While thousands of Filipino health professionals leave the country to seek better opportunities abroad, those who choose to remain and serve their poor and marginalized countrymen are being illegally detained, harassed and subjected to mental torture.
On the morning of February 6, the military and police arrested 43 health workers attending a training on Community Health Based Program in Rizal province. They are alleged to be active members or supporters of the New Peoples’ Army. However, a week passed and no concrete evidence pointing to their connection with the NPA has been established. Yet until this very hour, the military are still detaining them – and even prohibiting contact with relatives.
We in the Church are concerned about the military’s inclination to arbitrarily arrest people involved in works that promote social justice. Most of our development programs and ministries are also community-based. Our priests and laities work in rural areas and empower far-flung communities. Probing into this incident in the manner reported by the media, we could not help but fear that one day our efforts to help the poor and the marginalized will be perceived as threats, and that we may also be branded as insurgents.
We call on the concerned government authorities and the military to observe the rule of law and the rights of persons while conducting operation. Their failure to produce the 43 health workers on Friday and present them before the Court of Appeals is a deliberate violation of the writ of habeas corpus, and a ground for contempt.
This country has not yet recovered from countless cases of human rights violations and it is definitely wiser if the government does everything in its power to prevent further injustices.
Our sympathies go out to the innocent victims of these violations. May they and their families remain strong and safe as we all pray for an impartial ruling of their case.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(SGD)+ NEREO P. ODCHIMAR, D.D.
Bishop of Tandag
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
February 18, 2010