By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Take two on the Morong 43
One would wish that at least part of then presidential candidate “Noynoy”
Aquino’s campaign line were unequivocally true - that having been a victim
of oppression under martial rule when his father “Ninoy” was kept in
solitary confinement by his arch enemy, dictator Ferdinand Marcos, he
knows what injustice means.
If so, then he would have empathy with the plight of the Morong 43, health
professionals and workers all, who have been detained unjustly for nine
months now on the basis of spurious charges of illegal possession of
firearms and explosives.
The military had raided a seminar house in Morong, Rizal owned by a
well-respected infectious disease expert from the Philippine General
Hospital, using a faulty warrant of arrest for a person whose existence,
nobody, not even the authorities, has verified up to this time
They rounded up all the participants in a health training course being
given under the auspices of the non-government organization, Council for
Health and Development, known for its pioneering work in community-based
primary health care.
They produced firearms and alleged bomb-making paraphernalia as evidence;
since these were garnered without benefit of independent witnesses such as
baranggay officials, there are grounds to believe that these were planted
by the raiders themselves.
The 43 were hauled off, blindfolded and handcuffed, to a military camp.
They were interrogated, subjected to various forms of physical and mental
torture, and kept incommunicado until their lawyers and the Commission on
Human Rights (CHR) were able to assert their right to counsel and
visitation by relatives and human rights workers.
A public prosecutor brought in by the military hastily conducted inquest
proceedings (to determine if there was probable cause to charge the
detainees) but did so without affording the forty-three their right to
A case was then filed with the regional trial court in Morong for which
reason the Court of Appeals (CA), rejected the defense lawyers’ petition
for a writ of habeas corpus, on the technicality that the filing of the
case “cured” any irregularities in the arrest of the hapless forty-three.
The CA ruling is pending on appeal with the Supreme Court. Defense lawyers
argue that the gross violations of the forty three’s right to due process
and the flimsiness of the evidence call for the dismissal of the charges
against the health workers. The defense lawyers have so far prevailed on
the Morong RTC to defer arraignment of the accused in light of the SC
Meantime, despite resistance from military and police authorities, thirty
eight of the forty three were transferred to a regular police detention
facility. In this way, they were spared further harassment and rough
treatment coupled with enticements to cooperate with their military
Unfortunately, five of the detainees succumbed to the “bad cop-good cop”
tactics of the military, purportedly confessed their guilt and currently
remain under the custody of the military. Some of their relatives however
attest to the severe pressure made to bear on them including threats made
by interrogators against their family members.
Hearings conducted by the CHR under then Chair Leila de Lima were able to
establish the plain truth that the case of the Morong 43 is a case of a
military operation pretending to be a police action for which a patently
defective arrest warrant was obtained.
Acting on raw intelligence information, the military pounced on the forty
three, initially claiming that they were NPA combatants undergoing
training in making bombs. Later, when it could not be denied that the
forty three were indeed either medical professionals or community health
workers, they amended their line saying they were NPA medics undergoing
training in “combat life-saving techniques and bomb-making”.
The AFP trumpeted that the “accomplishment was the biggest victory of the
government’s counterinsurgency campaign in recent years”. To underscore
the point, they awarded the head of the raiding team a medal for his role
in the “accomplishment”.
For the past nine months, numerous prominent groups and personalities have
joined calls for the immediate release of the Morong 43. They include
several former secretaries of the Department of Health; the dean and
professors of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine; the
Association of Philippine Medical Colleges; the Philippine Medical
Association; the Philippine Nurses Association; and several lawmakers in
the House of Representatives and Senate. International and national groups
of lawyers, human rights advocates and churches have also joined the
But bottom line is the forty three are still languishing in jail. Dr.
Alexis Montes, the sixty-year-old physician in the group expressed his
frustration by saying that every second in jail feels like an eternity.
Two pregnant mothers among the forty three have given birth. Another
doctor, Dr. Mary Clamor was rushed to the hospital because of uncontrolled
diabetes, hypertension and infected skin wounds aggravated by poor jail
conditions. The rest are straining under the weight of uncertainty and the
difficult conditions they and their families are subjected to.
Justice Secretary de Lima has submitted to President Aquino her
recommendations and, by all indications, these are favorable. The latter
has already acknowledged that the “evidence” against the forty-three was
obtained through irregular means. He rightly stated, “It is a generally
accepted principle that what the lawyers call the fruit of the poisoned
tree, evidence wrongly gotten, cannot be used.”
Yet Mr. Aquino chooses to drag his feet on the case arguing that it is “up
to the courts” to decide.
In fact, the Executive Department can expedite the release of the Morong
43 in two ways. The Office of the Solicitor General can concur or not
object to the defense petition for habeas corpus pending with the Supreme
Court and thus give way to the grant of the petition. Or the justice
department can order the reinvestigation and thereby reverse the erroneous
filing of the case filed by its errant fiscal. The Morong court can then
dismiss the case accordingly and order the instant release of the
In contrast to Mr. Aquino’s decisive, some say precipitous, grant of
amnesty to alleged military rebels, his continued inaction on the Morong
43 rankles. It is also fuelling suspicion that Mr. Aquino is hostage to
the generals who object to the release in the guise of such being a
setback to the government’s counterinsurgency campaign.
No ifs and buts, it’s time Mr. Aquino mustered political will on such a
blatant case of injustice: Mr. President, release the Morong 43! #
Published in Business World
12-13 November 2010