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A Primer on the Illegal Arrest, Detention and
Torture of 43 Health Workers
Posted By Bulatlat On March 13, 2010 @ 10:47 pm In * Latest Posts,
Health, Human Rights, Top Stories - Featured2 | 1 Comment
Who are the 43 health workers?
The 43 health workers, also known as "Morong 43", are health
professionals and volunteer community health workers who were
arrested in Rizal on February 6, following a raid by the combined
forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the
Philippine National Police (PNP).
The 43 were part of a Community First Responders' Health Training
sponsored jointly by the Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED)
and the Council for Health and Development (CHD). The training was
held at the residential compound located at 266 E. Dela Paz St.,
Brgy. Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal. The compound is owned by Dr.
Melecia Velmonte, chairperson of COMMED's Board of Directors and a
renowned and respected infectious disease specialist and a professor
emeritus of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of
On February 6, 2010 at 6:15 am, joint elements of the 202nd Infantry
Brigade of the Philippine Army (202nd IBPA) headed by its commander,
Colonel Aurelio Baladad and the Rizal Provincial Police (PNP) headed
by Police Superintendent Marion Balonglong raided the l compound of
Among those arrested were 2 doctors, 1 registered nurse and 2
midwives and 38 volunteer community health workers.
They are :
1. Merry Clamor y Mia, 33 y/o, medical doctor, CHD staff
2. Alexis Montes y Sulinap, 62 y/o, medical doctor, Commed volunteer
3. Gary Liberal y Apuhin, 43 y/o, registered nurse, AHW
4. Ma. Teresa Quinawayan y Roncales, 26 y/o midwife, CHD staff
5. Lydia "Del" Ayo Obera, 61 y/o, AHW staff & health educator
6. Reynaldo Macabenta y Torres, 30 y/o, CHD staff
7. Angela Doloricon y Manogon, 50 y/o, health educator
8. Delia Ocasla y Medrano, 46 y/o, community health worker
9. Janice Javier y Quiatchon, 22 y/o, community health worker
10. Franco Remoroso y Bilugan, 28 y/o community health worker
11. Linda Racel Otanez community health worker
12. Pearl Irene Martinez y de los Reyes, 25 y/o community health
13. Eleonor Carandang y Orgena, 30 y/o community health worker
14. Danny Piï¿½ero, community health worker
15. Ray-om Among, community health worker
16. Emily Marquez y Manguba, 23 y/ocommunity health worker
17. Emilia Marquez y Manguba,20 y/o, community health worker
18. Jane Balleta y Beltran 27 y/o, community health worker
19. Glenda Murillo y Cervantes, 26 y/o, community health worker
20. Eulogio "Ely" Castillo, community health worker
21. Jovy Ortiz y Quidor, 23 y/o, community health worker
22. Samson Castillo y Mayuga, 42 y/o, community health worker
23. Miann Oseo y Edjao, 31 y/o, community health worker
24. Sylvia Labrador y Pajanustan, 43 y/o, community health worker
25. Lilibeth Donasco, 24 y/o, community health worker
26. Jenilyn Vatar y Pizarro, 19 y/o, community health worker
27. Ramon de la Cruz y Santos, 21 y/o, community health worker
28. Jaqueline Gonzales, community health worker
29. Maria Elena Serato y Edeo, 35 y/o, community health worker
30. Ma. Mercedes Castro y Icban, 27 y/o, community health worker
31. Leah de Luna y Bautista, 28 y/o, community health worker
32. Judilyn Oliveros Y Abuyan, 26 y/o, community health worker
33. Yolanda Yaun y Bellesa, 51 y/o, registered midwife
34. Edwin Dematera y Bustamante, 37 y/o, community health worker
35. Cherielyn Riocasa Tawagon, 31 y/o, community health worker
36. John Mark Barrientos y Roldan, 20 y/o, community health worker
37. Mark Escartin y Esperida, 20 y/o, community health worker
38. Julius Duano, 30 y/o, community health worker
39. Ronilo Espera, 31 y/o, community health worker
40.Romeo de la Cruz, 53 y/o, community health worker
41. Valentino Paulino y Abale, 35 y/o, community health worker
42. Ace Millena, community health worker
43. Lorelyn Saligumba, community health worker
Why were they arrested?
The arresting authorities claim that the 43 health workers were
caught in the act of undergoing training on bomb-making and that
they are members of the New People's Army (NPA). The arresting
authorities claim to have found firearms and explosives in the
premises where the 43 were staying.
The military allege that they found C4 explosives, a pistol with
seven bullets, three grenades (one allegedly found under a pillow)
and some improvised landmines beside the grenade. However the search
was conducted without being witnessed by Dr. Velmonte, any other
house occupant, or independent witnesses such as baranggay
officials. According to witnesses, the military conducted the search
in the compound premises only after all the victims as well as the
house owners and their house help were already outside the
Were the arrests legal?
