In the frenzy surrounding the national electoral campaign, many Filipinos including those running for the presidency and the senate seem to have forgotten that there is still the Macapagal-Arroyo regime to contend with. People, lest we forget, Gloria is still president and though she may be running for a lower post, as of this writing and until the new president is declared, she’s the one in the top seat, she’s the one running the show, and she’s the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) who will eagerly implement dark and deadly orders in her name.
Last Saturday, members of the 202nd Infantry Brigade and the police arrested 43 health workers, including doctors, nurses and midwives allied with the Community for Health Development (CHD). Officials of the CHD and umbrella organization of health workers Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) insist that the 43 were attending a health training and seminar, but the morons in the military say that the health professionals were members of the New People’s Army and were caught in the act of making explosives.
Dr. Eleanor Jara, a general physician and currently the executive director of the CHD , said that the soldiers arrived very early in the morning and stormed into the venue of the seminar. Many of the participants and soon-to-be victims had just woken up or had finished their morning rituals and none of them had eaten breakfast. The military rounded them up like cattle, blindfolded them and forced them into a truck, all the while refusing to heed the victims’ protests and questions regarding the legality of the arrest.
Three days later, there are now confirmed reports that the AFP used torture on the victims. According to the HEAD secretary-general Dr. Genevieve Rivera-Reyes, the victims were handcuffed and blindfolded for more than 36 hours after being forcibly brought to Camp Capinpin, headquarters of the 202nd IB. They were denied food and prohibited from using the toilet on their own. Imagine the indignity and the abuse as the victims were forced to urinate or defecate with military escorts and these so-called custodians were the ones who removed the victims’ underwear every time they had to use the toilet.
Dr. Alex Montes, one of the victims and the one being charged of heading the supposed NPA group, was electrocuted and repeatedly hit on the chest while being questioned. Dr. Montes is 60 years old.
The rest of the victims were kept in handcuffs like criminals. The military took pictures of them against their will. All throughout the questioning and interrogation process (wherein many of the victims were slapped whenever they refused to speak), the victims had no legal counsel present.
Human rights group Karapatan issued a partial list of the victims: Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, health and education training services coordinator for CHD; Dr. Montes; Gary Liberal, R.N. a nurse for the Jose Reyes Medical Memorial Center in Manila; Teresa Quinawayan, RMW; community health workers Lydia Ubera, Reynaldo Makabenta, Delia Ocasia, Jane Balleta, Janice Javier, Franco Remoroso, Ailene Monasteryo, Pearl Irene Martinez, Ellen Carandang, Dany Panero, Rayom Among and Emily Marquez.
The Macapagal-Arroyo government already has a lot to answer for by way of attacking the human rights of the Filipino people — human rights which also includes the right to benefit from adequate and affordable health service. Who isn’t aware of how expensive medicines are, how difficult it is to get treatment for even the simplest illnesses because of the exorbitant rates hospitals charge? Instead of increasing allocations for health and developing the country’s public hospitals, the government resorts to privatizing these same hospitals, making health services way beyond the reach of ordinary Filipinos. Now here’s the AFP illegally arresting and harassing health personnel and professionals, people who have done nothing but dedicate their lives and efforts to providing health care for the poor and marginalized and making health services more accessible to these sectors.
One cannot help but rage against the accusations the AFP are making. The CHD is a known non-government organization focused on providing health services to the poor. The doctors, nurses and health personnel affiliated with it are dedicated to the cause of helping the poor gain access to health treatment. The AFP, however, accuse them of being members of the NPA and that the victims were caught in the act while making explosives! And who the hell keeps a grenade under their pillow?! The military report mentions finding one such grenade hidden under a pillow.
Quite simply, the AFP continues to fail in its campaign to defeat the NPA hence its trains its guns on hapless civilians and human rights advocates including progressive-minded doctors and health professionals and accuse them of being NPA. Just when you think the AFP can sink no lower. I suppose there is no point to telling the AFP to fight fair and to not pick on civilians and non-combatants: after all, soldiers have been known again and again and again to harass, hurt and kill children. They wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to adults.
In the last five years, the regime’s Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) has claimed a large number of victims. From January to October 2009 alone, human rights groups documented 77 victims of extrajudicial killings were documented, more than half of the recorded number of victims of the same period in 2008. Fifty were also killed in the horrific Ampatuan Massacre. In the last eight years and 10 months under the Arroyo regime, 1,118 Filipinos fell victim to extrajudicial killings. There were also total of 204 victims of enforced disappearance and 1,026 victims of torture. There is no arguing with the conclusion that the Macapagal-Arroyo government’s human rights record continues to be characterized by continuing political killings, abductions and various forms of harassment against civilians and human rights activists.
The arrest of the Morong 43 and their continued unjust incarceration all the more strengthens charges that the Arroyo government has no qualms about attacking those even remotely activist in their advocacy. This is an attack not against the human rights of those arrested, but one that extends against those they serve, against those whose interests the Morong 43 have committed to uphold. Behind the attack is, you guessed it right, the Macapagal-Arroyo government.
Now, even as support our candidates and engage in the electoral battle for a new presidency and a new administration, we shouldn’t neglect to remember that it remains our duty still to defeat the incumbent regime and to make sure that it does not succeed in, say, throwing a monkey wrench in the polls and declare a failure of elections.
Arroyo is still not of the equation and things may still drastically change. The AFP, under her command, can still pull off bombings to justify the declaration of a state of emergency, then martial law, and a free-for-all crackdown on the opposition and all critics of the administration. Where will the elections be but in the wastebasket?
Then, most importantly, we should not neglect to ensure that Macapagal-Arroyo PAYS for all her crimes and spends the next decade in jail and not in the House of Representatives. She has to be made to account for all the corruption, the electoral fraud of 2004, and the bloody campaign the AFP waged in furtherance of her government’s political agenda of extermination.