by Mila Polinar
This article was first published in print in issue 23 of the Philippine Collegian on 24 January 2011.)
The Morong 43, however, were not criminals but were merely victims of flawed military operations. Upon their capture, the Morong 43 were deprived of sleep for 36 hours. They were interrogated continuously and were coerced to admit that they were members of the armed group waging agrarian struggle in the countryside, the New People’s Army (NPA).
Reynaldo “Rey” Macabenta, another member of the Morong 43 and an administrative staff at CHD, remembers hearing screams, gunshots, and other threats of violence. “Parang katayan ng tao,” he describes.
“Grabe ang psychological torture,” says Tere, adding that she copes from the traumatic experience by continually talking about it and making herself busy. Meanwhile, Rey, dubbed as the Mr. Kutingting of the CHD had alluded himself to fixing broken equipment in their office.
After the incident, Tere and Rey returned to the CHD come January and resumed their jobs. “Nagiikot-ikot na kami at nagstart na rin sa health training. Noong nakaraan, nakapagbigay na ulit ako ng vital signs, kumuha ng blood pressure [at] temperature,” narrates Tere.
“Despite what we have gone through, we are resolute in our commitment to serve the poor and lay the foundations of a people-managed health care system,” says Dr. Merry Clamor of CHD’s Health Education, Training and Services Department.
On January 24, four members of the Morong 43, including Tere, Rey and Dr. Merry held a medical mission at Lupang Pangako, Urban, Payatas B. They were joined by another member of Morong 43 Delia Ocasla, a volunteer community health worker from Barangay Fairview, Quezon City.
With their return to the communities, Tere shares that her parents fear that she might once again be harassed by the military. “[Ngunit], kung magpapadala kami sa takot, sino yung kawawa, sino yung lugi? Ang magiging lugi doon, yung mga komunidad na sineserbisyohan namin,” reasons Tere.
In her years as a community health worker, the February 6 incident was not the first time she was harassed by soldiers. For instance, soldiers interrupted a health seminar she and co-workers conducted in Dumallan, Pagadian about two years ago, and even took pictures of her and her fellow workers. We were being watched for any activities which may link us with the NPA, says Tere.
Even then, it was through such experiences in far-flung communities that Tere had seen the true state of the health sector in the Philippines. “May mga health center na may sira-sirang bubong, gawa lang sa dikit-dikit na kawayan at walang mga gamit. Hindi napupuntahan ng mga nurse o midwife,” shares Tere.
Even as the members of the Morong 43 have now returned to the communities, their issue, it seems, does not stop with their freedom but with the pursuit of justice. The Morong 43 have already filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) regarding the torture and military harassment they experienced. The CHR is yet to release the results of the complaint.
We are also calling for the freedom of the Morong 43 members who are still detained, says Rey. As of now, three members of the Morong 43 are still in Camp Bagong Diwa while five are still held by the military in Camp Capinpin. The five allegedly confessed that they were in fact members of the NPA.
Even as members of the 43 claimed to be health workers, the military has continually referred to them as members of the NPA in their website and in various news reports. Meanwhile, the three who are still held in Camp Bagong Diwa are charged with petty crimes such as violating the anti-bouncing check law, among others.
With their experiences in detention, the Morong 43 have come to know the plight of other political prisoners. As such, when the female members of the Morong 43 marched out of Camp Bagong Diwa, they held their fists in the air and together, shouted “Palayain, bilanggong pulitikal.”
“May usaping politikal din sa pagkakadakip sa amin,” says Tere. Rey shares that beyond their freedom, they are also pushing that other political prisoners be freed as well. Indeed, the illegal arrest of the Morong 43 is an assault to the community health workers who only opted to address government negligence in the health sector.
For 2011, the Department of Health was granted a budget of P31.8 billion. While the health budget indeed rose from last year’s P25.65 billion, the 2011 allocation still falls short of the P38.6 billion budget proposed by DOH for this year.
“Napakahalaga ng serbisyong pangkalusugan. [Kung hindi ito mabibigay], mas mararaming nagkakasakit, hindi sila makakapagtrabaho, apektado ang pamilya. Sobrang hirap ang mararanasan ng mamamayan,” says Delia.
In far-flung communities where health services are continually deprived, where the right to a better quality of life is neglected, the need for community health workers cannot be denied. It is for this cause that the Morong 43 steadfastly return to the communities, in hopes of healing others and themselves.