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Demand the immediate and unconditional release of the 43 healthcare workers! – by Melissa Roxas

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February 16, 2010

Dear Friends,

I want to urge you to help us in the effort to demand that the Philippine military release the 43 healthcare workers that were illegally arrested and detained on February 6, 2010 in Morong, Rizal, Philippines.

This issue is close to my heart because I know what it feels like to be held incommunicado, in solitary confinement, denied of my right to legal counsel, and denied access to my family and loved ones. I know what it feels like to be blindfolded and handcuffed, threatened, and not knowing what will happen next. I also know what it means to be tortured. It is as harrowing of an experience as it is traumatic.

Just a few weeks ago I was in New York City to talk about my experience of abduction and torture perpetrated by the Philippine military and to condemn the continuing human rights violations in the Philippines. Now there is news again of the arrest of the 43 healthcare workers, amongst them doctors and nurses. This just shows that the Arroyo government has every intention on escalating the violence against the people and committing gross human rights violations.

These doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers are the ones that go to poor and underserved communities and volunteer their time to provide much needed healthcare services and have saved lives. They are health workers affiliated with the Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED) and Council for Health and Development (CHD). They help train healthcare workers and they work with Community Based Health Programs (CBHPs) that have been present in most parts of the rural communities all over the Philippines since the 1970’s. CBHPs are present in areas where government services lack or are simply nonexistent. They provide primary healthcare and train and organize communities to set-up alternative healthcare systems that are people-managed and self reliant.

The Philippine government has paid back their thanks to these doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers by arresting, detaining, and torturing them. To justify their acts—despite the invalid search warrant and pretense used to raid the farmhouse of Dr. Melecia Velmonte where the health training was held—the military has accused the healthcare workers of being NPA rebels. It seems that every time the Philippine military is caught committing human rights violations they label anyone “NPAs” and plant evidence and witnesses against them to file false criminal cases. As if this would justify the torture and the violation of their rights, but the fact is that regardless, they are still protected under the Geneva conventions and International Human Rights Laws.

The military is getting caught in its web of lies and deceit in their attempt to justify the illegal arrest, detention, and torture of the 43 healthcare workers. This allows them to continue to act with impunity and to target civilians and anybody that is critical of the government. This incident further shows the arrogance, brutality, and ruthlessness of the Arroyo government.

It is reported that some of the 43 healthcare workers, 26 of whom are women, have experienced sexual abuse while detained. Also, when the Philippine military finally presented the 43 healthcare workers before the Court of Appeals on February 15, 2010 due to the petition of habeas corpus filed by the families of the 43 and the mounting public pressure, Dr. Alex Montes gave his testimony. He described the inhumane conditions he endured, about being handcuffed and blindfolded for 36 hours, held in solitary confinement, and not being able to utter another word after being asked how this experience has affected him, witnesses said he returned to his seat seemingly broken.

I am afraid for what Dr. Montes was unable to say, and about the other torture he and others probably endured. After all, he still has to go back to the military camp after his testimony and he is still at the mercy of his captors. Let us prevent any further violation of his rights, let us demand the end to the torture of the 43 healthcare workers and demand their immediate release.

No one has been prosecuted for human rights violations and the Philippine government continues its brutal policy unabated even as international condemnation of the Philippines for its gross human rights record has been expressed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other international bodies. What is especially disturbing to me is that our taxpayer dollars here in the United States are being used to fund and train the Philippine military who is guilty of committing these human rights violations. We can say “no to more human rights violations in the Philippines” by saying “no to more military aid” and urging our government to cut military funding to the Philippines. We can also bring these human rights violations and the case of the 43 healthcare workers to the attention of our local representatives and Senators by writing to them and signing petitions like the one below.

The 43 healthcare workers include doctors like Dr. Montes and Dr. Merry Mia Clamor who chose to stay in the Philippines instead of going abroad. In a country where 7 out of 10 Filipinos do not even see a doctor before they die, and where the majority of the people lack access to public health services and facilities, these doctors and healthcare workers that have dedicated their time and skills to serve the poor and marginalized communities of the Philippines are doing their heroic duty and sworn mandate to serve and attend to the medical needs of the poor and the most vulnerable in society. They deserve not only our praises, but they need our continued support and our outcry for justice.



Melissa Roxas

Please sign the petition

For more information and to find out what you can do please visit: