Contact: Rhonda Ramiro
The alliance of 14 Filipino American organizations known as BAYAN-USA strongly condemns the Philippine police and military’s illegal raid and abduction of 43 community health workers and doctors who were conducting health skills training in Morong, Rizal, Philippines on Saturday, February 6. The health workers and doctors administer health services to poor communities, and were participating in a First Responders Training, sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation, Inc. (COMMED) and Council for Health and Development (CHD). Their personal belongings, as well the training materials used, were all confiscated by the military.
According to reports by the media and the human rights alliance KARAPATAN, approximately 300 soldiers and police of the Southern Luzon Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Rizal Philippine National Police (PNP) forcibly entered the farmhouse of Dr. Melecia Velmonte at 6:15 AM. The training participants were then lined up, violently frisked, blindfolded, and taken to Camp Capinpin, headquarters of the 202nd Infantry Brigade, AFP. The health workers have been held incommunicado since then, and have been denied their right to legal counsel. A team from the Commission on Human Rights was also blocked from seeing the detainees.
“We denounce the PNP and AFP’s illegal abduction and detention of health professionals,” stated Bernadette Ellorin, BAYAN-USA Chair. “It is contemptible that the government arrested these health care providers while they were undergoing training in ‘first response,’ especially in light of the government’s failure to provide this type of critical care during disasters like typhoon Ondoy.”
KARAPATAN reported that the AFP and PNP illegally used a search warrant naming a person who was not the owner of the home, nor specifying an exact address. Moreover, the military declared that the victims were members of the New People’s Army because of explosives allegedly found inside the compound, even though witnesses said that the military conducted the search of the compound’s premises only after all of the victims and residents were already outside the buildings. Witnesses also said that the military brought in with them plastic bags with the GMA Kapuso logo printed on it.
“The government is sending the message that Filipino doctors and nurses are welcome to go abroad to work, but they are labeled rebels if they stay in the Philippines to serve the poor,” said Ellorin. “This falls right in line with President Arroyo’s bloody counter-insurgency program Operation Plan Bantay Laya 2, which has terrorized innocent people with extra-judicial killings, abductions, disappearances, torture and mass arrests.”
BAYAN-USA makes the following demands:
1. The immediate release of the health workers who are illegally arrested and illegally detained at Camp Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal.
2. The government to ensure the safety of the victims and that they are not harmed; their belongings be returned immediately to them.
3. The immediate formation of an independent fact-finding and investigation team composed of representatives from human rights groups, the Church, local government, and the Commission on Human Rights that will look into raid and illegal arrest of the health workers conducting health skills training in Morong, Rizal.
4. The military to stop the labeling and targeting of human rights defenders as “members of front organizations of the communists” and “enemies of the state.”
5. The Philippine Government to be reminded that it is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that it is also a party to all the major Human Rights instruments, thus it is bound to observe all of these instruments’ provisions.