Monday, April 26, 2010

More political prisoners join fasting for the immediate transfer of health workers to Camp Crame

Even behind bars, political prisoners from different parts of the country are expressing their solidarity with the continuing struggle of the 43 health workers for justice and respect for civil and political rights.

Political prisoners from Compostela Valley, Cagayan de Oro, Tagum in Davao del Sur, Ozamis City, Oroquieta, Dipolog, Samar, Cebu, San Fernando Provincial Jail in Pampanga, Camp Crame in Quezon City, and the National Bilibid Prison join the nationwide call for fasting to demand for the immediate transfer of the 43 health workers to Camp Crame.

By refusing to eat their daily meal rations, the political prisoners including the health workers detained at Camp Capinpin show their indignation and rage on the AFP’s disobedience to CHR summons and their failed transfer to Camp Crame.

According to the FREE THE 43 HEALTH WORKERS! Alliance, families and colleagues call for the health workers' immediate transfer to Camp Crame because of the continuing mental and physical torture that the detainees suffer in Camp Capinpin. Families of the health workers also suffer harassment and intimidation by AFP personnel. Visiting hours are irrationally strict and limited only to members of the immediate family. The detainees' doctors of choice are not even allowed within the Camp's premises.

The alliance furthered that such irrational restrictions of the AFP are against Republic Act 7438 or the Rights of Person Arrested, Detained, or Under Custodial Investigation as well as the Duties of the Arresting, Detaining and Investigating Officers. Hence, the demand for immediate transfer to the PNP custodial facility in Quezon City.

If the AFP and PNP will not heed the courts on the order for transfer of detention, the group pledged that political prisoners all over the country, relatives and supporters will go on a hunger strike until their demands are met.

The health workers, families, and supporters began their fasting on April 17 and will continue until the health workers are transferred to Camp Crame. The fasting center is at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City.##

Julie Caguiat
Celphone Number: 0909 113 3038

Philip Paraan
Media Officer
Celphone Number: 0919 486 1580

Sunday, April 25, 2010

AFP, PNP Handling of Morong 43 is a Post-Election Preview

Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD)
2/F Doña Anita Bldg
284 E. Rodriguez Ave., Quezon City
Telefax: (02) 725 4760

Health Alliance for Democracy today warned candidates and political parties participating in the 2010 elections regarding the probable actions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police in any post-election scenario.

According to Dr. Geneve Rivera, HEAD secretary-general, both the AFP and PNP have shown very little respect for the rule of law and the primacy of civilian authority, as seen by their handling of the detained health workers known as the Morong 43.

“Candidates and their political parties, as well as groups who pin their hopes on the results 2010 elections, must heed the omens of AFP and PNP insubordination. Both the AFP and PNP refuse to submit themselves to legally mandated authorities, which portend what they will do post-elections.”

The health group believes that if the AFP and PNP are allowed to defy civilian authorities now, as what they are doing with the Morong 43, then these two armed institutions will continue to do so if election results are not to their liking.

“The military has consistently defied the courts. They first refused to obey the Court of Appeals during the writ of habeas corpus hearings. Now they are defying the Regional Trial Court of Morong, Rizal by refusing to transfer custody to the PNP.”

“The AFP has also questioned the jurisdiction of the Commission on Human Rights, a constitutionally-mandated body. Military officers even belittled the CHR and its threat to hold them in contempt.”

Similarly, PNP officers have colluded with the military by allowing flagrant violations of due process that led to the arrest and detention of the 43 health workers. The PNP has also twice refused to take into custody the 43 despite court orders.

“The AFP and PNP have tested the waters and found it very accommodating. They have seen how easily they can get away with their abuses. They also know that they can use the courts and the Department of Justice in their favor.”

“These are tell-tale signs of things to come. Those who are vigilant about their votes should also be vigilant about how these alleged guardians of law and order have appropriated unto themselves the power to subvert civilian authority.” ###


Dr. Geneve E. Rivera
Cellphone Number: 0920 460 3712

Dr. Darby S. Santiago
Cellphone Number: 0927 473 7700

Saturday, April 24, 2010

First, it was the Court of Appeals. Then, it was the Commission on Human Rights. Now, it is the Regional Trial Court of Morong, Rizal.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police continue to defy the laws of the land, this time by refusing to carry out a direct order from Morong RTC,” said Dr. Geneve Rivera, secretary general of Health Alliance for Democracy.

The order is for the transfer of custody of the detained health workers held in Camp Capinpin, known as the Morong 43, to the PNP in Camp Crame. Yet instead of taking custody of the 43, the PNP has filed another motion to refuse.

“If the two biggest groups of state security forces cannot even effectively carry out a simple transfer of custody, they are either shamelessly incompetent or arrogantly making a mockery of the judicial process.”

“Either way, the AFP and PNP should both be held in contempt of court by the Morong RTC,” added Dr. Rivera.

The Commission on Human Rights has earlier threatened to hold the military officers in contempt of court for refusing to attend its hearings investigating human rights violations and abuses.

In the meantime, the health group vowed to continue supporting the 43 health workers in their struggle for freedom. They and their families are now on their eighth day of fasting as a form of protest to demand their immediate transfer.

“The actions of the AFP and PNP reveal how easily these two can undermine civilian authority. The AFP and PNP is proving to all Filipinos that legal processes are merely tools by the government to exonerate its allies and punish its enemies and detractors,” concluded Dr. Rivera. ###


Dr. Geneve E. Rivera
Cellphone Number: 0920 460 3712

Dr. Darby S. Santiago
Cellphone Number: 0927 473 7700


As if they have not suffered enough, the detained health workers known as the Morong 43 will have to wait longer as the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police continue to refuse to transfer them to Camp Crame.

“We strongly condemn the AFP and PNP for their refusal to carry out a court order from the Morong Regional Trial Court. This is a continuing injustice being perpetrated to the detainees and their families,” said Dr. Julie Caguiat, spokesperson of the FREE THE 43 HEALTH WORKERS NOW! ALLIANCE.

“The AFP and PNP are engaging in a sham at the expense of the detainees.”

The health workers, as well as their families and colleagues, vow to continue their fasting, now on its 8th day, to demand their transfer.

Officers of the PNP had previously refused to take into custody the health workers citing an alleged lack of facilities. The recent transfer of the Maguindanao massacre suspects gave the PNP no more excuses, as the Morong RTC reiterated its transfer order.

However, instead of obeying the order, PNP officials submitted an omnibus motion to the Morong Regional Trial Court, in effect refusing custody of the 43.

“Since when has the PNP been choosy about who to take into custody? Isn’t it their job?” added Dr. Caguiat.

“The situation of the health workers in Camp Capinpin is worsening every day. Aside from the verbal harassments, they are now denied lights and water.” Dr. Caguiat also said that camp authorities continue to deny entry to doctors and medical teams who wanted to check the health conditions of their colleagues.

“It is important is that they (health workers) are out of military custody.”

However, both the AFP and the PNP remained recalcitrant.

“It seems that neither the AFP nor the PNP is willing to obey the law. They should be cited for contempt of court by the Morong RTC.”

“We are also calling on the Supreme Court to expedite the resolution of our appeals. Every day of detention is a day of injustice for the health workers and their loved ones.”

Relatives and supporters of the detained health workers vowed to continue fasting and if not transferred immediately, to go on hunger strike.


Julie Caguiat
Celphone Number: 0909 113 3038

AFP, PNP obligadong sumunod sa bagong utos ng korte na ilipat ang Morong 43

By Ilang-Ilang D. Quijano
Pinoy Weekly

Obligado ang Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) at Philippine National Police (PNP) na kagyat na ilipat ang 38 sa detenidong mga doktor at health worker sa Kampo Crame, matapos katigan ng Regional Trial Court Branch 78 sa Morong, Rizal ang nauna nitong desisyon na tanggalin sa kustodiya ng militar ang ‘Morong 43’.

Inaasahan ng mga kaanak at tagasuporta ng Morong 43 na maililipat ang mga detenido anumang oras, matapos ilabas kahapon ni Acting Presiding Judge Amorfina Cerrado-Cezar ang desisyon.

“In view of the transfer of the forty seven (47) policemen detained in PNP Custodial Center, Camp Crame, Quezon City to the Metro Manila District Jail, Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City on April 17, 2010, the order of this court dated April 7, 2010 is hereby reiterated,” nakasaad dito.

Ibinasura ng korte ang Motion for Reconsideration na inihain ng PNP para harangin ang paglipat ng mga detenido sa Kampo Crame, sa dahilang “walang espasyo” diumano para sa kanila sa Custodial Center. Nakarating na sa Quezon City ang mga detenido mula sa Kampo Capinpin sa Tanay, Rizal nang pabalikin sila ng PNP noong Abril 10.

