Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Release of Health Care Workers arrested February 6, 2010

NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations;; Tel : +1 604 738 0338 ;Fax : +1 604 736 1175
Promoting human rights by protecting those who defend them

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

H.E. Benigno C. Aquino III
President of the Republic of the Philippines
MalacaƱang Palace,
JP Laurel St., San Miguel
Manila, Philippines
Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80
Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968

Atty. Leila De Lima
Secretary, Department of Justice
Padre Faura St., Manila
Direct Line: +63(2) 521 8344 ; +63(2) 521 3721
Trunkline: +63(2) 523 8481 loc.214
Fax: +63(2) 521-1614

Honourable President Aguino and Secretary De Lima;

     Re: Release of Health Care Workers arrested February 6, 2010

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) requests that your government act to remedy the illegal arrest, detention and treatment of the 43 health care workers arrested at Rizal on February 6, 2010 and the violations of their internationally protected rights by immediately directing:
  1. The withdrawal of all charges against each and all of them; and,
  2. The release of all 43 detained health care workers.

LRWC investigations

NGOs around the world have expressed the opinion that the charges against the 43 health care workers are trumped up and the evidence against them fabricated to ensure false convictions and have called for their unconditional release. The list of NGOs includes august groups such as Amnesty International. Attached as Appendix II is a partial list of Canadian NGOs calling for the release of the health care workers.

LRWC—as a result of our own investigations—agrees with this assessment. LRWC is further of the opinion that the charges against the 43 health care workers (illegal possession of firearms and explosives and violation of the Commission on Elections gun ban) are not sustainable and cannot result in bona fides convictions before a properly constituted court because of tainted evidence, denial of rights to timely access to counsel, due process and a fair trial and illegal treatment during arrest and imprisonment. Attached as Appendix I to this letter is a LRWC’s brief summary of violations of international law obligations by Philippine authorities in the health workers' case.

The evidence upon which the health care workers are being held (on non-bailable offences) has been obtained under circumstances that either forbid admissibility in a court of law or destroy reliability. For example, alleged statements by the 5 people still held separately (that they are members of the New People’s Army) appear inadmissible by virtue of the illegal treatment used to obtain the statements which available reports indicated included torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, denial of access to lawyers, bribery and intimidation. Factors indicating that physical evidence (C4 explosives, pistol, grenades and improvised land mines) alleged to have been found on the Velmonte property was planted that cannot be ignored include: opportunity, absence of arrest warrants, absence of valid search warrants for the premises, failure to ensure that the search of the premises was witnessed any independent party or representative of the accused, failure to ensure that the search of the premises was supervised by appropriately trained police personnel, extraordinary measures (blindfolding) taken to prevent the accused from observing or overseeing in any way the search of the premises, failure to advise arrestees of the allegations against them, the reasons for their arrest or the reason for the search of the premises.

The legal options available to the detainees appear strikingly impotent to secure a timely judicial review of the legality of their arrest, treatment and detention and of the search of the property. Similarly calls on the Office of the Human Rights Commission to ensure a professional review of allegations that evidence against them has been fabricated or illegally obtained appear to have been futile and resulting in a remedy. Clearly the rights of the 43 health care workers to due process and a fair trial and to remedies for the violation of their internationally protected rights have already been so severely impaired as to foreclose their right to make full answer and defense to the charges they presently face. The habeas corpus proceedings initially filed February 9, 2010 has been stalled for almost 8 months. This delay raises the concern of executive interfere—again fatal to the legitimacy of the procedure.

During our deliberations, LRWC has also considered the records of community service of the various people accused and implicated by these proceedings. Dr. Melicia Velmonte, owner of the property in question, Chairman of COMMED, a well-known infectious disease specialist and professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine is, we believe, most unlikely to be involved in an illegal enterprise. Similarly, the records of community health care service of Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor (Director of Health Education, Training and Services Department, Council for health and Development), Gary Liberal (registered nurse, operating room head nurse and union President of the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center), Teresa Quinawagan, (midwife), Dr. Alexis Montes, (member of the Community Medicine Development Foundation), Lydia Obera (staff of Alliance of Health Workers), Reynaldo Maqabenta (driver for Community for Health and Development) inspires disbelief in their criminality. We urge a solution before more damage is done. In particular we wish to highlight the urgent need to protect the rights of the next generation. Mercy Castro is due to deliver her baby on October 27, 2010. She must be freed before her due date. No proper provisions have been made for her medical care and attention before, during or after delivery. We are advised that Carina Judilyn Oliveros had her baby in custody in July, that she is currently under hospital arrest with her infant and will be returned to Camp Bagong Diwa at the expiry of 3 months. Clearly continued detention of Ms Oliveros can only have negative long term consequences for the infant.

LRWC investigations included: a visit on September 20, 2010 to the prisoners at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, interviews with legal counsel, a review of the recommendations and conclusions by other human rights organizations about the mal fides of the arrest, detention, treatment and about the charges themselves and a review of the international law bonding on the Philippines and relevant to the issues.

Based on LRWC’s examination of the facts, it is clear that the continued detention of the 43 health care workers will indubitably result in risks to the communities that were being served by them. We note in particular the record of service of the two doctors, the nurse and the midwives detained. It is likely that continued detention of the 43 health care workers may result in irremediable personal and professional harm to some or all of them. We are aware of both the abysmal circumstances in which they are detained and of the pain of being separated from their work, their communities and their families.

Based on LRWC’s examination of the applicable international law, it is clear that the illegal arrests, the improperly authorized and supervised search of Dr. Velmonte’s property, the exposure of the health care workers to treatment absolutely prohibited under international law and the denial of due process critical to a fair trial, combine to irremediably impair their right to a fair trial. We conclude that the remedy required is withdrawal of all charges and release. We know of no factors and no law that legitimately authorizes continued detention. We note that continued detention may in itself constitute a violation by the government of the Philippines , to ensure rights protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is well established that state party to this treaty must as an essential part of the duty to ensure protected rights, act quickly to provide effective remedies for violations. (Appendix I)

All of which is respectfully submitted.

We look forward to further communications with your office and remain ready to answer inquires or provide additional information.

Thank you.


Gail Davidson, Executive Director, LRWC


Loretta Ann Rosales
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., UP Complex
Commonwealth Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Voice: +63(2) 928 5655 ; +63(2) 926 6188
Fax: +63(2) 929 0102

Edre Olalia
Acting Secretary General of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers,
Tel: 011 632 9206660;

Dr. Julie Caguiat
Chairperson of the Community Health Development (CHD)
and the Spokesperson of the "Free the 43" Health Workers
22/F, Erythrina Building , #1 Maaralin corner Matatag Streets, Brgy,
Central District Quezon City , Philippines .
(+632) 4342837; Fax (+632) 4354146 email:
Canadian Embassy
Head of Pol/Eco Relations and Public Affairs
Levels 6-8, Tower 2
RCBC Plaza 6819 Ayala Avenue, Makati City 1200
PO Box 2098 , Philippines
VIA FACSIMILE to 011 632 843 1975
Tel: (632) 857 9024
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