INTERNATIONAL LAWYERS GROUP CALLS FOR
IMMEDIATE PROSECUTION OF ARROYO, et. al.
UTRECHT, The Netherlands (30 May 2010) – The International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), a worldwide grouping of public interest and human rights lawyers, challenged the incoming Philippine administration of presumptive president-elect Sen. Benigno Aquino III to immediately and vigorously pursue all legal moves to make accountable outgoing president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies for the crimes of plunder, human rights violations like killings, disappearances, torture, other crimes against humanity and other high offenses against the Filipino people.
Also passed during the end of the two-day IAPL 4th Congress were resolutions calling for the immediate release of 43 Filipino health workers illegally arrested and subjected to an array of human rights violations by security forces and the prosecution of all persons complicit in the now internationally-condemned Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao province, Mindanao, the Philippines, among others.
The Congress was attended by some 35 lawyers, judges, paralegals and law students from Afghanistan, Brazil, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and Turkey.
“As an organization of people’s lawyers, we will make it certain that the outgoing Arroyo government will not escape prosecutions and being accountable for crimes committed against the people,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, who was reelected as president of IAPL.
“This is also a litmus test for Noynoy Aquino. His attitude and policy towards human rights will be judged at the first instance on how he will pursue the prosecution and conviction of Mrs. Arroyo, her family members and allies who committed crimes against the people,” Olalia, who is also acting Secretary General of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), added.
Previously, the IAPL has already denounced the Arroyo government over its human rights record that is marred by the killings of activists, lawyers, judges and journalists.
Carlos Zarate, vice president for Mindanao of the NUPL, said the “culture of impunity” being promoted by the Arroyo government is the culprit behind the Ampatuan massacre that brutally claimed the lives of 57 civilians, including two lady members of the NUPL. “The prosecution for such monstrous act should not be limited only to the members of the Ampatuan clan and their private army… it should also include police and military officials and other civilian authorities who are equally liable.”
The IAPL is an organization of peoples’ lawyers in countries where there is oppression of the people’s rights and where the struggle to fight the same is also intense. #30.
Atty. Edre U. Olalia +639175113373 Atty. Carlos I. Zarate +639177174014
A delegation of human rights advocates will bring the case of Morong 43 to the United States and other countries to drum up support and hopefully win the release of the detained health workers.
Marie Enriquez, secretary-general of Karapatan, a human rights watchdog, said relatives and friends of the Morong 43 have decided to internationalize the issue, claiming it has gained the attention of medical and health groups in Europe and Asia.
Enriquez told the Manila Bulletin over the weekend that members of Morong 43 were finally transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan after a prolonged dispute between the military and the Philippine National Police (PNP), which insisted that it had nothing to do with the arrest of the health workers in Morong, Rizal last February 6.
The supporters of the Morong 43 alleged the health workers were slapped with trumped-up charges but the Court of Appeals (CA) and eventually the Supreme Court (SC) argued that since criminal charges had been filed, the case would have to proceed.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), however, claimed that the human rights of the accused were violated, and that they were not given their right to counsel, denied medical assistance and allegedly subjected to torture and psychological trauma.
CHR itself was denied the right to visit the Morong 43 the day after the health workers were arrested for being alleged members of the New People's Army undertaking training in the manufacture of bombs during a live-in seminar on community-based health care.
Enriquez said the delegation will fly to the US in early June to seek support for the detained health workers. She added that a press briefing will be held later this week to tackle the mission of the human rights advocates, who had on support from a Hong Kong-based regional human rights watchdog.
MANILA, Philippines—There was not a dry eye when foreigners and locals met on Tuesday with some members of the “Morong 43” detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Twelve foreigners and members of Manila-based groups gathered around a table in the visiting area with 23 women detainees. Later, they spoke with the male detainees in the hallway outside their cells.
The visitors brought messages of solidarity and were moved to tears as the women talked about their feelings and experiences in detention.
The women also said they were happy to have been moved to Camp Bagong Diwa from Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, because of the longer visiting hours they were allowed with their loved ones.
“I was very moved by the women,” said Carolyn Ann Crabtree of Solidarity Notes Labour Choir in Canada. “The fact that they could cry with us—I think it helped. I felt even sadder with the men because their conditions seemed more harsh.”