Pero ayon sa bagong desisyon ng korte, tiyak na may espasyo na para sa kanila dahil sa paglipat kamakailan ng 47 pulis na suspek sa masaker sa Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

“This decision is immediately executory. Unless a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is issued by the higher courts, the AFP and PNP will have to comply,” sabi sa panayam ni Atty. Julius Matibag, isa sa mga abogado ng Morong 43 at tagapagsalita ng National Union of People’s Lawyers.

Idinagdag ni Matibag na kakasuhan nila ng contempt of court ang kaukulang mga opisyal ng AFP at PNP kapag hindi naisagawa ang paglipat.

Pangako ni Hen. Segovia

Sa isang text message umano kay Atty. Rachel Pastores, isa pang abogado ng Morong 43, ipinangako ni Hen. Jorge Segovia, hepe ng 2nd Infantry Division ng Philippine Army, ang paglipat ng mga detenido bukas, Abril 25.

Hihintayin naman ng mga kaanak, tagasuporta, at abogado ang paglipat sa susunod na dalawang araw.

Nakatanggap ng impormasyon ang mga abogado ng Morong 43 na naghain ang PNP ng Omnibus Motion sa RTC para muling pigilan ang paglipat—ito umano ang dahilan kung bakit hindi nailipat ang mga detenido ngayong araw.

Pero ayon kay Matibag, “This new court order cannot be assailed by a second motion for reconsideration.”

Hunger strike

Nangako naman ang mga kaanak at tagasuporta ng Morong 43 na maglulunsad sila ng hunger strike kapag hindi muling matuloy ang paglipat. Walong araw na silang nagsasagawa ng fasting para sa paglipat ng mga detenido, na tuluy-tuloy na dumaranas ng tortyur sa kamay ng militar.

“Lumalala kada araw ang sitwasyon ng detenidong mga health worker sa Kampo Capinpin. Bukod sa verbal harassment, lagi silang pinapatayan ng ilaw at hindi binibigyan ng tubig…Mahalagang wala sila sa kustodiya ng militar na walang respeto sa kanilang karapatang pantao,” sabi ni Dr. Julie Caguiat, tagapagsalita ng Free the 43 Health Workers Alliance.

Binatikos naman ni Dr. Geneve Rivera, pangkalahatang kalihim ng Health Alliance for Democracy, ang patuloy na pagsuway ng AFP at PNP sa mga korte.

“Ipinapakita nila kung kaano kadali lamang mabalewala ang civilian authority. Ipinapakita nila sa lahat ng mga Pilipino na ang mga prosesong ligal ay ginagamit lamang ng gobyerno para mapawalang-sala ang kanyang mga alyado at parusahan ang kanyang mga kaaway,” aniya.

Tinutukoy niya ang pagpapawalang-sala kamakailan ni Kal. Alberto Agra ng Department of Justice sa dalawang miyembro ng pamilya Ampatuan, habang patuloy na nakadetine ang mga doktor at health worker na pinaparatangang rebelde.

Limang ‘di isinama

Samantala, sa Abril 27, bibisita ang Commission ng Human Rights (CHR) sa limang detenido na sinasabi ng militar na bumaligtad at magiging “state witness.” Hindi isinama sa paglipat sa Kampo Crame sina Valentino Paulino, Cherrylyn Tawagon, Ellen Carandang, Genalyn Pizzaro, at John Mark Barientos.

Iimbestigahan ng CHR ang alegasyon na tinortyur ang lima para umaming miyembro ng New People’s Army.

Ibinunyag din ni Matibag na kakasuhan nila sa Integrated Bar of the Philippines ng disbarment o pagtanggal ng lisensiya sina Atty. Cyrus Jurado at Atty. Hilda Saclay-Clave dahil sa “violation of the right to independent counsel of the accused.”

Umano’y malinaw na kinutsaba ng militar ang dalawa, na nagpapakilalang bagong abogado ng limang health worker at nagpapirma ng kanilang bago at kuwestiyunableng mga salaysay.

Friday, April 23, 2010

‘Morong 43’ supporters ask SC to grant habeas corpus plea


Health organizations called on the Supreme Court (SC) for a prompt reversal of a month-old Court of Appeals decision, which had junked an earlier petition for a writ of habeas corpus that would have looked into the legality of the arrest and detention of the so-called Morong 43.

Julie Caguiat, spokesperson of the Free The 43 Health Workers Alliance, said that overturning the CA decision and eliminating the so-called Enrile-Ilagan doctrine, which she called an “outdated procedural jurisprudence," will strengthen the Bill of Rights protecting the citizenry against the abuses of the state.

The CA had invoked the SC ruling on the Ilagan vs Enrile case—issued in 1985 under the Marcos regime—as its basis for relegating to a regional trial court in Morong, Rizal the decision whether to declare the February 6 arrest of the 43 health workers as illegal and arbitrary.

The 43 had filed with the CA a petition for the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus so that the court could look into the legality of their arrest and detention. But the CA declared instead that their petition became “moot and academic" because a case was already filed in court and an order of commitment issued against the 43, the group said in a press release.

Almost three months since the arrest, the Morong 43 are still detained in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal where they claim to "suffer various forms of human rights violations from the hands of the AFP" and despite a court order to transfer them to a civilian detention last month.

Caguiat noted that recent events, such as the dropping of murder charges against two members of the Ampatuan clan implicated in the Nov. 23 Maguindanao massacre, have created "much disappointed and distrust in the country’s justice system."

“This much awaited decision of the Supreme Court is a crucial stand on human rights. Even other political prisoners who were victims of trumped-up charges will sure to benefit from this decision." Caguiat said.

Caguiat also said that “the Supreme Court, as the last bastion of order and justice, should hear our plea and prove that the wheels of justice are still turning."—JV, GMANews.TV

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Morong 43 has nothing to do with PNP's casualties in Antipolo ambush

Families and colleagues of the 43 health workers illegally detained at Camp Capinpin stood their ground and asserted that their struggle for justice is framed on legal remedies and they will never resort to violent means.

FREE THE 43 HEALTH WORKERS NOW! Alliance denounced claims linking the 43 health workers to the recent ambush of SAF elements in Antipolo by alleged NPA guerillas. The alliance decried the statements of Supt. Mel Mabilin, Deputy Regional Director for Operations-4A of the Philippine National Police that so-called claymore mine materials will be compared to those that were collected in a training facility in Morong, Rizal on February 6.

“We condole with the families of the ambushed police personnel. We understand their grief as we are aggrieved too with the continued torture and detention of our loved ones. However, we are once again enraged that state troops will blame and link the health workers to the Antipolo ambush,” Mrs. Evelyn Montes, wife of Dr. Alexis Montes said.

According to Dr. Julie Caguiat, spokesperson of the alliance, it is irrational to compare materials recovered from the ambush site in Antipolo to those that were collected in the training facility of Dr. Melecia Velmonte because the ammunition and firearms that were allegedly recovered there were maliciously planted to discredit a health skills training by legitimate health workers.

“We challenge the PNP to uncover the truth in the Antipolo ambush and the unlawful arrests in Morong. If indeed they have nothing to hide, we challenge them and the AFP to face the Commission on Human Rights and face investigative hearings,” Dr. Caguiat ended.##

Julie Caguiat
Celphone Number: 0909 113 3038

Philip Paraan
Media Officer
Celphone Number: 0919 486 1580

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Harassment of Morong detainees continues, immediate transfer to Camp Crame urged

AFP threats to produce 5 more coerced witnesses.

On the 4th day of fasting, relatives, fellow health advocates, and other groups supporting the cause to release Morong 43 gathered once more today at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani to call for freedom and justice for the 43 detained health workers.

However, kin of the detainees who visit Camp Capinpin daily revealed that in the last few days, detention guards and other camp officials have been threatening the detained health workers that they are out to get 5 more detainees to turn to their side.

This verbal threat and persistent harassment of detained health workers could only mean continued physical and psychological torture, just like what the AFP earlier did to detainees John Mark Barrientos, Valentino Paulino, Jennelyn Pizzaro, Cherelyn Tawagon, and Ellen Carandang who admitted, under duress, that they are armed rebels.

Dr. Julie Caguiat expressed concern for the 5 forced witnesses of the military, though physically mobile inside the camp, they remain in a virtual prison with the military's control on them. The doctor shared that since the 5 detainees were separated from the other health workers, legal counsels from the Public Interest Law Center and National Union of People's Lawyers were not allowed to see them anymore.

The AFP is now employing every dirty tactic up its sleeves to obtain forced and false witnesses to incriminate the illegally arrested health workers' said Dr. Julie Caguiat, spokesperson of the FREE THE 43 HEALTH WORKERS NOW ALLIANCE.

Threatening the detainees, obtaining witnesses and false testimonies under duress is certainly not a protocol, harassment is still a crime.

The group reiterated its call for the transfer of the Morong 43 to Camp Crame saying their colleagues are never safe in the hands of the military who have since grievously violated the health workers' rights.

Dr. Caguiat also pointed out that since Camp Crame has already settled to a certain extent its' logistical or space problems with the transfer of Maguindanao massacre suspects, the Philippine National Police no longer has any conceivable reason or excuse not to heed to the earlier released court order of the Morong Regional Trial Court.

