Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A long history of attacks, abuses vs health workers

By RONALYN V. OLEA
By Bulatlat.com

MANILA, Philippines — Before the arrest, detention and alleged torture of 43 health workers on Feb. 6, other cases of human-right abuses have been perpetrated against community doctors and health workers serving in rural areas. The attacks range from murder, assassination attempts, raid and strafing to filing of fabricated charges and other forms of harassment.

Dr. Rogelio Peñera, an epidemiologist of the Department of Health (DOH), was shot and killed by assailants near his house in Davao City on June 24, 2009.

Peñera was among the seven doctors identified in the order of battle (OB) of the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, a copy of which was obtained by Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo. Six other doctors named in the list included Dr. Ruben Robillo, Dr. Jose Lacuesta, Dr. Shalom Lorezana, Dr. Eugene Nalian, and Dr. Rey Lesaca.

In the Caraga Region in Mindanao, Mat Morales, a community health worker (CHW) of the Religious of the Good Shepherd, was killed by unidentified men on January 26, 2006. Another CHW in Misamis Oriental, Jerry Ladica was also gunned down on July 26, 2006.

A doctor in Kalinga for 25 years, Dr. Constancio “Chandu” Claver survived an assassination attempt on July 31, 2006, but his wife, Alyce, who sustained 26 gunshot wounds, did not survive the attack. Their seven-year-old daughter Cassandra was physically unharmed but traumatized.

Claver is a past president of the Kalinga Medical Society. He is also the chairman of Bayan Muna (People First)-Kalinga chapter and vice chairperson of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA).

In an interview with Bulatlat in December 2006, Claver recounted how they experienced physical threats while passing through military checkpoints. Several of their health programs were also affected from 1992 to 1994 due to massive military operations but Chandu said that though health work in these areas slowed down, advocacy and organizing for health continued. “Our team was machine-gunned off the bancas (small boats) in Marag (Apayao),” he said, adding another incident where a staff member was detained for half a day in Cagayan. Their team was also subjected to house arrest and intimidation in Balbalan, Kalinga, he said.

Another doctor serving the poor in Central Visayas for 16 years now has been slapped with murder charges by the military. Dr. Oliver Gimenez was accused of killing a soldier of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who died during an encounter with a unit of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental, on Sept. 8, 2008. The murder case was filed at Bayawan City in Negros Oriental by Chief of Police Mario Rivera Jungco.

Gimenez’s colleague in the Visayas Primary Health Care Services Inc. (VPHCS), Cristina Muñoz, who is also a community health worker, is named as a co-accused.

In a far-flung community in Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, community health workers have risked their lives providing health services to the poor peasants. Sometime in October 2005, soldiers strafed the house of CHW Josephine Saguran. Four other CHWs were staying at her house during that time. Nobody was hurt but they recovered 19 bullets after the shooting.

Amy Tapales, another CHW in Guihulngan, said their training modules were confiscated. In one instance, the soldiers occupied the mountain clinic established by the Order of Franciscan Missionaries (OFM).

Quirante sisters Emilia and Maricris are also CHWs who provide acupuncture services to the residents. Emilia, former chair of peasant group Kaugmaon also acted as the health committee chair of the group. The two have been slapped with charges of child abuse and rebellion.

In another barangay, also in Guihulngan, Lourdes Baloy, also a Kaugmaon leader and CHW, has been charged with grave coercion by the military.

The Council for Health and Development (CHD), the national organization of community-based health programs (CBHPs), documented cases of harassment of medical missions in the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Kalinga, Rizal and in the Caraga region. Elements of police and military also “visited” community clinics of CBHPs in Cordillera, Samar, Leyte, Davao City and Saranggani.

Other health centers were converted into police outposts or military detachments, the CHD said.

Violations of the International Humanitarian Law

The military’s actions constitute violations of international humanitarian law as provided for by Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions. Article 9 of the Geneva Convention provides for the protection of medical and religious personnel. “Medical and religious personnel shall be respected and protected and shall be granted all available help for the performance of their duties.” Furthermore, Article 10 provides that, “Under no circumstances shall any person be punished for having carried out medical activities compatible with medical ethics…”

“Harassment of health workers was done during martial law years but today is worse,” said Dr. Eleanor Jara, executive director of the CHD during a live webcast with Bulatlat on Feb. 17.

Jara said the government fails to provide the basic social services to the poor in farflung areas and it is the activists who help in managing a people-based health program.

Jara further linked the recent attack on health workers to the government’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL).

“Under OBL, the military has been given a carte blanche by the Arroyo regime to disregard the most basic tenets of due process and human rights. For the AFP, a person is guilty until proven innocent,” said Dr. Geneve E. Rivera, secretary general of Health Alliance for Democracy (Head).

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