Sunday, February 14, 2010

Laguna doctors troubled by arrest of ‘Morong 43’

By Maricar Cinco
Inquirer Southern Luzon

SAN PEDRO, Laguna, Philippines -- Even doctors and health workers without political affiliations are alarmed by the arrest of the 43 health workers whom the military has tagged as communist rebels.

Dr. Rosauro Sta. Maria, a consultant at the University of Perpetual Help System in Biñan and a member of the Laguna Medical Society, said Sunday the arrest of the so-called “Morong 43” created a scare among medical practitioners who have been conducting regular medical missions in the remote areas in the province.

The 43 -- composed of doctors, a nurse, a midwife and health volunteers -- were arrested in a joint police and military raid in a rest house in Morong, Rizal, on Feb. 6, as they were conducting health training.

They have been held for over a week now in a military camp in Tanay, Rizal, over suspicions that they are members of the New People’s Army.

“When we conduct medical missions, we don’t ask the patients if they are (members of the) NPA. And even if I knew and if I helped them, would that make me an NPA?” said Sta. Maria in a phone interview.

“If the patient is a military man, we’d also treat him, just the same. So long as they need help, we don’t care (who they are). It’s part of our doctrine,” he added.

Sta. Maria said the scare has trickled down to the nurses and health volunteers. “Now, they hesitate to join us in medical missions and I can’t blame them.”

His group provides free medical services, literacy and disaster preparedness trainings to poor communities, especially after Tropical Storm “Ondoy” struck Laguna in September.

“Most of our Filipino doctors are now migrating abroad for higher pay. And for the few of us who decide to stay here, is this how they treat us? What do these doctors get out of helping people? Nothing,” St. Maria lamented.

He also asked state forces to leave the medical sector out of their war against the communists.

”Doctors are very busy people. They would not have time making bombs. They’d rather buy bombs than risk blowing themselves up!” he said, brushing off military reports that ammunitions were recovered from the 43 arrested.

The doctor also assailed the military for failing to present the 43 health workers in a hearing on Friday despite the court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. “Now that makes us really wonder why could they not show these doctors? Do the doctors have lashes on their bodies?”

But the military has denied torturing the 43 persons to force them to admit links to the communist guerrillas.

Sta. Maria said members of the Philippine Pediatric Society in Southern Tagalog, Philippine Academy of Family Physicians and other medical societies in Laguna have been organizing themselves to drum up the campaign to free the 43 health workers.

“Is this Martial Law? They’re doing it all over again,” he said.

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Justice for the 43!