"If there is any gesture that the PNP can do to prove that it is not as guilty as the AFP in the case of the Morong 43, it should begin by following the courts and taking the health workers into their custody now,"Caguiat reiterated.

The detained health workers, relatives, and supporters began their fasting last week, April 17, to express their rage and indignation on the unlawful arrests, detention, and continued harassment. The fasting will continue until the health workers are transferred to Camp Crame. The fasting centre is at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City and is open to those who support the plight of the 43 health workers and fight for the defense of human rights.###

Julie Caguiat
Celphone Number: 0909 113 3038

Philip Paraan
Media Officer
Celphone Number: 0919 486 1580

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Morong 43 Launch Fast for Freedom, Humane Treatment

By Ronalyn Olea

Dubbed as Morong 43, the detainees have refused to eat their daily rations, Dr. Julie Caguiat, executive director of Community Medicine Foundation (Commed) and spokesperson of the Free the 43 Health Workers! Alliance said.

Arrested on February 6, the Morong 43 were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives and were accused by the AFP of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA). The health workers filed a complaint against their military captors before the CHR for violating their right to due process, for placing them under solitary confinement, for torturing them, among others.

The military officers accused of violating the human rights of the Morong 43 did not show up during the CHR’s second hearing and were merely represented by their legal counsels. The AFP has also refused to produce the Morong 43 in CHR hearings, and questioned the jurisdiction of the commission by citing the sub judice rule. For ignoring its summons, the CHR has initiated contempt proceedings against the military.

“It is outrageous that the protest has to come to this,” Evangeline Hernandez, spokesperson of Hustisya! and mother of slain activist Benjaline Hernandez, said. “Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has kept her eyes, ears and mouth shut about the case of the 43 health workers despite the illegality of their arrest and detention, their torture and the clamor for their release,” she said.

On April 7, the Regional Trial Court in Morong ordered the transfer of the Morong 43 from Camp Capinpin to Camp Crame, headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP). On April 9, however, the PNP, refused to take custody of the detainees, saying that their detention facility is already ‘overcrowded.’ The PNP Legal Division filed a motion for reconsideration before the RTC Morong.

At yesterday’s hearing on the PNP’s motion, the court said it has yet to look for another detention facility that can accommodate the 43, Julius Garcia Matibag, one of the legal counsels of the Morong 43, told Bulatlat.

Political prisoners detained at the PNP Custodial Center inside Camp Crame rebutted PNP’s statement, saying that overcrowding is not a problem. In a joint statement, the 22 political prisoners said that those arrested after the Magdalo protest in Manila Peninsula on November 29, 2007 were brought to the camp.

“It is even more alarming that the Morong 43 are continuously being subjected to psychological torture in the hands of the military despite the fact that they have been slapped with criminal charges before a civilian court,” the political prisoners said in a statement sent to media by Karapatan. They, too, have started fasting in solidarity with the Morong 43.

The CHR and the legal counsels of the Morong 43 have repeatedly asserted that the detainees should be brought to a police detention facility, as provided for by the rules of court. The Morong 43 were instead taken to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, the headquarters of the Philippine Army’s 2nd Division and have been there for more than two months already.

“The Morong 43 must be commended and supported for going into fasting to raise the level of their struggle to fight for freedom and assert their rights to be treated humanely while in prison,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan Karapatan chairwoman and a political detainee during martial law, said.

The Morong 43’s relatives and supporters also joined the fasting as they gathered at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City this morning.

Edita Burgos, president of Desaparecidos and mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos and Raymond Manalo, a torture survivor, were among those who expressed joined the sympathy fast.

“We must conquer anger and not let them bait us into violence. But we must also not fear and not let them silence us,” Burgos said.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Defiant 43

Letter from the counsels for the Morong 43

These photos were taken immediately after the hearing yesterday before the Morong Regional Trial Court on the issue of their transfer from a military camp to a civilian police jail. There is an obvious scheme to keep them in the hands and at the mercy of the military.

They have been in the military camp since their illegal arrests last February 6, 2010 and have since been subjected to various forms of physical and psychological torture, threats, coercion, harrasments, intimidation, repeated and endless interrogations without the presence of counsels of their choice, among others. Their families are also being surveilled, harassed and threatened. Their private doctors are arbitrarily refused entry. They are still being subjected to psychological torture and psy-war tactics and to arbitrary restrictions. Five of them are presently segregated from the rest, kept in a military safehouse and are under duress and given military lawyers who eased out their counsels of choice. The latter have not been allowed to see or confer with the five since the start of March.

In spite of all of these and what they went through, they remain steadfast, committed, now even more assertive of their rights and in a fighting, defiant yet still jolly mood as the first picture shows. It was taken at the end of the lawyers’ briefing and before they were herded back to the military buses en route back to the military camp.

They shall go on fasting starting today in protest of their continued detention in the military camp and the deliberate refusal of the military to bring them to the last two hearings before the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) where they filed complaints against the military and police for atrocious human rights violations based on well-documented accounts. The military continues to defy and disrespect the CHR mandatory orders.

Please use these pictures as you deem fit. As far as we know, these are the first complete group pictures of the detainees with their lawyers. (No cameras are allowed inside the military camp, much less the taking of the detainees’ pictures as a group.)

Thank you.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)
Public Interest Law Center (PILC)
Counsels for the Morong 43

Friday, April 16, 2010

Other political prisoners join solidarity fasting for the Morong 43

Political prisoners from all over the country will join the fasting of the detained health workers, their relatives and supporters tomorrow, April 17 as an expression of their rage against the PNP’s refusal to accommodate the health workers in Camp Crame and the AFP’s defiance of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) order to bring the 43 to the commission hearings.

According to Dr. Julie Caguiat, they will go on a continuous 24-hour fasting until the health workers are transferred to Camp Crame. She said that the health workers detained at Camp Capinpin will also hold their own fasting and refuse to eat their daily ration to show their indignation on the AFP’s disobedience to CHR summons and their failed transfer to Camp Crame.

“We are overwhelmed at the flow of support especially those that come from political prisoners. Like the 43 health workers, they are detained because of ridiculous and trumped up charges that were never proven. Their civil and political rights are trampled and they are also subjected to physical and psychological torture. Indeed, the 43 are not alone in the struggle for justice,” Dr. Caguiat added.

The fasting will commence at 9:00 am on Saturday, April 17 at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City and will continue until the health workers are transferred to Camp Crame in Quezon City.##


Julie Caguiat
Celphone Number: 0909 113 3038

Philip Paraan
Media Officer
Celphone Number: 0919 486 1580

Free Morong 43, Bangit told

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez

MANILA, Philippines—As his first act as newly-appointed chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Lieutenant General Delfin Bangit should release the 43 health workers under military detention.

Makabayan-Nacionalista Party senatorial candidate Satur Ocampo on Tuesday posed this challenge to Bangit as the latter takes on his new job at the helm of the country’s 120,000-strong armed forces.

Ocampo said Bangit should prove that he would not stand for military abuse of authority and immediately order the release of the health workers arrested in Morong, Rizal early last month on suspicion they are communist rebels.

“This is the least that Bangit can do. The arrest and continuing detention of the Morong 43 is another major black mark on the record of the AFP and affirms its reputation as an institution that violates civil, political and human rights,” Ocampo said.

“Ordering the release of the Morong 43 could be Bangit’s most just and noble act as a military man,” the leftwing lawmaker said in a statement.

The 43 health workers were arrested while attending health training in Morong, Rizal early last month. They have been detained at Camp Capinpin since then.

Cloud of suspicion hangs over the appointment of Bangit, especially as election day nears, because of his perceived closeness to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Bangit has served as the head of Arroyo’s Presidential Security Group before becoming head of the Intelligence Service of the AFP, then Army chief.

Ocampo said the incoming AFP chief “can earn the respect of civil society and human rights advocates if he orders the release of the Morong 43 and apologize for the massive abuse of authority the military committed by arresting and detaining them.”

“Bangit can shake off his reputation as a ‘yes’ man of President Macapagal-Arroyo by doing this,” he added.

Ocampo, an incumbent representative of Bayan Muna party-list, said all eyes would be on Bangit this election, adding that there are suspicions he would be Malacañang head operator in rigging the results.

“Bangit is being given the opportunity to prove his critics wrong by distancing himself from all of Malacanang’s plans related to the elections. Otherwise, the Filipino people will hold Bangit responsible if and when the May 10 election becomes tainted with fraud. The military’s conduct come election day will also either be credited or blamed on Bangit,” he said.

In a separate text message, Liberal Party senatorial candidate Rufino Biazon said a peaceful and honest election in May would be a feat for Bangit’s career as a military officer.

“He would be redeemed from the ‘Hello Garci’ issue and suspicions of being an administration puppet,” Biazon said. “By such an accomplishment, he would give his person, his position and the AFP as an institution a reason to receive the appreciation of a grateful nation.”

