Thursday, March 24, 2011

Health workers denounce harrassments


BAGUIO CITY — Even community development workers are victims of human rights violations.

The Community Health Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera Region (CHESTCORE), in a press conference last March 17, denounced the military harassment of their community volunteers and workers in the region.

Executive director of CHESTCORE Romella Rasalan said the latest was the death threat received by Milagros Ao-wat, Health Programs Desk Coordinator and Administraive Officer of CHESTCORE. Since last year, Ao-wat received different text messages from different phone numbers telling her to watch-out for her life. Her family has also observed a taxi parked and the driver surveilling their house. Ao-wat said that the taxi driver was wearing dark glasses even at 6:30 in the evening and another male who was sitting next to the driver alighted and stared at her daughter who was walking home.

She was followed by the suspicious male observer from the road until the front of our gate and stood for 10 minutes before leaving, Ao-wat added.

“My family has noted the presence of this same taxi parked around the vicinity of our house at other times on December 24, January 4 and 26 and maybe other times which we did not note,” exclaimed Ao-wat.

She added that on December 1st when she was in a jeepney terminal in La Trinidad, two men were staring at her. “As a precaution, I changed my direction and walked away from the terminal.” Fortunately, Ao-wat said she saw a relative whom she asked to ride the jeepney with as they have the same destination. She added the two men continued to watch her closely the whole time.

Ao-wat said she was frightened after receiving those threats on her mobile phone and she has refrained from travelling alone.

Rasalan pointed out that several staff members of CHESTCORE were also followed by observers in the city.

On medical missions Rasalan said state security forces – Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Civilian Armed Forces Geographical units (CAFGU) and other paramilitary forces questioned their medical teams why they were working in far-flung barrios.

“They were accused of having ties or are members of the New Peoples Army (NPA), and that, we are teaching the community health workers how to care for the gunshot wounds of the NPA,” explained Rasalan.

“These soldiers have insisted to be present in our barrio trainings,” said the director. They arrogantly sat in some of their lectures and make snide remarks on the discussions while the lecture is going on.

When the military are around, Rasalan said “some of their community health workers and volunteers are afraid to attend. Those who attend the trainings are intimidated and can not participate freely during discussions which is important in the learning process.”

“We are just simple citizens helping the far-flung communities to build community-based health programs but why are we subjected to various forms of harassment,” Rasalan asked.

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) through a statement denounced these actions by the state security forces against the community health workers of CHESTCORE.

Jude Baggo, secretary general of CHRA, said human rights violations under the rule of President Benigno Aquino III continue to sow fear among the people. He added that it further constricts the democratic space to a span where fundamental human rights cannot be realized.

The threatening, harassment and intimidation by the military, has been an experience under the Arroyo administration that continues today under the Aquino regime. He condemned the military for doing such actions especially against the healthworkers who provide much-needed service to the people especially in places where the services of the government cannot reached.

“The policy and treatment of the State against legal and progressive people’s organizations and institutions has not changed in essence even with the change of Operation Plans,” Baggo said. According to him, those critical of the government policies, governance and human rights records continue to be regarded as fronts of revolutionary formations and considered enemies of the State.

Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) President Ferdinand Gaite said the condition of the basic social services is very poor. In this case, community development workers fill this neglect from the government and yet they are subjected to harassment and threats.

Gaite explained that most of the volunteers and workers like CHESTCORE and the so-called Morong 43 who are helping in the health development of the communities are tagged and labeled as members of the New Peoples Army without any basis. He believes that this is a way of restricting genuine servants of the people provide basic services where the government is absent.

He also believes that this is part of the counter-insurgency program of the government. Gaite then asks the people to strenghten their unity and to continue the fight against militarization of the State. #

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