US lawyers tell BSA: “Free Morong 43”

By Gerry Albert Corpuz, http://www.allvoices.com MANILA, Philippines-

American lawyers belonging to the National Lawyers Guild on Saturday added their voice to the growing demand of the international human rights and social justice community to immediately and unconditionally release the 43 health workers illegally arrested and detained by the Philippine military last Feb.6 this year in Morong, a municipality east of Metro Manila.

In a resolution approved during the NLG assembly in New Orleans, the American lawyers group put to task President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to free the detained health workers known as Morong 43.

The resolution, a copy of which was emailed to http://www.allvoices.com was dispatched to Malacanang, barely a day after Department of Justice (DoJ) Secretary Leila de Lima said the recommendation on the case will be forwarded to Malacanang anytime next week. On February 6, 2010 a force of 300 Philippine police and military illegally raided and abducted 43 community health workers including doctors and nurses who were conducting health skills training in Morong, Rizal, Philippines.

“These health workers and doctors administer health services to poor communities, and were participating in a week long First Responders Training, sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation, Inc. (COMMED) and Council for Health and Development (CHD),” the NLG said in a resolution approved by its members during the assembly at New Orleans recently.

The NLG added that “these health workers were being trained to go to rural areas where the government does not provide medical services and who are most vulnerable during devastating typhoons which have been hitting the Philippines and devastating many rural communities.

“But, because people in many of these rural country side areas are considered enemies of the state, the government as part of its “counterinsurgency plan” targets people such as these health workers claiming they are in fact part of the insurgent movement in the Philippines and if the work is of a progressive nature they are assumed to be members of the New People’s Army,” the NLG resolution added. According to NLG, the training took place at a conference center owned by a renowned Doctor in the Philippines.

The workers were rounded up and taken to the central conference room while the military conducted an illegal search of the cabins and grounds, and claimed to have found a gun and some explosive materials. “The workers deny any connection to such materials and believe that the evidence was planted. Their personal belongings, as well the training m materials used, were all confiscated by the military,” it said.

The NLG said the lawyers for the workers immediately filed a petition for habeas corpus, claiming the search warrant was defective and the arrest illegal. “Marcos era law indicates that if those arrested are charged within 36 hours the illegality of the search and arrest cannot be attacked in a habeas petition. . In this case the charges, of possession of explosives, a non bailable offense, were not filed until 5 days later,” it said. The NLG also took note of the Supreme Court action on the Morong 43 case where the habeas was initially filed referred the case back to the court of appeal.

The court of appeal at first split 2-1 in favor of granting the habeas, but the government then added two more judges to the appeals panel making resulting in a 3-2 denial of the habeas.The NLG said it was shocked to learned that the 43 health workers were held in military camps until May 1, 2010. For days they were deprived the right to counsel during interrogation and there are many reports of sleep deprivation, beatings, electrical shock and the like. “Although they were transferred to jails near Manila in May their cases are in limbo.

They cannot be arraigned and tried while the habeas is pending because under Philippine law, if they are arraigned they lose the right to challenge the illegality of the search and the arrests through a habeas and a potential trial of all 43 would take years,” it said. On September 15, 2010 members of the IADL bureau met with the new Secretary de Lima, and urged her to conduct a review of these cases.

De Lima according to IADL lawyers agreed before her meeting with the IADL bureau to review these cases, and render an opinion on whether the cases should go forward. The IADL at its bureau meeting in Manila on September 16-17, 2010 decided to launch a world wide campaign to continue the pressure on the government to rescind the charges against these health workers and in particular to ensure that the Justice Secretary will act quickly to review the charges and withdraw them.

IADL is asking that National Affiliates such the NLG join in this effort.Officials and members of the NLG said they had decided to send a letter to the Justice Secretary to express the lawyers’ concern for the rights of these health workers, and requesting her to review and rescind the charges.

The NLG is also planning to send a delegation and meet the Philippine Ambassador in the United States to talk the case and launch a global campaign to pressure President Aquino and the military to free the 43 health workers. Meanwhile, the Philippine foreign affairs department announced President Aquino will be in Hanoi, Vietnam on October 28-30 to talk on human rights in East Asia and the Pacific.

The East Asia summit will be attended by members of Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN), Russia and the US, China, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, India, South Korea and Australia. The Manila foreign affairs department said the President is expected to call for vigilance over Myanmar’s first democratic elections which has been ruled by military dictatorship over the last thirty years.

But critics of Aquino argued the 50-year old president has no political and moral ascendancy to talk about protection of human rights in the East Asia conference.

Rural based groups such as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the biggest peasant group in the country and staunch ally Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) in a joint statement said Aquino is bound to emulate and surpass the brutal human rights records of previous President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.KMP and Pamalakaya said in the first 100 days in office of President Aquino, the AFP backed death squad had already claimed 16 lives of political activists in the country, about 11 to 12 of them are farmers affiliated with chapters of KMP all over the country.

The government under the extended counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) continues to file fabricated charges against leaders of activist rural organizations in the country.

Recently, a leader of Pamalakaya in Negros, Western Philippines was charged with arson and other criminal charges in connection with the Oct.5 attack at Victorias Milling Corporation compound where a milling equipment amounting to P 600,000 was burned by the Maoist guerillas operating in the hinterlands of Negros Island.

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