Names of certain generals, most of whom have since retired, were mentioned in the infamous “Hello, Garci” tapes that had forced President Arroyo to admit talking to an election commissioner widely believed to be Commission on Election official Virgilio Garcillano, Jr. The President apologized for talking to the commissioner, whom she did not name, but insisted she was just inquiring about the status of her votes and not asking him to cheat.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Brussels, Belgium

Op donderdag 15 april verzamelden een 70-tal mensen voor de Filippijnse ambassade om de vrijheid te eisen van de Morong 43. De 43 gezondheidswerkers die op 6 februari op illegale wijze in de Filippijnen werden gearresteerd zitten nog steeds vast. Het lijkt een zoveelste daad om de volksbeweging te intimideren... geen toeval in volle verkiezingsperiode. Wij organiseerden samen met het platform Stop the Killings een symbolische actie.

On Thursday 15th April intal and the Stop the Killings platform managed to gather 70 people in front of the Philippine embassy in Brussels to demand the immediate release of the Morong 43.

In the afternoon a delegation was received at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the evening we installed a prison and asked people to wear white.

While a delegation was received inside the Philippine embassy, we imprisoned 43 people in solidarity with the Morong 43. Medical Doctor Geert gave a testimony afterwards of his visit to the Philippines 2 weeks ago where he met with the staff of CHD. As a doctor he has been in many countries such as Iraq, and he was shocked by the case of the Morong 43.

Original Article (Dutch)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rights Body to Initiate Contempt Raps vs Military for Failing to Produce Morong 43

By Ronalyn V. Olea and Anne Marxze D. Umil

For the second time, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) failed to produce the 43 health workers at a hearing conducted by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

The 43 health workers or the Morong 43 were arrested February 6 in Morong, Rizal. They are detained at Camp Capinpin. The Morong 43 filed charges of human rights violations against soldiers and policemen involved in their arrest and detention.

Ser-men Ayuyao of Judge Advocate General’s Office (Jago) insisted during the CHR hearing today April 12 that they need to secure an order from the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Morong to bring the 43 health workers to the CHR hearing. Ayuyao said that since the court ordered the transfer of the Morong 43 to Camp Crame, the AFP was not able to ask clearance from the RTC.

“We do not need any prior authority to compel the appearance of detainees in CHR’s hearings,” CHR Chairwoman Leila de Lima said.

De Lima said the directive to produce the Morong 43 is directed to the AFP or the Philippine National Police and with or without a court order, the institutions must comply.

Romeo T. Capulong, lead counsel of the Morong 43, said the authorization from civil courts is totally unnecessary given the mandate of the CHR.


“There is no earnest effort on the part of the AFP to comply with the order,” de Lima said.

The respondents filed petitions with the Court of Appeals to stop the CHR from further proceeding with its hearings on the arrest of Morong 43. The AFP claimed that the CHR has no jurisdiction to proceed with the case, citing the subjudice rule. The rule states that when a legal matter or controversy is under the jurisdiction of a court (subjudice), nobody, including the press should interfere by publishing statements or commentaries regarding the court’s handling of the proceedings.

“The CHR will not renege on its mandate under the Constitution. You have been testing our patience,” de Lima said. “We will initiate the appropriate contempt orders,” the CHR chairwoman added.

De Lima said that the March 19 order of the CHR is also directed to the high-ranking officers of both the AFP and PNP. “We can also hold them accountable,” she said.

Commissioner Cecilia Quisumbing said the decision to cite the AFP and PNP in contempt would be made by the Commission en banc.

No Show

Even the respondents to the complaint did not show up at the hearing. Only the lawyers of the AFP and PNP were present.

Brig. Gen. Jorge Segovia, Col. Aurelio Balabad, commander of the 202nd Infantry Brigade and Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, commander of the 16th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, P/Supt. Marion Balonglong of the Rizal Provincial Police were among the respondents.

Arthur Llamas, counsel of the PNP, said Balonglong has another appointment. When asked what appointment it was, Llamas said he did not know.

State Prosecutor II Romeo Senson who subjected the Morong 43 to inquest proceedings without the presence of lawyers also did not attend the hearing.

Judge Cesar Mangrobang who issued the search warrant also did not show up. Cyrus Jurado who claims to represent the five of the 43 health workers, was also not present. Both Mangrobang and Jurado submitted a manifestation that they will not comply with the CHR order.

No Ground Commander?

P/Supt. Allan Nubleza, chief of the Rizal Provincial Intelligence Branch, appeared before the hearing. He told the CHR that he would leave tomorrow for United Nations peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

Nubleza denied he was the ground commander of the Feb. 6 operations that led to the arrest of the 43 health workers, contrary to what Balonglong said during the first hearing of the CHR. He said he was there together with his team to evaluate the suspects and verify who among them have standing warrants of arrest. Nubleza admitted that it was only later that he found out that one of the Morong 43 has a standing warrant of arrest. He said the AFP informed him that two of the Morong 43 were involved in a January 2009 ambush in Bgy. Macabud, Rodriguez, Rizal.

“Who was in charge?” asked de Lima. Nubleza said the PNP was in charge of the search warrant. As for the arrest, Nubleza said he did not know. He also said he was only there in his capacity as head of the provincial police intelligence branch.

Still No Mario Condes, ‘Dubious Firearms’

Dr. Melecia Velmonte, owner of the farmhouse that was raided and her son Jose Manuel testified before the CHR and said they knew no one by the name of Mario Condes.

Mario Condes is the name written in the search warrant.

Jose Manuel said they have a neighbor by the name of Masikat Condez who has a property 300 or 400 meters away from their farmhouse.

Dr. Velmonte recalled the incident on Feb. 6 and said the armed men who did the raid never approached her.

“The improvised landmine appeared to be an improvised trash can,” Jose Manuel told the CHR.

Jose Manuel also noted that grenades were allegedly found on top of a bed, on top of the table and other places which he described as conspicuous, adding that he would not know if these were real.

Jose Manuel also said their LCD projector, which was used during the training is missing. He also said that he noticed one soldier carrying a bag containing laptops after the official search.

Statement from Prison

“We are the victims of gross human rights violations wrought by the AFP, Norberto Gonzales, and the Arroyo administration’s political desperation and fanatic goal of ending the insurgency at all costs even to the extent of trampling civilian rights and the rule of law,” the Morong 43 said in a statement from detention.

They said further that five of their companions were “deceitfully and forcefully removed from the detention center and are being forced to cooperate with the military for the latter’s propaganda purposes and to testify against us.”

“Questioning, threatening and deceitful offers of house and lot, money and freedom in exchange for military “cooperation” by our military captors continued at the detention center anytime of the day until the last week of February,” they said.

The detainees said they were photographed by the military captors when going to court hearings and are videotaped when government officials visit them.

The CHR set the next hearing next week.

Blighted: Philippine jurisprudence and State Repression – The Morong 43


Forty three health professionals and community health workers were illegally arrested February 6 in a dawn raid by a swarm of Philippine Army and Police personnel. Incredibly, the arrest was trumpeted as a huge triumph in the counter-insurgency program which the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been obsessively trying to complete by the end of her term, which follows the May General Elections. The 43 were labeled as communist rebels, members of the New People’s Army, which continues to frustrate all efforts to defeat it once and for all. In fact, the NPA has been racking up stunning victories in recent months as they continue their hit and run strikes at military and police targets across many provinces of the archipelago.

The plight of the 43 calls for an examination of the jurisprudence of repression in the Philippines. For after five weeks of detention in an out of the way military camp, being subjected to on-going interrogation, threats and inducements, torture and, for some, solitary confinement, the Court of Appeals rejected their case for release brought by the writ of habeas corpus. They continue to languish in detention. It is military detention, not even police detention as should be the case given that they are being held on criminal charges, not for political offenses.

The relevant facts are simple enough. At 6 am on the morning of the February 6 a joint raiding party of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) entered property at Morong, Rizal Province belonging to Dr. Melicia Velmonte who is Chair of the Board of Directors of the Community Health Development Fund (COMMED). She is Professor Emeritus of the College of Medicine, University of the Philippines. The entry was not consented to. In fact she and others resisted the forced entry of the raiders who did not , initially, present their search warrant. Inside the compound, a noted Conference and Training Center, were 43 persons engaged in a week-long Community First Responders Training program, co-sponsored by two NGOs, COMMED and the Council for Health and Development (CHD). Amongst the 43 were 2 medical doctors, a registered nurse, 2 midwives, 2 health educators and 36 volunteer community health workers.