Upon entering the part of the prison where the male detainees are held, the visitors followed the entry protocols, including a strip search.
They then climbed a steel staircase to a concrete hallway lined with cells on the top floor of the prison.
Other male prisoners looked on from behind bars or from the courtyard below as the visitors met and spoke with the detainees and their visiting relatives.
“It’s very different to read about something [and then] to see the circumstances that they’re living in,” noted Prof. Valerie Raoul of the University of British Columbia in Canada.
The Morong 43, composed of two doctors, a nurse and other health workers, were arrested by state troops on Feb. 6 in a raid on a training seminar in Morong, Rizal. Suspected of being members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA), they were taken to and held at Camp Capinpin.
Five of the 43 remain there, according to detainee Dr. Alexis Montes.
He told the visitors that the five had been “convinced by the military by every means—pressure, harassment, torture, even an offer of property to their families—to say that they are NPA.”
Some of the five want to recant their statements but further military pressure prevents them from doing so, according to Montes.
“All of us want a speedy and fair trial because we know that we are innocent,” he said.
Montes said he was “optimistic” about the incoming administration because he had heard that presumptive president-elect Benigno Aquino III would “try to help us.”
Later in an interview, Fr. Dionito Cabillas, the head of the local facilitators of the visit with the detainees, said: “We are really working for their immediate release and are expecting that within the first 100 days of the new administration, it will be a priority for the political prisoners to be released.
“We are thankful to our foreign friends for giving their time and helping to spread the detainees’ stories, cries for justice, and demand for freedom.”
Montes said he and the other detainees had heard that their case was gaining international attention.
“We are fortunate that this has happened,” he said, adding that the visit from the foreigners “boosted our morale.”
The other detainees said the visit had given them a renewed sense of hope.
“You have really made us happy,” Sylvia Gonzalez told the visitors.
Rathika Sitsabaiesan, a candidate for federal membership in Canada’s Parliament, later talked about being able to “put faces to the number 43.”
She said that in meeting the women detainees, she “observed a lot of friendly and positive people.”
“It’s appalling that a lot of volunteer health care workers, midwives and doctors are being held for wanting to be health care providers for ... their small rural communities,” she said.
Elizabeth Dollaga from the United Church of Canada said what struck her in meeting the detainees was “their genuine love for the people they are serving.”
“It’s not our being here that we worry about. We worry about the people who are waiting for us,” she quoted detainee Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor as saying.
Dollaga also expressed admiration for health worker Lydia “Mama Del” Ayo Obera, who said what they were going through in detention was “nothing compared to the severe suffering that our community is experiencing.”
“The community health workers are providing a service that the government is supposed to be providing,” Dollaga said.
Material for BBC
The foreigners said they planned to discuss the plight of the Morong 43 with Filipinos and with the academe and the media, such as BBC, in their respective countries.
They are part of the People’s International Observers’ Mission, a delegation of 86 foreigners that monitored the May 10 elections.
Local organizations including Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Pagbabago! and the Society of Ex-Detainees against Detention and for Amnesty arranged the visit.
“It is too painful for me to talk about what we went through,” community health worker Jacqueline Gonzales told the visitors, her eyes welling with tears.
Montes said other health care workers had disappeared, and that many other prisoners at Camp Bagong Diwa did not know why they were arrested.
He told the visitors that detainees waited an average of six years behind bars awaiting trial and sentencing before being released because they could not afford a private lawyer.
Said Rev. Bert Dellosa of the United Church in Australia: “Justice delayed is justice denied. It’s really frustrating for me to see people who have families acting on concerns for their community, pulled out and separated from their loved ones.”
MANILA, Philippines -- Close relatives and supporters of the Morong 43 have urged presumptive President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to “do a President Cory” when he assumes his post next July.
He should “free all political prisoners” including the 43 detained health workers accused by the military of being communist rebels or supporters.
The relatives of the Morong 43 recalled that the late President Corazon Aquino freed political prisoners at the start of her term in February 1986.
On Feb. 6, the health workers were arrested by a 300-member military and police team while they were attending a training seminar on suspicion they were communist rebels.
Ofelia Beltran-Balleta, mother of Jane Balleta, one of the Morong 43, expressed confidence on Tuesday that “my daughter and her co-detainees will soon gain their freedom.”
