Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Doctor is IN (JAIL)

by Dr. Nickson Austria

My lacrimal glands are overworked with anger as I write this.

Just recently a group of 43 health workers and close friends were arrested in a farmhouse in Morong, Rizal for conducting trainings in health care. Amongst them are 2 doctors, one a surgeon from the south having taken time off his busy clinic schedule for his “retirement” and the other a mother of 2 her youngest an 11-month old, taking time off “moonlighting” from different hospitals, both opting to spend their time training community health workers serving in areas so far flung that the words “Marcos” and “Philippines” fail to ring a bell amongst locals.

I am no sucker of ad misericordiams and so are Drs Meri and Alex. In fact if you ask them they will never consider themselves as heroes though their efforts are not a bit less heroic. In times when most of our colleagues opt to stay in carpeted air-conditioned clinics earning big bucks for their services, some actually a handful of others volunteer to hold clinics in waiting sheds, farmhouses and even under the trees to help those who have neglected for so long in exchange for smiles and salamat, docs .

Furthermore these doctors did the extra mile training community health workers to impart their knowledge and skills in the hope to broaden the base of an already dwindling number of skilled personnel ready to render services in the barrios. Quite outrageously, the AFP thanks them with illegal detention, trumped up charges on top of physical and mental torture.

Also one of these "bomb- making experts" is Mama Del or Del Obera, a 60 something health worker who has no public declaration as to her age for obvious reasons. Mama Del is a health professional but by the way I know her I sincerely doubt her capacity to understand the complexities of making bombs or even to entertain thoughts of making such for the creation of mass hysteria to jeopardize the elections as per AFP claims. Though terrorists can really be masters of deception, they still follow common/practical sense. A feeble sixty something lola who if my memory serves me right does not even know to navigate the internet, as a member of an elite group of explosive specialists and assassins? Who is next Rosa Rosal harboring weapons of mass destruction in the Red Cross blood banks?

I am appalled with the absurd conclusions of the AFP’s intelligence service or the obvious lack of intelligence in the AFP itself. They must at least have done a profile check of the people they are about to arrest. The list of these unlikely suspects totals to all 43 and they are all real people like us.

The AFP is also setting a dangerous precedent to the conduct of future search and arrests for matters of the state. Armed with a search warrant issued by a Cavite RTC they raided a farmhouse in Morong, Rizal. These dimwits in the AFP took the name Regional Trial Court quite literally and expanded the jurisdiction of the Cavite branch to the entire Southern Tagalog which is of course absurd in legal parlance. The Velmontes have every right to refuse the execution of the warrant for it violates the simplest judicial protocols on jurisdiction, which states that the warrant should have been issued by a Rizal RTC. Even the address written in the warrant was unclear, it only stated Bgy Maybangkal, Morong, Rizal and nowhere in it was the Velmonte farm mentioned. If it were to be followed, the entire barangay can be searched which is absurd and reminiscent of martial law.

Also the AFP claimed to have an arrest warrant for a certain Mr. Conde who happens to be not one of the 43. These people are being detained for orders not valid and clearly not intended for them. If this is how the AFP executes the law, anyone of us can be searched, arrested and detained anywhere we are in the Philippines for a warrant issued against a certain Ping Lacson.

I am a doctor and not lawyer but somehow there seems to be something gravely wrong if this continues to be the conduct of things. Just to drive it home, the AFP has no right to serve the warrant as these people they alleged to be doing illegal activities are non combatants and unarmed. Even if it were a subversion case, the basis which of by the way is no longer in existence, the PNP should be the implementing agency and they should be detained by the BJMP and not the AFP.

Lastly I am also concerned on the impact of these arrests to the future of community medicine. Given the current situation, low compensation, physical isolation, political instability and lack of career growth options have already taken their toll on the few kindred souls who stay in the far flung barrios. Adding illegal arrests, torture and harassment plus the serious threats to our lives, I doubt if a barrio based practice remains to be one of the career options for any of our young doctors and medical students. In the end as always the underserved communities are the ones in the receiving end of this tragedy, tao na naman ang talo.

There is but one way to at least do some damage control, it is for the AFP to apologize for their errors, to punish those who abused their authority and to FREE THE 43. NOW.

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