The AFP//NP had obtained a search warrant from the Regional Trial Court at Imus, Cavite Province, at least 100 kilometers away from Morong, which strongly suggests that they wanted a tame judge who would co-operate by not looking too closely at the request for a warrant, especially one which was unconstitutional on its face! The warrant was not specific as to the property to be searched (a fatal flaw in law); in addition the warrant was made out in the name of one Mario Condes, who neither lived at the Velmonte property nor was he there at the time, nor was he known to any of those present on the property. According to the story put out by the AFP/PNP, they had received information from a secret source indicating that Condes had been seen in public with firearms and constituted a danger to the public. There seems to have been a hint that Condes was an NPA, though precise details have not been forthcoming. It is clear that the search warrant was a fraud and was to be used as a cover for the raid on the Velmonte property.

During the raid the 43 were herded into one area while the raiders searched the rest of the compound. They claim to have discovered some weapons and some explosives. As a result, all 43 were arrested, bound and taken to Camp Capinpin in Rizal. For five days they were interrogated, some were placed in solitary confinement, some apparently tortured and harassed, threats were made to them and toward their family, and forms of inducement as well as intimidation were applied. They were told to confess to membership in the New People’s Army. Five of the 43 were separated from the others and apparently worked over physically and psychologically until they confessed to being NPAs. They have since told their relatives that they were coerced into making these false confessions.

In violation of their legal rights, none of the 43 were informed of the charges they were facing until they were charged on the 11th February, five days after their detention. Worse, they were denied access to legal counsel, a violation of their Constitutional rights. Not only were they refused legal counsel generally, they were illegally denied legal representation at the State Prosecutor’s Inquest. Further, the Inquest was entirely perfunctory, another illegality. And that failure to actually inquire into the manner by which the 43 had been detained and presented for an Inquest was disregarded by the reviewing Senior State Prosecutor who simply approved of the recommendation to lay charges against the 43. All of this was in violation of their constitutional rights under the post-Marcos 1987 Constitution.

A petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed February 9 by lawyers retained by friends and relatives of the 43. The Supreme Court directed that the 43 be brought for a hearing at the Court of Appeals on 12 February. But the AFP claimed it could not comply due to security concerns, suggesting that the NPA would try to free the detainees. They also claimed they needed more time to prepare for the hearing. On the day, they refused to present the 43. However, charges were laid with the Regional Trial Court on February 11 as part of a deliberate legal strategy to defeat the detainees case which was based on the many serious violations of their Constitutional and legislative rights,. The RTC then issued a committal order. The charges were: 1) illegal possession of firearms and explosives; 2) violation of Commission on Elections (Comelec) ban on firearms during election period. It was these charges which became the center of the judicial disagreement in the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals rebuked the AFP and directed them to present the detained persons on the 15th of February. This order was complied with, and the case was heard . But the 3 Justice bench could not come to the required unanimous decision, dividing 2-1 in favor of the detainees. Two more Justices were appointed to take part in a re-hearing of the matter. In view of the decision which went against the detainees, it might be thought that this was a clear case of Court-stacking. The Justices finally handed down their decision, on March 9.One might be forgiven for thinking this was an incredible delay-3 weeks- in which the ill-treatment and violation of rights continued. By a vote now of 3-2, the majority rejected the detainees petition, leaving them to continue to languish in the hands of the military.

The majority Justices relied on a precedent from martial law days, Ilagan vs. Enrile, to apply the doctrine of “curative informations” which allowed them to ignore the illegalities committed in the search, arrest and subsequent proceedings, as they were said to have been “cured” by the filing of criminal charges against the 43. Thus they found in favor of the AFP/PNP, and dismissed the comprehensive case for release made on behalf of the 43 by lawyers of the National Union of People’s Lawyers and the Public Interest Law Center, led by a leading Filipino human rights lawyer, Attorney Romeo Capulong.

Put simply, the majority Justices argued that the legal precedents favored the military, and that although the search and arrests could be considered illegal, this illegality was “cured” when criminal Informations, or charges, were filed in the Regional Trial Court on the basis of the recommendations from the State Prosecutors. It was their position that the law was clear: habeas corpus no longer applied; that the question of the rights of the charged persons could now be dealt with in the courts, and that the issue of their guilt or innocence could be tested in open court.

The majority decision was very narrow, legalistic and ultimately unprincipled. They were effectively saying: we deny there is any higher Constitutional principle of security from arbitrary arrest and wrongful search and seizure. This was a classic decision of a pro-State court giving virtual carte blanche to the repressive agencies of the State. It was a classic decision of a State court supporting an arbitrary and authoritarian State.

It is such decisions that Marxists have historically pointed to as indicating the repressive role of the judiciary, and the legal system generally, acting on behalf of the ruling class. Nevertheless, the struggle will continue, not just in the extra-legal resistance being mounted nationally and internationally, but within the institutions of the State. There will be further rounds of legal argument as the case is appealed to the Supreme Court of the Philippines, and also in the extra-judicial constitutionally mandated Commission on Human Rights.

But just as we learned from BLIGHTED, leading criminal lawyer Frank Chavez’ recently published expose of the pervasive corruption of the Filipino legal system, the rule of law can easily be dispensed with should wealth and/or power demand it. As has been said in the past “In the Philippines the law is only a suggestion”. Thus the Court of Appeals majority ignored the basic human rights of the 43 in favor of the forces of the State and their counter-insurgency program, OPLAN BANTAY LAYA (Operation Freedom Watch).

Law as a Site of Struggle – Sword and Shield

Of course progressives around the globe, not least in the Philippines, understand that the law is tilted in favor of the powerful elite; nevertheless, as was clear in the work of Marx and Engels (who had a very good understanding of the “politics” of law) the law is a site of struggle; it is important to use the legal system as a shield for those the State tries to repress, and even occasionally as a sword against State agencies which have failed, or refused, to carry out their duties. The writ of habeas corpus-now supplemented by the recent innovations of Chief Justice Puno, the writ of amparo and the writ of habeas data- has sometimes proved such a weapon. But circumstances differ, and in the Morong 43 case, there was a set of circumstances in which the release of the wrongfully detained 43 was always highly unlikely.

What are those circumstances which provide a context in which the case can be better understood?

First, of course, is the “requirement” by the detested President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, that the armed forces totally eliminate the threat posed by the New People’s Army by the end of her term, June 30, 2010. This target is clearly not going to be reached as the campaign is meeting reversal after reversal. In a number of provinces the NPA is attacking with larger units than previously, inflicting continuing casualties, especially on forces of the AFP, but also units of the PNP.

Second, there must be continuing “successes” against the NPA to de-legitimate their struggle, and to signal that the AFP/PNP are still effective instruments of repression. This is especially true as the military campaigns in the southern provinces of Mindanao and Sulu have been less than impressive. The MILF and its “lost commands”are continuing to fight a low-key insurgency in the South, while the Abu Sayyaf continues with its bandit operations in several southern provinces. Without some “successes” it is not hard to imagine that the weak military capacity of the GMA government would become embarrassingly exposed. One result of that would be a very loud clamor for inquiries into the corruption in the military establishment which has so weakened the morale and fighting ability of the soldiers on the ground.

Third, by the “capture” and display of alleged NPA members-and the Morong 43 are only one of several groups recently “captured” across the country and labeled as ‘communist rebels”- the AFP/PNP are able to disrupt the work of community groups which represent a very significant pool of motivated and trained non-elites who have realized that the State has not and will not provide for the welfare of the masses, therefore community action is required. This is a part of the historic mission of the Filipino State-crush those groups which attempt to work with and for the people, and who by their simple humanity represent a threat to the bureaucratic capitalist state and the warlords who support it. And there is a long history of attacks on the community health sector. Organization on behalf of the people is not seen by the forces of reaction as a positive development, rather it threatens the very core of the system. Despite the use of fear induced by threats, harassment and death; hunger; ill-health; and other methods of controlling the unorganized masa, the always present possibility of the people becoming organized-and astutely led- is a constant nightmare for those who wish to rule by force and feudal custom.

Fourth, as the country moves to the May elections, the “dark forces” of the politico-military complex (remember the 6 dozen or more military men surrounding GMA) are laying a foundation for “necessary” military interventions against progressive groups who are trying to work within the political framework under the Constitution. For almost a decade the Left has been increasing its presence on the political map, and the national and international stature it has gained has enabled these progressive forces to influence opinion about the present government which continues to be an embarrassment. Not only that, it represents the major barrier to continuing repression and super-heated exploitation of peasants and workers. The ruling elite would be desperate to prevent the Left from being in a position to increase its political influence with the newly elected government, especially in regard to the decade- long campaign of murder-with-impunity of trade union leaders and other social activists who are trying to democratize the country and improve the position of the masa.

Fifth, by “revealing” the subterfuge and duplicity of medical professionals and “pretend” community health workers -who according to the AFP were initially said to be “bombmakers” and NPA cadres in training, then the “medical bureau” of the NPA- fear and suspicion is instilled in the community, a growing political cynicism is given further impetus. A democratic country cannot exist when citizens distrust each other and fear or distrust the institutions of the State as well as non-State organizations. The lack of substantive democracy in the Philippines-despite the formal trappins of a democracy- suits the rulers. Their capacity to salt away millions and rule in their own interests is only possible because the people cannot unite to overthrow the structures and ideology of capitalist individualism and its attendant greed.

