Monday, April 12, 2010

FREE THE 43 --- PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO BASIC HEALTH SERVICES


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.

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