No, the arrests were illegal. These were based on a patently
defective February 5, 2010 search warrant issued by Judge Cesar
Mangrobang of Branch 22 of the Imus, Cavite Regional Trial Court.
The warrant was issued against a certain Mario Condes of Barangay
Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal on allegations of illegal possession of
firearms. It did not specify any address except for the name of the
barangay. The house raided was not that of Mario Condes but that of
Dr. Velmonte. There is no Mario Condes among the 43 arrested.
Were there violations of the rights of the 43 health workers?
Yes, there were gross violations of the right to due process, the
right against illegal searches and seizures and the right against
1. Violations in securing the search warrant
As stated earlier, the search warrant was patently defective and
issued with grave abuse of discretion. The warrant did not indicate
any exact address and in effect covered the entire baranggay, thus
violating the rights of the accused against unreasonable searches
and seizures. The house that was searched was not indicated in the
warrant and did not belong to "Mario Condes".
2. Violations during arrest
The 43 were arrested without any warrants of arrest; they were not
informed of the reasons for their arrest nor where they were being
taken. All throughout they were denied the right to call a lawyer.
All the training participants were frisked and ordered to line up
outside the house. They were immediately handcuffed, interrogated
and photographed by the military. Their personal belongings were
confiscated. The military used old shirts and packaging tape which
they brought with them to blindfold all the participants before
loading them onto several trucks.
3. Violations during detention
For five days, the 43 were denied their right to counsel During the
first 36 hours of their detention, the 43 were not informed of the
reasons why they were being held. They were subjected to continuous
interrogation and were being forced to admit that they were members
of the NPA. Their fingerprints were taken while they were
Only during the inquest proceedings on the second day were they
finally informed of the charges being levelled against them. The
prosecutor from the Department of Justice (DOJ), State Prosecutor II
Romeo Senson, simply called out their names, then read the charges
against them. The 43 were denied their right to counsel even during
the inquest proceedings.
There were several accounts of torture and ill-treatment as attested
to by the detainees and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The
AFP violated several provisions of Republic Act No. 9745 or the
Anti-Torture Law: both physical and psychological torture were
inflicted on the 43. These include: being blindfolded and handcuffed
for 36 hours; being subjected to multiple and prolonged tactical
interrogation with death threats, harassment and intimidation; being
deprived of sleep and urgent medication; being manhandled and
beaten; being denied legal counsel for days; being denied medical
treatment; being coerced to wrongly make admissions and implicate
others; and being subjected to various indignities during their
captivity. Some were held incommunicado and some remain in solitary
confinement up to now.
Some detainees who were blindfolded and handcuffed were also
subjected to the indignity of having their captors lower their pants
and underwear just so they could relieve themselves.
The 43 remain detained in a military camp when they should have been
transferred to a civilian detention facility especially after
charges were filed against them in court.
Have the 43 health workers been charged in court?
Despite all the violations of due process committed by the AFP, PNP
and the DOJ, charges of illegal possession of firearms and
explosives and violations of the Commission on Elections (Comelec)
gun ban were filed against the 43 at Branch 78 of the Rizal Regional
Trial Court in Morong. The charges were only filed on February 11,
five days after they were arrested. Forty of the accused face non-bailable
offenses (illegal possession of explosives). Clearly, the purpose of
the hasty filing of said charges is to attempt to cure violations of
due process and justify the continued illegal detention of the 43.
Were the health workers really members of the NPA? Were they really
making bombs at the time of their arrest?
The military has made the sweeping accusation that the 43 are
members of the NPA. Their proof consists of the firearms and
explosives allegedly found in the premises of Dr. Velmonte. But the
accounts of Dr. Velmonte and her household give sufficient ground to
believe that the firearms and explosives were planted by the
Mere membership in the NPA cannot be used as basis for a warrantless
arrest. Jurisprudence tells us that an overt act or an actual crime
(in this case, taking up arms against the government) must first be
committed to justify an arrest. There was no shoot-out at the time
of the arrest; the 43 and Dr. Velmonte's household were either doing
their morning ablutions or getting ready for breakfast. It is a
stretch of the imagination to claim that the 43 health workers were
caught in the act of making bombs as early as 6:00 am when they were
What the military did was to fabricate and plant evidence and then
accuse the health workers as NPA members, to justify their
warrantless arrest and illegal detention.
The military has since concocted many versions of who the 43 really
are. At first, the military alleged that the 43 were not health
workers but bomb-makers. Later, the military would allege that the
43 were indeed health workers but were also undergoing training in
making explosives. The military now calls them "medics" of the NPA.