“My family and I have faith in the new administration. We are confident President Noynoy will not play deaf and blind to the sufferings of the Morong 43 in the hands of the military,” Balleta told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Like the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Migrante-Middle East (M-ME) appealed to Aquino to “release all political detainees as a gesture of goodwill, political reconciliation and national unity.”
“Noynoy is the son of two icons of democracy. We’re confident he wouldn’t fail us,” said M-ME regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona.
Balleta, daughter of the late labor leader and AnakPawis party-list Rep. Crispin Beltran, also said she had “high hopes the country’s new set of leaders would put an end to [President Macapagal-Arroyo’s] reign of terror, extrajudicial killings and human rights violations.”
Family members of two other detainees accused the Arroyo administration of “using divide-and-rule tactics to pressure not only the detainees but also their relatives.”
“Worse, elements of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police allowed themselves to be used by GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) against the Morong 43 and the country’s other political detainees,” said the same sources who requested anonymity.
One of Aquino’s political allies, reelected Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, “assured us he would lobby for the immediate release of the Morong 43,” said Balleta.
Lim made the assurance “during the recent unveiling of the Beltran shrine at Liwasang Bonifacio,” she added.
Balleta disclosed that they would take part in the filing of a class suit against Ms Arroyo.
Outgoing Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, a friend of the late Representative Beltran, has also taken up the cudgels for the detained health workers, saying that Ms Arroyo “has been ruling like it’s martial law all over again.”
In late February, the Morong 43 filed a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights against the AFP for their continued detention at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal. They included in their complaint affidavits details of how the military arrested, detained, interrogated and allegedly tortured them.
Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes assailed the military for allegedly violating the newly signed Republic Act 9745, or the Anti-Torture Law.
Upon the request of the Morong 43’s relatives, the Supreme Court issued a writ of habeas corpus, requiring the AFP to present the detainees before the Court of Appeals and justify their continued detention.
Military and police authorities have repeatedly dismissed the allegations against them as “purely propaganda” aimed at discrediting the supposedly anti-insurgency operation they carried out in Morong town.
Finally, the detained health workers known as the Morong 43 have been removed from military custody and transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan.
“This is a moral and significant victory for the detainees and their families,” said Dr. Julie Caguiat, spokesperson of the FREE THE 43 HEALTH WORKERS! ALLIANCE. The health workers, as well as their families and friends, have been on their 15th day of fasting to demand their transfer from Camp Capinpin to a civilian custodial center.
Officers of the Philippine National Police previously refused to take into custody the health workers despite a court order from the Morong Regional Trial Court, citing an alleged lack of facilities. This prompted strong condemnation from various health and sectoral groups and a more drastic show of protest from the detainees themselves.
“The situation of the health workers may not necessarily improve much,” added Dr. Caguiat. “But what is important is that they are out of military custody.”
The detained health workers, as well as the relatives, have complained of various forms of harassment instigated by the military custodians, including denial of electricity and water. Military authorities in Camp Capinpin have also repeatedly refused entry to doctors and medical teams who wanted to check the health conditions of their colleagues.
Even the relatives, who themselves experienced being harangued on a daily basis by the military every time they visited their detained loved ones, expressed some relief over the transfer.
Dr. Caguiat warns the military not to attempt to get to the health workers while they are in Bicutan. She also said that they are hopeful to get the remaining five health workers who are under pressure to come up with false testimonies against their colleagues.
The group still looks forward to the pending proceedings before the Commission on Human Rights and the Supreme Court so that the truth will be fully ferreted out into the open.
“Our fight for justice for the 43 goes on. We, together with all freedom-loving people both here in the country and abroad will continue the struggle to free the 43 health workers,” ended Dr. Caguiat.### References:
In February 6, 2010, 43 health workers conducting a medical training in Morong, Rizal were arrested and accused of being members of the communist New People's Army. They suffered physical and psychological torture while in military custody.
"43" is a short documentary on the plight of the arrested health workers. It uses shadowplay to dramatize their experience in the hands of their captors.
a film by Southern Tagalog Exposure and Anino Shadowplay Collective
Featuring the voices of Joel Lamangan, Bibeth Orteza, Soliman Cruz and Bobby Balingit