développement social et Sanitaire (Cameroon)
o Kurdish Union Association for Human Rights and Democracy (Sweden)
o European Union Projects (Egypt)
o Red Nicaraguense por la Democracia y el Desarrollo Local (Nicaragua)
o Oil Workers Rights Protection Organisation (Azerbaijan)
o Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
o Institute of Governance and Development(IGD) (Nepal)
o Youth Intercommunity Network (Kenya)
o The Cook Islands Association of Non Government Organisation CIANGO
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
PO Box 933, Southdale, Johannesburg, 2135, South Africa
tel +27 11 833-5959 ∙ fax +27 11 833-7997
email [email protected] ∙ website: http://www.civicus.org