While it is impossible to know how these, and other, contextual matters are filtered into the conscious, and unconscious, consideration of judicial matters such as the case of the Morong 43, I would argue that they are not completely ignored by the Justices in their meditations on the law, the facts and the consequences of their decisions. Surely, in different degrees and with different understandings of the importance of such factors, Justices of Appeal are well aware of the context in which they live, as we all are. Given their elite education and years of training in an elite profession-and in most cases their elite background, or aspirations- it would be improbable that their decision-making would be uninfluenced by such matters.

Understanding the Jurisprudence of Repression

Let us look briefly at the Court of Appeals decision. It is important to remember that judges make choices. They are not tightly bound by particular precedents unless they wish to be. That point is often lost on non-lawyers. At the level of the Court of Appeals, the Justices have room to maneuver. They know that every case is different, no matter how similar they seem at a general level. There are always factual differences, and differences in context (eg time or place) which can be used to “distinguish” a precedent so the judge does not have to follow a case from the past. And of course, all laws are not the same-there are some which are more fundamental than others, some principles are basic, others are essentially pragmatic. In the Morong 43 case we can see illustrations of these propositions.

The majority admitted that the arrest and detention of the 43 was illegal from the beginning. The warrant used as a pretense to enter, without consent, the private property of Dr Velmonte was clearly constitutionally invalid for the purpose of the raid that morning. It was a general warrant, lacking in the required specificity regarding the property to be searched. Nor was the person named as the person to be arrested present at the property, or even known to anyone at the property searched. Thus on general constitutional principles the raid was invalid, any evidence discovered in the raid was “fruit of the poisoned tree” and could not be used as evidence against the 43 . (This is putting aside the fact that the evidence of weapons and bomb making equipment was surely planted).

Instead of simply doing the obvious and upholding the principles well established in Philippine jurisprudence-no general warrants, no use of illegally obtained evidence- which would have led to the release of the 43, three members of the court chose to go in another direction. They looked back to Martial Law days under the dictator Marcos, and rescued the State’s case against the 43 by a neat little judicial sleight-of-hand. According to the “precedents” which they chose to be bound by, in particular the case of Ilagan v. Enrile, there was a way to “cure” the illegality involved in the raid. The 43 had been charged in the courts, and therefore the issues of guilt and innocence-and ultimately whether they should be held or released-would be decided in their trial! So the majority refused to allow the release of the 43, rejecting the detainees arguments on the writ of habeas corpus. Since the matter had been “cured”, the habeas corpus proceeding was no longer the place for their status to be determined. For these three Justices, illegality no longer matters once there are criminal charges filed (days later of course, during which time the detainees suffered grievous violations of their human rights as “guaranteed” in the Constitution and also in Imternational Law.)

As I commented above, the Ilagan case could easily have been gotten around. It need not apply. The reason it applied was because the 3 Justices wished to have it apply. How could a Justice escape from the shadow of Ilagan? Easy. First, it was a martial law era case. That would be enough for the Justices to say: We will not use it. Circumstances no longer support the use of such a restrictive doctrine. They could also add that precedents from that particular court should be looked at as tainted, or unsafe to apply. And of course, the facts of Ilagan could be said to be substantially different, therefore it was not appropriate to follow that case. (Interestingly Ilagan was a well known oppositionist and human rights lawyer. Ironic.) Alternatively, the court could just say that the Ilagan case represented a view that was not acceptable in a democracy today, and that a competing principle had to take priority: the rights of the citizen under the Constitution include the right to be free from illegal arrest and search, especially in the security of their abode. These are bedrock principles, recognized not only in Filipino jurisprudence but also widely in the international community. Finally, a Justice could even refer to the current global situation: first, a simple statement that the world has moved on and we do not allow illegalities to be “cured” as that subverts the rule of law; or another line of attack, especially for a conservative justice, would be to say that to win in the global competition between ideologies, Filipino jurisprudence should extend the protection of the law ever more widely rather than to restrict human rights. ( An alternative version sometimes heard over the years is that “We must ensure that in fighting X we do not lose that which we value and which distinguishes us from X.” There are many other ways of putting the same point.)

The Legal Struggle Joined: Dissenters’ View

In two impressive dissenting opinions the minority Justices clearly laid out the grounds for demolishing the majority view. They both believed the case was an outrage and that the detainees should be released because of the enormity of the illegal actions of the AFP, PNP, the State prosecutors and the RTC Judge who granted the search warrant.

Justice F. P. Acosta, significantly perhaps the youngest and most junior of the judges, wrote a powerful and persuasive opinion, though only one of the other 4 judges were sufficiently impressed to join him in deciding against the prosecution. Nevertheless, his argument and use of legal material is exemplary, and thereby makes it difficult for the Supreme Court to reject the appeal from the Court’s decision. Of course all of those Supreme Court Justices who will hear the appeal were appointed by President Arroyo and thus far have not disappointed her in their previous decisions. This case will definitely be a test of the independence, and integrity, of the Philippine judiciary at its highest level.

Acosta, J. took the basic position that “this Court should always stand as a guarantor of the basic constitutional and human rights and it has the bounden duty to see to it that these rights are respected and enforced.” A clear statement of principle. Upon that foundation he was able to build the case for judicial supervision of all acts of State agents regardless of any case law to the contrary. First, he quoted from his own chosen precedents e g a 1994 decision of the Supreme Court, Allado vs Diokno: “The Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights, defines the limits beyond which lie unsanctioned state actions. But on occasion, for one reason or another, the State transcends this parameter. In consequence, individual liberty unnecessarily suffers. The case before us, if uncurbed, can be illustrative of a dismal trend. Needless injury of the sort inflicted by government agents is not reflective of responsible government.”

From this Acosta went straight to the point: “This Court, sitting as a Habeas Corpus court, has the power to inquire into the legality of every aspect of the detention, despite the subsequent filing of the several informations against the 43 detainees…this Court is duty-bound not to take on its face the fact that informations have been filed against the detainees, and consider them as a cure to whatever violations the law enforcers may have committed against the basic constitutional rights of the detainees.”

Having set out the principled position challenging the majority decision, Acosta then turned his guns on the basis for that decision: “It becomes apparent that the doctrine in Ilagan vs. Enrile, which notably was decided during the Martial Law regime, has been used as a shield by law enforcers to escape from the court’s claws of judicial inquiry. And it is precisely pursuant to that doctrine that the court’s hands are tied thereby preventing Us to pass judgment on the very reason why the Petitioners instituted the instant case.”

Now he piles on added weight and, in effect, makes the case that the basic premise of the majority decision is an unworthy and anti-Constitutional element : “To quote the words of Justice Sarmiento in his dissenting opinion in Umil vs. Ramos ‘In my considered opinion, Ilagan vs. Enrile does not rightfully belong in the volumes of Philippine jurisprudence.’ ”

After setting out his position and undermining the very basis for the majority decision, it was simply a mopping up operation, though deftly done. Referencing the Constitution, Acosta made it clear that the search warrant was not valid because it lacked the required specificity. Since that is so, he rightly points out that it was as if there was no search, thus the items seized-being the “fruit of the poisonous tree”- could not be used in any judicial proceeding against the detainees.

He further showed that the arrests of the 43 were also invalid. There was no arrest warrant, and there were no grounds for an arrest without warrant. The latter because there was no crime being committed, or recently committed, by any of the 43. ( Even if they were communist NPAs, that is not by itself a crime). And the firearms and explosives were not in their possession when found in and under beds. (It seems they were planted during the search, which was carried out while all people in the group were held outside the buildings they had been dragged out of.)

The main safeguard against arbitrary prosecution of detained persons is a thorough Preliminary Investigation (or Inquest) by a Prosecutor supposedly independent of the arresting authority. It is their task to test the case against the accused and to determine whether it should proceed to trial. This is the Constitutional position in the Philippines. But in this instance, the Prosecutor (and his Senior Supervisor) simply fell into line with those authorities and gave them the thumbs up on the processes of the detention , and the allegations they filed in support of criminal charges. With the recommendation of the State Prosecutor that charges be laid and that the Regional Trial Court take jurisdiction over the mandated trial, the State was then in a position to argue that the Ilagan vs. Enrile concept of “curative information” could apply. With that, the fundamental illegalities of the State agents, and the serious violations of the rights of the 43, would be wiped from the slate. There is a ‘cure” for everything if that gets the State and its agents off the hook.

