Sunday, November 14, 2010

‘Morong 43’ sees hope in Monday meet with Malacañang


At last, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for relatives and loved ones of the “Morong 43."

Nine months after their arrest, and five appeal letters later, relatives of the 43 health workers arrested on suspicions of being rebel trainees early this year are set to hold a dialogue with Malacañang on Monday morning.

After sending five letters to the President, the Morong 43 relatives will finally meet with Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Jose Amorado at 10 a.m. on Monday at the Malacañang social hall.

“At least 36 relatives of the ‘Morong 43’ remain hopeful that President [Benigno] Aquino [III] will finally heed their plea to immediately release their loved ones," said Free the 43 Health Workers Alliance spokesman Carlos Montemayor in a phone interview with GMANews.TV.

He said relatives and loved ones of the health workers are hopeful that the President will recommend the withdrawal of the case against them, following a statement he made on Oct. 14 noting that the arrest of the 43 was illegal and that “evidence wrongly gotten cannot be used" and therefore the case “cannot prosper."

Relatives of the 43 are particularly hoping that Aquino will step in, especially since Judge Amorfina Cerrado-Cesar of Regional Trial Court Branch 78 recently deferred the arraignment of the health workers to Feb. 28, 2011.

In the interview, Montemayor again questioned the delivery of justice, noting that the Court of Appeals in March junked the workers’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

“We hope that the meeting will lead to the release of the 43 as soon as possible — or at least before Christmas, or even before their illegal arrest marks a year," he said.

On Feb. 6, about 300 operatives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police raided a farm house in Morong, Rizal and arrested 43 health professionals and workers on charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Five of them have been placed under separate military custody at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal after they allegedly admitted that they were New People’s Army supporters, while the remaining 38 were transferred last May to the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame in Quezon City.

The Morong 43 said they were conducting a health training seminar, but the military has disputed this, reporting the discovery and seizure from the premises of weapons and explosive devices, including two pieces of improvised claymore landmines.

The military insisted that the discovery of explosives indicated that the activities of the 43 were not limited to health trainings alone.

Various rights groups have, however, pointed out that the arrests were based on a warrant for a certain “Mario Conde," who, in subsequent hearings by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), was never brought out or identified.

None of the 43 detainees is named “Mario Conde."

Health groups and human rights organizations who support the Morong 43 have maintained that the evidence was planted.

In a press briefing on Oct. 14, Aquino declared that based on the review by the Department of Justice, “the review basically stated that there was a person that they (authorities) were going to serve a warrant against."

“That person was not in the resort that was raided. The firearms, in particular, will fall only in a general classification. [The] explosives were not part of the warrant," the President said.

Aquino said that in a talk with PNP Director General Raul Bacalzo, AFP chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo David and a defense undersecretary, he emphasized that the government must be “upholders of the law" and that “evidence wrongly gotten cannot be used, therefore [cases] cannot prosper."

However, he still maintained that he would leave the fate of the 43 to the courts.

Free the Morong 43

In the nine months since the Morong 43 were arrested, there has been a growing clamor of support for the detainees, calling on the authorities to release them immediately, especially following the President’s grant of amnesty to about 300 soldiers charged in court mutiny and other rebellious acts.

The groups who have publicly condemned the arrest and continued detention of the 43 health workers include:

  • The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines;
  • Several former secretaries of the Department of Health, deans and professors from some of country’s premier medical schools, and other prominent personalities;
  • Several lawmakers in the House of Representatives;
  • International rights-oriented organizations

The military has vowed to respect any decision from President Aquino or the courts regarding the possible release of the Morong 43. - DM, GMANews.TV

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