The military also goes on to make the preposterous claim that Dr.
Alexis Montes, a 62-year old surgeon, is a member of the NPA Special
Operations Group tasked to assassinate Gen. Jovito Palparan.
According to CHR Chair Leila de Lima, even assuming for the sake of
argument that the 43 health workers are NPA members, they still have
the right to due process, including the presumption of innocence and
the right to be free from torture and other degrading treatment.
Have the 43 health workers taken legal action? What has been done to
secure their release?
The health workers through their relatives and their organizations
have filed before the Supreme Court a petition for the writ of
habeas corpus last February 9. The Supreme Court ordered the AFP to
produce the 43 at the hearing at the Court of Appeals on February
12, 2010. The military defied the SC by not bringing the 43 to the
scheduled hearing citing alleged security reasons and lack of time
to prepare. The AFP received a strong rebuke from the CA and was
ordered to produce the 43 at another hearing on February 15. As of
this writing, the CA has yet to issue its decision on the petition.
A complaint has also been filed before the Commission on Human
Rights (CHR), asking it to investigate the allegations of rights
abuses committed against the 43. The CHR has issued the order for
the AFP to present the Morong 43 before the Commission in a
scheduled hearing on March 18.
Who are supporting campaign to free the 43?
The campaign "Free the 43" is supported by a broad range of sectors
of society, from colleagues in the health professions, lawyers,
lawmakers, political leaders across party lines, religious
formations, human rights advocates, artists, and advocates and
beneficiaries of community-based health programs where the community
health workers render their services. It is a national and
international campaign calling on the Arroyo government to
immediately release the Morong 43 and drop all charges against them.
It is a campaign that supports the legal defense of the 43 and
undertakes advocacy work and mobilizations. The campaign also
supports the immediate needs of the families of the 43 in terms of
visits, psycho-social counseling and other forms of concrete
Why are there volunteer community health workers?
In the Philippines, where seven out of 10 Filipinos die without ever
seeing a doctor and where public health services are sorely lacking
or inaccessible, non-government organizations (NGOs) like CHD and
COMMED play an important role by bringing health services to the
people. This means that these non-government organizations try to
reach poor and underserved communities, set up community-based
health programs, organize health committees, and train community
health workers (CHWs). This way, the poor people living in urban and
rural areas can attend to their health needs in the absence or
dearth of government services.
For 37 years, community-based health program practitioners have been
training volunteers who would like to become CHWs regardless of
their educational attainment. CHD, for example, has trained tens of
thousands of community health workers nationwide. Training
participants are selected by the people themselves with little
regard to their educational and socio-economic background nor their
religious or political beliefs, so as long as they commit themselves
to serving the people in their communities.
The Community First Responders' Health Training is one of the
courses CHD offers to community health workers. The training is in
response to the assessed needs of the communities after the
disastrous effects of the lack of disaster preparedness in the wake
of tropical storms "Ondoy" and "Pepeng". The community health
workers are also the frontliners in providing health services during
disasters, so additional health skills are needed for them to be
able to respond adequately, especially since many communities have
no access to government health services.
Is this the first time doctors, health workers and volunteers have
become victims of human rights abuse?
No, there have been similar attacks against health workers in the
past. These can be better understood in the context of the
government's counterinsurgency programs, most especially the Arroyo
regime's US-supported Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) or Operation Freedom
The illegal arrest and detention of 43 doctors and health workers is
directly linked to OBL. The latter has given rise to a rash of
extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, illegal
arrests and detention and mass displacement of poor communities.
Under OBL the military has been given a carte blanche by the Arroyo
regime to disregard the most basic tenets of due process and human
rights. For the AFP, once a person is accused of being an
"insurgent" or "terrorist", he or she is guilty until proven
innocent. This is the kind of militarist mindset that the Arroyo
regime has in pursuing its counter-insurgency program.
The military has a track record of targeting several other doctors
and health personnel.
Just recently, on February 23, 2010, Ronald Capitania, a community
health worker of Sipalay, Negros Occidental was shot by two
unidentified bonnet-clad men on a motorcycle. Luckily, he survived
On February 11, 2010, Benjei Faldas, a community health worker in
Davao del Sur was reportedly charged with frustrated murder
following the wounding of a CAFGU member in an encounter with the
New People's Army. He is prevented from performing his duties as a
community health worker.
In July last year, Dr. Reynaldo Lesaca Jr., a respected psychiatrist
at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute and chairperson
emeritus of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), filed a
complaint before the CHR regarding his inclusion, together with four
Davao-based doctors, in the military's "Order of Battle" thus making
him vulnerable to being targeted for "neutralization" by military
and paramilitary "death squads".
This was a month after another Davao-based physician, Dr. Rogelio
Peï¿½era, was shot and killed by motorcycle-riding assailants near
his house in Davao City.