Again referencing the Constitution, as well as Republic legislation, Acosta was scathing about the Inquest which was held to determine what charges-if any-should be filed against the 43. Despite a clear Constitutional requirement that accused persons have a right in all criminal proceedings to be represented by legal counsel, and the elaboration of that right through the legislative requirement that “Any person arrested, detained or under custodial investigation shall at all times be assisted by counsel”, the detainees here were refused legal counsel throughout the 5 days of their detention, including the Inquest which was, in fact, entirely perfunctory. There was no investigation whatsoever, simply a Roll Call and the Inquest was complete! The Justice commented on the nature of an Inquest that “it is subject to the requirements of both substantive and procedural due process…it goes to the very heart of the Bill of Rights provisions of the Constitution. In effect, to deny an accused of any of his rights during the conduct of an inquest proceedings would be to deprive him of his right of due process, thereby invalidating the entire proceedings. The subsequent filing of the Information based on a defective proceedings would just put at naught the most cherished right in all civilized nations. We might as well relegate the right to liberty from its prime position among the protected rights in our fundamental law to just some obscure crevice not worth revisiting. Any action on Our part upholding the detention bodes ill for this Court and the entire nation. It is a desertion of our most solemn duty as the guardian of civil liberties, instead of continuously bearing, mighty and proud, the torch of freedom to illuminate the nooks and crannies of our democratic country.”

The Justice was also scandalized that the military had refused to bring the 43 before the Court as ordered, on the 12th of February. The reason for this refusal was clearly not as reported to the court that there were practical difficulties and security concerns. It may have been, as some media commentators have suggested, to allow more time for signs of torture to disappear or at least recede. It could also be that the AFP/PNP were making a statement-they are not going to simply lie down and allow the courts to order them around. (This view is strengthened, tangentially, by their refusal to obey an order from the Commission on Human Rights to attend an open Inquiry into their behavior, scheduled for March 18.) It is also possible that they wanted to make sure they would have the tame Inquest and the laying of charges completed so that when the writ of Habeas Corpus was dealt with, the “curative Information” doctrine could then apply. But Acosta saw through their unconscionable scheme, stating that the invalid Inquest meant that the Informations laid and the correlative order by the RTC committing the 43 to trial were also invalid. Thus there could not be a “cure”, even if that concept was still a part of Philippine jurisprudence. Therefore, in his view, the detainees should be released.

Mr Justice N. B. Pizarro also dissented from the majority decision. As he stated at the beginning of his opinion, “The issues are of paramount and transcendental importance, involving as they do some of the most important rights of the Filipino in the line up of freedoms, sacrosanctly embodied in our 1987 Constitution”. Thus like Acosta, J. he would rely on the fundamental principles of human rights found in the basic law, the Philippine Constitution. It trumps such context-bound precedents as the majority had relied on, in particular the Martial Law era case, Ilagan vs. Enrile.

While much of this judgment parallels Acosta’s reasoning and the highly critical tone and language applied to the State agents, military and prosecution, Pizarro adds to the list of serious violations committed against the Constitutional rights of the detainees. Thus he notes that the “detention of the detainees is way beyond the thirty-six (36)-hour limit prescribed in Art. 125 of the Revised Penal Code.” Again, “ the informations were filed to remedy the unlawful search and arrest and render moot the issue in the instant petition for habeas corpus- a matter I cannot simply tolerate.” He then provides a homily upon the need to refuse to be beguiled by the possible short-term benefits of rights violations. Thus “Extra-constitutional measures have no place in our society. True, they may for a time be beneficial, yet the precedent is pernicious, for although established for good objects, they might, in time and as in this case, be availed for some improper purpose. Truly, therefore, there is a need to “slay the dragon at first sight” lest we be so enraptured by its paucity that we fail to recognize the embers of its fury”.

In summing up, the Justice took a swipe, impliedly, at the use of the old Martial Law precedent by the majority: “In the end, in a habeas corpus proceedings as the one at bench, an inquiry into the legality of the proceedings or processes is necessarily called for as it is crucial in safeguarding the constitutional rights of the herein detainees against an obvious and clear misjudgment. Regardless of ideology, creed, or label, the paramount consideration which admits of no inclination should be the respect for the majesty of the law, springing forth from our respect in the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of our people.”

A Progressive State Tribunal: The Commission on Human Rights

As a result of lessons learned from the Marcos Martial Law era about the weakness of the judiciary, including sadly the Supreme Court, in the face of a resolute authoritarian leader, the 1987 Constitution established a Commission on Human Rights. It is empowered “ to investigate, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights…(and) provide appropriate legal measures for the protection of human rights of all persons within the Philippines…and provide for preventive measures and legalaid services to the underprivileged whose human rights have been violated or need protection”. The CHR has been involved in the Morong 43 case since the day after they were arrested. On February 7 a special investigation team went to Camp Capinpin to investigate the detention and the conditions in which the 43 were being held. They were refused entry at that time. However, the Chair of the CHR is a very determined lawyer, and there is a culture in the CHR , developed over several years, of not laying down before the military and the police. It has been an important part of the resistance to State violence and impunity for human rights abuse, including killings and disappearances. After pressure from the CHR, and media publicity, the military allowed them to carry out investigations in the Camp on three occasions. On the 25th of February they also were handed a complaint about treatment of the detainees in the Camp. This was filed by Attorney Capulong on behalf of the lawyers for the detainees and their relatives.

Following their investigations, and the information which was coming to them from various sources, the CHR scheduled public hearings into the matters arising from the February 6 raid, the detention and subsequent treatment of the 43. That hearing was scheduled for 18 March. But the military and police refused to attend, as did the Judge who granted the search warrant and the State prosecutors. The military and police said they would only attend if there was a court order, though the CHR Chair has responded that they cannot require a court order, and that they are likely to be cited for contempt of the Commission. This matter is still in dispute. The State prosecutors notified the Commission that they were relying on the sub judice rule, as well as invoking the right to remain silent. Again, these matters have not been resolved.

In the meantime the Chair of the Commission, Leila De Lima, has taken the opportunity to comment on the Court of Appeals decision, and the minority opinions in particular. In a guarded statement (because the case itself is sub judice, being appealed to the Supreme Court):

“The dissenting Justices Pizarro and Acosta do make a very compelling point about reviewing the jurisprudential development of ‘curative informations’ and re-examining our obeisance to the doctrine established by Ilagan vs. Enrile, which is a martial law-era decision…While it is true that courts must adhere to judicial precedents, especially for the purpose of maintaining uniformity of rulings, the same courts are capable of overturning themselves if the current circumstances dictate a change….Does our appreciation of human rights today differ significantly from our appreciation of the same back in 1985, the time of the Ilagan vs. Enrile case? I should hope so. But does it now require a change in our jurisprudence? At the very least, I believe it deserves more than a scant re-examination, and the CHR joins the public clamor for this re-examination of this still-prevalent practice of filing curative informations. We had seen this before, in the suspicious campaign to hold militants in detention, to languish in jail….To thoroughly examine all the conditions behind the detention of a person is within the prerogative of a court hearing a habeas corpus petition. But the prerogative becomes a duty as in the duty to animate the protective mantle enshrined in the Bill of Rights, especially where the coercive power of the state appears to be patently illegal-which, in this case is the search conducted on the strength of a warrant which fails in its validity. In this day and age, with our growing awareness and new appreciation for human rights against a backdrop of a decade marked by our adamant defiance to and rejection of crimes of impunity, is it still acceptable to “cure” human rights encroachments…. It is now up to the Judiciary to decide the course of jurisprudence on this matter. At best, we may be at the cusps of a future landmark decision that further galvanizes human rights protection. We should always aspire for the development of human rights thought. At worst, we remain where we are.”

The Continuing Struggle

The legal struggle continues. Part of that struggle is the extra-legal presence of the people on the streets. Let us do what we can to support the Morong 43. The organized force of the people in protest and opposition becomes a part of the “legal field” which will be considered by the courts despite their claims of judgement according to the law and only the law. The people help to make the law through their willingness to oppose tyranny.


NFS statement, February 9 - 2010

The Nederlands Filippijnse Solidariteitsbeweging (NFS) deplored the illegal arrest of 43 Filipino community health volunteers who were accused of being high-ranking rebels by government soldiers belonging to the Philippine Army's 202nd Infantry Division.

"This is very alarming. The NFS supports local community health initiatives and self-help approaches in the Philippines. Our local partners conduct basic health skills trainings to enable poor communities to cope with common health problems and illnesses," said NFS chairperson Theo Droog. "Health services are often inaccessible and expensive for these poor people. The government's policy of privatising and devolution or decentralising public health services has not helped at all. Poor people are trying to help themselves because the government failed to respond to their needs."

According to the news, more than three hundred heavily armed soldiers raided the home of Dr. Melecia Velmonte, a respected infectious disease specialist, where the 43 community health workers were holding a basic health skills training seminar. The health workers were bodily searched, blindfolded, handcuffed and shoved into several vehicles. Some of the vehicles did not have plate numbers, according to witnesses. Their personal belongings were also confiscated.

The government soldiers used a search warrant against a certain Mario Condes and claimed that those arrested were high-ranking rebels in possession of firearms, explosives and subversive documents. The arms and explosives supposedly found by the military and police in the house were planted by the perpetrators during their so-called ‘search operations.’ The military were not supervised by the owner of the house, they have the victims and the residents lined up outside the buildings. The planting of evidence is practiced since the time of Marcos, observed NFS volunteer Jun Saturay. Nothing has changed. It has become even worse! President Arroyo's human rights record is far worse than Marcos.

