Medical and Academic Community Outraged over Torture and Incarceration of Morong 43
MANILA, PHILIPPINES, Feb.15 - Outrage continues to grow over the arrest, detention and torture of 43 health workers as various heads of medical, health and the academic community met today at the Alvior Hall of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine in Manila. The officials of these various professional groups refuted and criticized the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claims that the Morong 43 are New People’s Army (NPA) communist rebels who were undergoing bomb training at the time of the arrest last Feb.6.
The health workers were arrested at the farmhouse of Dr. Melicia Velmonte, specialist for infectious diseases in the town of Morong, Rizal Province. The military composed of 300 members of the army and police used a defective warrant of arrest to round up the health care practitioners in the early morning raid. They were handcuffed, blindfolded and were refused their rights to counsel. The military claimed that the health workers are members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Dr. Alberto B. Roxas, professor and dean of the University of the Philippines ( UP) College of Medicine condemned the “shabby treatment of Dr. Velmonte and her staff “ during the raid of her farmhouse and training center in Morong. Dr. Velmonte, professor emeritus of the UP College of Medicine has often offered her farmhouse (cottage) as the annual venue for the global health course conducted by the College.
Dr. Roxas expressed fears that because of the raid and subsequent torture of the Morong 43, health care graduates may no longer be inclined to go to rural communities. “If that is the behaviour of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and PNP [Philippine National Police], health professionals would no longer dare to go the countryside to serve the underserved.”
Dr. Roxas added that media accounts of how the detainees were forcibly taken and their detention at Camp Capinpin, show the “chilling images that bespeak the grim days of martial law.”
Relatives of detained Dr. Alex Montes, Dr. Merry Mia and other abducted health workers attended the press briefing, as well as doctors, nurses and students of the college.
Refuting the insistence of the military that guns and bomb making devices were found at the training venue, Dr. Bu C. Castro explained that “The only weapon that a health worker carries with him in the so-called battlefield is the stethoscope for the doctor, the sphygmomanometer for the nurses and the cotton balls for the other community health workers, and their only common enemy is the disease that threatens the community.”
Dr. Bu C. Castro, spokesman of the Philippine Medical Association and president of the Alliance of All Health Organizations of the Philippines said the proper venue to determine whether the health care workers violated the law should be the courts. Under international jurisprudence, only the courts – judge and jury/or judge alone can determine the culpability of an accused.
“There is already a mal-distribution of doctors and health professionals in the regions. How do we encourage our students to go to the rural areas if these incidents happen?” said Dr. Grace Gonzaga, Dean of the University of Santo Tomas College of Medicine and President of the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges. Dr. Gonzaga said “ the incident would affect the delivery of services to the poor.”
Dr. Eleanor Jara, executive director of the Council for Health and Development (CHD), said the harassment of health workers is not new. “When a health worker goes to the countryside to do health mission, they are labelled as NPA.”
Dr. Roxas also stated “the UP College of Medicine has lost one too many of its alumni who have done nothing but live out its mission as a government institution – educating community health volunteers and especially physicians towards service to the underserved.”
“Today, a doctor who traverses mountains in the provinces can easily be accused of being an NPA or a rebel and gatherings such as health trainings like the one held in Morong can be planted with guns and grenades and tagged as a bomb-making activity,” said Ramon Lorenzo Guinto, chair of the UP Manila, University Student Council and university medical student.
Guinto said the recent tragedy struck fear among them as it revealed how “perilous the world is for those who, with the purest of intentions, reach out to the disenfranchised.”
Dr. June Pagaduan-Lopez, Psychiatry professor at the UP College of Medicine, criticized the military for not allowing her and her colleagues to visit the detainees at Camp Capinpin last Saturday. The team wanted to do a psychiatric examination of the victims of torture.
At the press briefing, a journalist asked Dr. Castro if the health care workers were teaching NPA members about health care. Dr. Castro replied that doctors do not discriminate against patients based on political belief. “If military doctors teach health training to the soldiers is that illegal? he asked.
Dr. Gonzaga of the Philippine Medical Colleges added, “We do not teach our students to ask their patients if they are subversives before treating them.”
The National President of the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) Prof. Teresita Barcelona urged the Department of Health (DOH) to assert its civilian authority and seek the release of the 43 imprisoned health workers. Prof. Barcelona also called on the military to respect the Supreme Court's Order for Habeas Corpus issued last Friday.
Dr. Roxas also called on the military to stop the harassment of health workers, and community-based health professionals who have committed their lives to service.
Dr. Jara of CHD said the abduction of the Morong 43 is part of government’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch). Dr. Jara also contends that “If they can do this to the health workers, they can do this to anybody else.
A campaign network to free the 43 health workers was launched this morning at the Nurses Home of the Philippine General Hospital.
Source – Condensed from the reports of ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL and RONALYN V. OLEA