In 2008, Dr. Oliver Gimenes, a community-based doctor serving
farmers' communities in Cebu and Bohol, was placed under
surveillance by the military and was vilified as a "rebel
sympathizer". He was later
charged with murder in a questionable criminal case stemming from an
NPA raid of a military detachment.
In 2007, sisters Emilia and Maricris Quirante, both community health
workers of Guihulngan Mountain Clinic in Negros Oriental were
arrested for trumped-up charges of child abuse and rebellion.
In July 2006, unidentified armed men ambushed Dr. Chandu Claver and
his family in Kalinga province. The attack killed Dr. Claver's wife,
Alyce, seriously injured Dr. Claver himself, and traumatized their
These attacks share several characteristics: they are politically-motivated;
they are directed against those who serve poor communities or
underserved sectors; the government attempts to justify these
attacks by red-baiting the victims; and they have all been all
perpetrated with impunity.
As the government's self-imposed deadline to defeat or "render
inconsequential" the communist-led armed revolutionary movement
draws near, the military will even be more hard-pressed to show
results. Thus, human rights violations are bound to continue and
What are the implications of the arrest of the 43 health workers?
The illegal arrest, illegal detention and torture committed against
the 43 health workers by the AFP are clear violations of human
rights. The methods resorted to by the military are clearly
unconstitutional, show a blatant disregard for the rule of law and
pose a grave threat to ordinary Filipinos everywhere.
This incident is disturbing for health professionals and health
science students as it imperils the people's initiatives and efforts
to build their own capacity and capability to manage their health
needs in the absence of adequate public service.
For health professionals who may be considering the option of public
service, this incident has a chilling effect. For the
community-oriented academe, this single act of the military could
undo decades of encouraging graduates to stay in the Philippines and
create the necessary exposure and experience in community-based
This will deprive the people of much needed health services which
will worsen the already deplorable state of health.
What are our demands and calls?
The campaign "FREE THE 43" demands the immediate and unconditional
release of the 43 health workers who were illegally arrested in
Morong, Rizal and are currently illegally detained in Camp Capinpin,
Tanay, Rizal. We also demand that all the false charges against them
We hold to account all the government officials involved in the
illegal arrest, detention and torture of the 43 including those who
have command responsibility over the military and police forces
directly involved in the incident.
The complaint filed before the CHR states those responsible as:
"The President of the Republic of the Philippines herself, Her
Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is primarily responsible as
Commander-in-Chief under the
principle of command responsibility because she knew or, owing to
the circumstances at the time, should have known that the state
forces were committing or about to commit the crimes stated in this
The public officials and cabinet secretaries also responsible for
gross violations of Constitutional rights following the doctrine of
command responsibility include National Security Adviser Norberto
Gonzales, the Department of the Interior and Local Government
Secretary Ronaldo Puno.
Meanwhile, the public officers who are also exercising command
responsibility over the 202nd IB, 2nd ID PA and the Rizal Provincial
Police, PNP and directly responsible for the illegal search, illegal
arrests, physical and mental torture and other blatant violations of
the Constitutional rights of the 43 doctors and health workers are
Gen. Victor Ibrado, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the
Philippines; Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit, the Commanding General of the
Philippine Army; Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali, Commanding General,
SOLCOM, Philippine Army; Brig. Gen. Jorge Segovia, Chief of the 2nd
Infantry Division, Philippine Army; Col. Aurelio Baladad, Commander
of the 202nd Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army; Lt. Col. Jaime
Abawag, Commander of the 16th Infantry Battalion; Philippine
National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa; and P/Supt. Marion
Balonglong of the Rizal Provincial Police.
In the same vein, the Honorable Judge Cesar Mangrobang is also
responsible for the issuance of the bogus and constitutionally
defective Search Warrant that the military and police officers used
to justify the raid of the farmhouse located at 266 Dela Paz St.,
Brgy. Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal.
State Prosecutor II Romeo Senson, the Department of Justice
Prosecutor who conducted the defective inquest of the 43 doctors,
nurses and medical workers and issued the Resolution indicting them
with trumped-up charges, and Senior Assistant Chief State Prosecutor
Severino Gaï¿½a, the reviewing prosecutor who signed the findings of
Prosecutor Romeo Senson, and Department of Justice Secretary Agnes
Devanadera are accountable for their complicity in the efforts to
legitimize the military and police's commission of human rights
We demand an end to the counter-insurgency program OBL, which has
targeted unarmed civilians accused of supporting the NPA, in the
name of fighting insurgency.
We call on freedom-loving people to make a stand for human rights
and condemn in the strongest terms the human rights violations
perpetrated with impunity by the Arroyo government.
(This primer was prepared by Free the 43 Health Workers)
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