Int’l outrage growing over ‘Morong 43’ case
By Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—International outrage over the arrest, detention and torture of the “Morong 43” is growing.
A Methodist delegation, led by Rev. Sandra Richards, said her congregation in the United States had expressed concern over the detention of the 43 health workers who were arrested on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal, on suspicion that they were communist rebels.
“The issue is already of international concern. We received an e-mail today from our General Board of Church and Society and they are expressing concern,” said Richards, who went to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal to visit the detainees on Tuesday.
Richards also said that on Feb. 12, the World Council of Churches issued a statement requesting the immediate release of the 43 detainees. The World Council of Churches is a worldwide fellowship of 349 churches seeking unity in the Christian service.
Two presidential candidates in the May elections have also expressed concern over the situation of the detainees.
“I condemn any violation or abuse of human rights,” Sen. Manuel Villar, standard-bearer of the Nacionalista Party, said in a statement.
Villar said “the manner and circumstances of the arrest and detention already raised a lot of questions. Thus, the authorities should ensure that the legal procedures will be followed.”
Nicanor Perlas, an independent presidential candidate, called on the military to release the health workers, saying the “practice of medicine should be given to all regardless of their political ideologies.”
“The members of the medical profession should not be subjected to any harm or danger in the performance of their official functions as embodied in the Geneva Convention,” Perlas said in a statement.
He said the arrest of the Morong 43 while they were conducting health training showed the need to professionalize the police and the military.
“And, if the rights of these workers were, in any way, violated, those responsible should be held accountable,” Perlas said.
Richards, who was accompanied by Rev. David Farley and Rev. Irwin Lee McKlenshaw, tried to visit the Morong 43 on Tuesday.
They are members of the United Methodist Church California-Pacific conference. The congregation’s General Board of Church and Society is one of four international programs of the church.
Lay minister a detainee
One of the detainees, Dr. Alex Montes, is a lay leader of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), a Christian denomination formed by the merger of various congregations, including the Methodists.
“He is a well-respected surgeon and had given up his material well-being to serve the poor. We don’t think acts of mercy are criminal acts,” Richards said.
Richards said her group would bring the issue to US legislators belonging to the Democratic Party, including Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, both of California, and Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.
Boxer chaired hearings in the US Senate in 2007 on extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, while Sanchez is a member of the House committee on armed services and homeland security and the joint economic committee in the US Congress.
Inouye championed a bill giving aid to Filipino World War II veterans and their families.
Protest at RP consulates
Kuunsela Hilo, vice chair of Bayan USA, who was part of Richards’ party, said Filipinos and non-Filipinos had been holding protest actions at Philippine consular offices in the United States, including Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, asking for the release of the Morong 43.
“It’s definitely an international issue especially with so many Filipino health care workers abroad,” Hilo told the Inquirer.
She said national labor unions in the United States like the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance had sent letters to US and Philippine officials “condemning the ongoing treatment, detention and torture of the 43 health workers.”
Richards’ party met with Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila de Lima on Tuesday morning at her office in Quezon City.
De Lima, for her part, said the CHR would exhaust all remedies to secure the release of the Morong 43. If all else fails, the CHR can also bring the issue to the United Nations, she said.
Left out in the heat
Richards lamented the hardships the families of the detainees were undergoing just to see their loved ones.
“These are young men and women, children and grandparents waiting to see their loved ones. One poor family had come from very far. They had not seen their daughter. They were left out in the heat all day waiting. We were moved by the plight of the parents and families of the detainees,” she said.
Based on stories told to them by the families, Richards said some of the detainees “fear the coming of the night” because they would be interrogated. The detainees also suffered psychological torture.
De Lima said that based on the report of Richards’ party, the families were waiting on Tuesday to see the detainees since morning. But it was only close to 4 p.m. that they were able to spend just five minutes with the detainees. With reports from DJ Yap and Jocelyn R. Uy