The human rights situation under President Gloria Arroyo was marked by the extrajudicial killing of more than a thousand opposition activists, the continued use of torture, forced disappearances and other forms of political repression. Independent outside fact-finding missions validate documented cases presented by Philippine human rights organisations. International human rights institutions including the UNCHR and Amnesty International have expressed concern over the worsening human rights situation, especially the attacks on trade union leaders, mass media, lawyers and indigenous peoples. The arrest of the 43 health workers has elicited protest from the health sector.

According to the Health Action Information Network (HAIN), the Philippine health situation has worsened since Gloria Arroyo became president. Seven out of ten Filipinos die without receiving medical treatment. Only thirty percent of health workers work in the public sector, which only serves 70 percent of the population. The problem is worsened by the flight of health workers to find work abroad because of low salaries and poor working conditions. This leaves many public hospitals and public health care centers lacking in staff. Instead of encouraging Filipino health professionals to stay in the Philippines, the government is actually promoting the exportation of its health professionals. The Philippines has earned the title of one of the world's largest exporters of health professionals.

"These community health workers are unpaid heroes. They sacrifice their own personal welfare to serve their communities. And our government treat them like dangerous criminals," said a domestic worker who used to be a midwife in the Philippines. "The 43 health workers should be released immediately. The continued detention of the 43 health workers should be seen not only as a serious violation of human rights but also as a blatant attack against the Filipino people's right to basic health services, " Droog added.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

CHR Urges PNP to Accept Morong 43 in Civilian Detention

10 April 2010

The Commission on Human Rights decries the continued detention in a military camp of the group known as the “Morong 43”, and called for the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forced of the Philippines to effectively work together to effect their immediate transfer to civilian facilities.

CHR Chairperson Leila de Lima said that the lack of coordination that reportedly blocked the recent attempt of the AFP to transfer the group from the Army’s Camp Capinpin in Rizal province to the PNP’s main facility, Camp Crame, was “far short of the obligations demanded by law from both the AFP and the PNP in terms of criminal procedure and human rights respect.”

De Lima further said: “These two institutions are demonstrating a serious deficiency of coordination, as eloquently demonstrated by the delivery of 38 of the Morong 43 to Camp Crame, only to have them promptly rejected by the PNP and returned to the military facility of Camp Capinpin. Excuses have been given by both institutions for this failed hand over, and attempts are being made by each party to evade responsibility, but at the end of the day the sad fact is that it is the detainees who will continue to suffer. It is their rights which will continue to be placed in jeopardy, as they remain locked up in a military camp, instead of a civilian detention facility.”

“We have noticed that the PNP and AFP have each been passing responsibility, not just for the detention, but also for all operations concerning the Morong 43, on to the other,” added Chair de Lima. “With both institutions singing different tunes, we are perplexed as to which one of them is really behind this entire muddle.”

Criminal charges for illegal possession of firearms had already been filed against the detainees who were arrested on February 6 in Morong, Rizal during a raid thereat. “Without yet declaring the existence of human rights violations, including the alleged illegal detention, which are the subjects of the ongoing CHR inquiry, it can still be said that the filing of criminal information firmly placed the suspects within the jurisdiction of the civilian criminal justice system,” said de Lima, “meaning, that the proper place for their detention is in a civilian facility.”

There is no legal basis for their continued detention in a military camp, nor is there legal basis for the PNP to refuse to take them into custody. “In fact, the law requires the PNP to take them into custody,” said the CHR Chief. “It’s not optional for the PNP to say they can take suspects in or not. The PNP has the duty to receive these detainees, and if it must make temporary arrangements while working on more permanent accommodations, then it must do so.”

“Is the PNP saying that it does not have the room or the manpower to ensure the proper detention of a few dozen suspects who have not proven to be violent?” asked the CHR Chairperson. “If so, then the top government leaders must ensure that the necessary resources should be immediately mobilized so that law enforcers can do their jobs effectively.”

The CHR had already publicly called for the transfer to civilian facilities during its public inquiry into the case of the so-called Morong 43 on March 18. Another session of the public inquiry is scheduled for this coming Monday, 12 April, at the CHR in Quezon City.

“May I remind the AFP or PNP custodians, as the case may be, to comply, under pain of contempt, with our standing directive to produce the detainees during our public inquiry on Monday, ” said the CHR Chair.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Heed the court order, transfer the health workers now!

Free the 43 Health Workers Now! alliance today called for the military to follow the order issued by the Regional Trial Court of Morong, Rizal to transfer the 38 health workers to Camp Crame immediately.

“The alliance welcomes this development and look at it as a tactical victory for our campaign to free the 43. We are, however, saddened that the court ruled to retain the 5 Community Health Workers in the army’s custody,” Dr. Julie Caguiat, one of the spokespersons of the alliance said.

She maintained that the military’s claim that the 5 CHWs requested that they be retained in Camp Capinpin is preposterous. She cited their lawyers’ argument that allowing the 5 to remain in Camp Capinpin is tantamount to the idea that all detention prisoners have a right to choose their place of detention.

Dr. Caguiat argued that their group’s counsels motioned for the transfer of the 43 health workers to Camp Crame in Quezon City because of the grave human rights violations that the military continues to commit against the health workers. “Our petition for transfer is not because of the inadequate detention facilities in Camp Capinpin but because of the continued torture and threat that the military does to our colleagues. We want the health workers out of that camp because the mere presence of those soldiers aggravates their anguish,” Dr. Caguiat said.

Mrs. Evelyn Montes, wife of Dr. Alexis Montes said that the detainees’ families also had to endure everyday harassments from the military. “Even though they [military] see us and write to their log books every day as we come to visit our loved ones, we are repeatedly asked to identify ourselves and produce identification cards in every level of security until we reach the visiting area. One soldier even denied the voter’s ID of a relative saying that was not a valid ID. He was looking for the relative’s cedula instead!” Mrs. Montes shared in disbelief.

“We will not soften our demand that all of the 43 health workers be transferred. We expect the military to heed the court order ASAP,” Dr. Caguiat added.##


Julie Caguiat, M.D.
Cellphone Number: 0909 113 3038

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

CBCP Statement on the Continued Detention of the Morong 43

The illegal arrest and continued detention of the “Morong 43” in a military facility represent serious threat to the civil liberties of the Filipino people. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) follows with grave concern the shifting accusations of the military against the health workers, the conflicting positions of government authorities on the legitimacy of the arrest and detention, and the seeming lack of regard of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for human rights and the rule of law.

We are deeply worried about the well being of the health workers in Camp Capinpin. We share the sentiments of other human rights groups that the presence of the detainees in a military camp makes them vulnerable to further abuses, psychological tortures, threats, and intimidation. Sustained exposure to psychosomatic strains may eventually break the fortitude and resistance of the Morong 43 into admitting under duress the accusations made against them.

The fact that the necessary defense against torture and human rights abuses has been rendered null by Court of Appeals (CA) elevates the concerns of the Church on the delivery of justice for the accused. Even assuming the legal correctness of the “Ilagan Doctrine” invoked by CA in denying the writ of habeas corpus to the detainees, we are still troubled by the reality that the Court has just, in effect, sanitized and legitimized the violations committed by the military against the health workers.

However, CA’s decision in itself does not remove the taint of an unlawful arrest and detention. The three ruling justices failed to recognize the nature of the arrest, which is deemed illegal because of a defective search warrant and the glaring contradictions in the military officers’ statements.

Similarly, the credibility of the inquest proceedings and the subsequent filing of charges are in doubt because the accused were denied counsel during interrogation, and the fact that statements or confession obtained during an illegal arrest are not admissible.

The issue is no longer about the Morong 43’s involvement or non-involvement with the NPA nor about the veracity of torture claims of the detainees. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of government institutions maintaining an objective distance and observing the rule of law in its operations.

Instead of calling for an end to CHR’s inquiry on human rights violations committed against the Morong 43, the AFP should support the initiative as concerned groups are only trying to shed light on the unlawful activities taking place in military operations.

The Church acknowledges the armed forces’ efforts and difficulties in putting an end to communist resistance, but under no circumstances can state agencies deal with citizens in any manner as they please.

Most of the Church’s development programs and ministries are community-based. Our clergy and laity work in rural areas and empower far-flung communities. Now, we could not help but fear that one day our efforts to help the poor and the marginalized will be perceived as threats, and that we may also be branded as insurgents.

This is the moment to press for answers and to demonstrate that there is a growing public demand, including from the Church, to restore the integrity of the government institutions—the military, the police, the civil courts, and the Department of Justice—and remind them of their mandate and fundamental principle, which is to impartially protect and defend the human rights.

For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines,

+Nereo P. Odchimar, D.D.
Bishop of Tandag
CBCP President
7 April, 2010