Health workers grabbed by Philippines military
PHILIPPINES media appear to be trying to play down widespread concern and anger over the latest action by the military. A joint operation by police and troops in the town of Morong, in Rizal province, detained 43 health workers whom the army claimed were attending a bomb-making course run by the left-wing New People's Army(NPA).
But the doctors and nurses arrested were members of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), in the town to conduct medical training, according to two farmers' organisations, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Tanggol Magsasaka, who issued a statement on Sunday.
“We totally condemn this vicious act of the Arroyo government…the abduction of 42 patriotic doctors and medical personnel who offer their services to the poor. We strongly call for their immediate release,” said Antonio Flores, KMP spokesman and Tanggol Magsasaka coc-onvenor.
Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, civil-military operations officer of the Army’s 2nd Infantry “Jungle Fighter” Division, said the suspects were members of the national, regional and local units of the NPA. He said the 17 men and 26 women were arrested when the troops searched a house in barangay Maybangcal, Morong, on the strength of a warrant issued by a local court.
Detoyato said the team seized a .45 calibre pistol, a .38 calibre revolver, three hand grenades, a canister, an improvised land mine, two improvised claymore mines, two kilos of ammonium nitrate, seven blasting caps, 36 home made explosive sticks, cellular telephones, backpacks and campaign materials of a party-list group.
The HEAD said its members were at the rest house of physician Melecia Velmonte and were conducting health- skills training when government troops raided the house, blindfolded those found in the house and forcibly took them to the headquarters of the 2nd ID in Tanay, Rizal.Philippines TV news has failed to report a statement by Senator Pia S. Cayetano, chair of the Philippines Senate's Committee on Social Justice, who said:
"The 202nd Infantry Brigade of the armed forces should be made accountable for violating the rights of the 43 health personnel who were rounded up last Saturday while attending a training seminar in Morong, Rizal then later detained incognito at Camp Capinpin. The military's refusal to grant access to the health workers' relatives, lawyers and even the quick-reaction team of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is a clear violation of their Constitutional rights to liberty and presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. This act should not be tolerated by the Arroyo regime.
"I would like to remind the arresting officers that our country is not under martial law anymore. The warrant used to round up the 43 was reportedly flawed. Since when can an arrest warrant issued against a specified person be used for a mass arrest? I sympathize with the relatives of the detained doctors, nurse, midwife and health volunteers. Is it now a crime to serve remote communities where government health services are hardly available, if at all? The military has no authority to detain incognito any citizen on mere suspicion of being communist rebels or supporters. The military should immediately produce all 43 and face the CHR and the courts."
More than one armed group is active in the Philippines, including Muslim rebels. One of the worst atrocities, in which at least 57 people were murdered, in the Maguindanao province in the south, has been attributed to professional gunmen hired by a local mayor and governor, belonging to a group that has close to the government.
The NPA, regarded as the military wing of the Philippines Communist Party, can trace its roots to the "Huk" rebels who fought Japanese occupation in World War II, and were America's allies - until that war ended. Guerrilla activity fell away in the mid-Fifties, but in the following decade the Philippines party largely came under Maoist influence, and in 1969 the NPA was launched with a perspective of "protracted war".
After the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship the Philippines left tried to shift back to the towns, and legal forms of activity such as trade union work. But this too has become dangerous under the Arroyo regime, notwithstanding its armistice with the NPA in 2007.
From 2004 to 2008, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) recorded 70 killings and two cases of enforced disappearances. The count is part of the more than 800 victims of disappearances and extrajudicial killings listed by the human rights group Karapatan since President Arroyo came to power in 2001.
The US government has classified the NPA as a "terrorist" organisation, and European governments have followed this lead, although some Philippine left-wingers are in exile in Europe.