Second Week: Updates on our fight to free the 43
The past three days have been filled with many developments in the campaign to free the 43 health workers illegally arrested and detained by the Philippine military last February 6.
Last Friday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines defied an order from the Supreme Court to produce the 43 health workers before the Court of Appeals. There were actually two reasons given by the government. The first, from Col. Aurelio Baladad, there wasn’t enough time to coordinate security and transportation for the 43. The second, and more sinister, the Office of the Solicitor General explained that bringing the 43 was no longer necessary since cases have been filed against them and that the petition for habeas corpus was now moot.
The first reasoning caught the ire of one of the justices who berated Baladad. Being the biggest armed group in the country, the AFP should have no problem transporting the 43, the judge explained. However, we also have to note that the Sol-Gen tried to justify the non-appearance of the 43 through some twisted legal reasoning. Whether transportation was available or not, the Sol Gen believed that it was not necessary to produce the 43 before the CA.
Baladad then said that his unit will comply with the SC order on Monday, February 15.
The defiance of the AFP quickly sparked outrage among supporters, advocates and legal experts. The CHR said that the AFP could be cited for contempt. Even pro-Arroyo presidential bet and former defense secretary Gibo Teodoro was forced to admit that what the AFP did was “inexcusable”.
On Saturday, AFP Chief of Staff Victor Ibrado reminded his troops to “follow court orders”.
On the same day, families of the detainees were joined by a multi-sectoral contingent in a caravan of 30 vehicles to Camp Capinpin. The relatives were allowed entry but volunteer psychiatrists were prevented from seeing the 43. Rep. Satur Ocampo and Rep. Liza Maza were likewise barred from visiting the detainees, despite their status as public officials. All the soldiers at the gate could explain was that the camp was under some “heightened alert.”
The detained health workers staged a noise barrage to protest their illegal arrest and detention. They were not informed that the SC had ordered the AFP to produce them. They protest the AFP’s defiance of court orders and warned the warden that another protest was coming if they are not brought to the CA on Monday.
The AFP has also continued to justify the torture and ill-treatment of the detainees. Earlier in the week, 2nd Infantry Division commanding general Jorge Segovia said that the handcuffs and blindfolds on the 43 lasting 36 hours was a form of “reasonable restraint”. Now, 202nd Infantry Battalion spokesman Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato offers the amazing analysis that the detainees only suffered “the normal mental anguish” that arrested people go through. It is not clear what training Detoyato has that qualifies him to give a psychiatric evaluation of detainees or to define what constitutes “normal mental anguish”.
The obviously ignorant Detoyato goes on to say that the detainees were really members of the NPA because they are being represented by Atty. Romeo Capulong, who is a lawyer of “leftists” including CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison. This assertion of course is devoid of any logic, as Atty. Teddy Te clearly explained in his note. This is classic guilt by association reminiscent of anti-communist witch-hunts in the 50’s and 60’s.
Then Detoyato goes on to say that the 43 were really members of the NPA because they were caught in the act of making bombs, and that no real medical training and equipment was found. To reinforce the NPA theory, he cites that acupuncture needles were also found in the possession of the 43. He says acupuncture needles are the “trademark” of the NPA. Again, the assertions are non-sequitur as anyone knows that acupuncture needles as a form of alternative medicine is widely used, by people who are not members of the NPA.
Also, wouldn’t the acupuncture needles highlight the fact that the 43 were indeed medical or health workers? Wouldn’t that, and the other medical equipment documented at the seminar room, prove that they were indeed conducting health training? Ah, for the brilliant minds in the 202nd IB, the acupuncture needles are relevant only insofar that it makes the users NPA members.
Support for the 43 has snowballed over the past week. We’ve monitored support statements from various lawmakers, political leaders, religious groups and candidates in the election. The issue has made many cross party lines to support the 43. Various organizations and unions of health professionals have also expressed their support for the 43.
So far, those supporting the actions of the military are Executive Secretary and former general Eduardo Ermita and the incorrigible Arroyo apologist Raul Gonzalez.
On Monday, February 15, the 43 will be brought to the Court of Appeals. Lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center and the National Union of Peoples Lawyers will argue before the court why the arrest and detention were illegal.
Let us intensify the campaign as there are still many legal and illegal maneuvers that the AFP and the Arroyo government can resort to. We must do all we can to free the 43.