Tuesday, February 16, 2010

‘Morong 43’ wins first round battle


THE so-called Morong 43, whom the military tagged as alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA), has won their first round battle with their military custodian during a hearing Monday by the Court of Appeals.

All 43 health workers were presented by the Armed Forces of the Philippines at the sala of Justice Portia Aliño Hormachuelos in compliance with the writ of habeas corpus issued by the Supreme Court last week.

The health workers arrived at the appellate court from Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, in an eight-vehicle convoy. Each of the workers was handcuffed to a uniformed soldier. Their handcuffs were removed inside the appellate auditorium where the hearing was conducted.

The health workers were presented by a group of counsels led by lawyer Romeo Capulong. The military, on the other hand, was represented by the Office of the Solicitor General.

During the hearing, both parties were given 24 hours to submit their respective arguments on whether the arrest was legal or not.

Capulong also moved for the transfer of the health workers from Camp Capinpin to Camp Crame in Quezon City.

“Under the law, whether the arrest was legal or illegal, they [workers] must be brought to the nearest police station,” Capulong said.

But the appellate court did not immediately rule on the manifestation, saying it has first to rule on the writ of habeas corpus petition, which would determine the legality of the workers’ detention in the military camp.

Presented as witness by Capulong was Dr. Alex Montes, who was one of those arrested.
Montes, on direct examination by Capulong, narrated the events leading to their arrest on February 6. He said their constitutional rights to due process were violated, claiming that they were handcuffed, kept incommunicado and blindfolded by the military following their arrest on suspicion that they were members of the NPA.

The military also claimed the group was undergoing explosive training, an allegation the workers have denied.

In their petition, the workers accused the military of using a defective search warrant to enter the premises where the 43 health workers were undergoing community health training over the weekend.

They added that the search warrant was issued by a Cavite court, which is outside the jurisdiction of Rizal province.

Meanwhile, the military denied the allegations that some of the workers were physically abused and sexually harassed, adding that the institution already expected such kind of allegation to discredit the successful operation of government troops.

Maj. Gen. Jeorge Segovia, Army’s Second Infantry Division commander, maintained that male soldiers are not allowed to touch or handle the female detainees and that the soldiers are being closely supervised.

“We expect that we will be receiving such allegations . . . they will concoct every story to discredit this operation,” Segovia told reporters.

The military official said the arrest of the 43 health workers is a big blow to the communist movement, especially to the NPA’s Southern Tagalog regional committee, which, according to military’s deep penetration agents, has never suffered such a setback.

Segovia said 21 of the 43 detainees are from the Southern Tagalog Command of the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA and are either from regional, provincial and guerilla front level.

With report from Jefferson Antiporda

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Justice for the 43!