Noynoy has promised that he would be very different from his predecessor, but he has yet to prove it. If he was sincere in his declaration that he will uphold human rights and undo all the damage his predecessor has done to civil liberties, then he should not hesitate to take immediate action on two very pressing issues: 1) the long-standing and well-justified claim of Hacienda Luisita farmworkers to the land they have made productive for two decades; and 2) the Morong 43.
Noynoy’s stand on the first has been patently clear even before he became president: he refuses to recognize the legal and more importantly moral right of the farmworkers to HLI.
As for the second, he has not said a word.
One would have thought that given Noynoy’s own experiences as the son of Ninoy, a former political detainee who was eventually brutally assassinated by the government he refused to give in to, Noynoy would show more compassion towards all political detainees. One also would have thought that Noynoy would rush to free all political prisoners and put an end to all military operations and government programs that allow for a culture of impunity and injustice to flourish.
The community health workers known as the Morong 43 have been unjustly imprisoned since February 6, 2010. They were in the middle of a one-week health training program sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation Incorporated (COMMED) and the Council for Health and Development (CHD) in Morong, Rizal. Among them were two medical doctors, a registered nurse, two midwives, two health educators and 36 volunteer community health workers.
Very early on Feb. 6, an estimated 300 soldiers in full battle gear from the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) 2nd Infantry Division and the Rizal Provincial Police raided the venue. The participants of the training – 43 in all — were manhandled, blindfolded, handcuffed and taken to Camp Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal. They were not shown a search or arrest warrant, neither were they told why they were being arrested. They were denied legal counsel, and for hours before the alarm was sounded, the 43 health workers suffered cruel treatment at the hands of their military guards.
For 36 hours the 43 experienced various forms of torture – mental, physical and psychological – and then they were verbally accused of illegal possession of fire arms and explosives. It was only on February 11, however, five days after they were arrested were they formally charged with same at the the RTC Branch 78,in Morong Rizal.
Soon after it came out that the 43 were arrested on a defective warrant, and if they were not forced to testify at the hearings initiated by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the AFP would not have admitted that the search warrant was completely bogus — it was issued in the name of an unknown and most likely fictitious man supposedly named ‘Mario Condes.’
Six months have passed, and the 43 remain detained. In the meantime, one of them has given birth. On July 22, Carina Judilyn Oliveros’ son was born and like his mother, he became a prisoner of the state.
It’s painful to imagine how Judilyn suffered the last six months. Any woman who has been pregnant will testify that pregnancy is not easy. The body changes and with it one’s state of mind and feeling. One if often in a state of discomfort; and even when one deeply loves the unborn child growing inside one’s body, it cannot be denied that one does not love the aches and pains, the swollen feet and ankles, the oddness of appetite, the mood swings and the fear of something bad happening to the baby.
Judilyn suffered through all this,and more: she suffered them as an innocent prisoner surrounded by armed guards, with no immediate access to family and friends, and perpetually plagued by memories of torture. In fact, during her first 36 hours as a detainee, she was denied food and water, and denied rest: she was questioned again and again, and doubtless, even without the interrogation, sleep was always far from coming and when it did, it was restless.
Judilyn gave birth at the Philippine General Hospital, but immediately after she and her baby were taken back to Camp Bagong Diwa, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s (BJMP) detention facility in Bicutan where all of the Morong 43 were detained after their transfer from Camp Capinpin. The new mother was handcuffed and not allowed to carry her son as they left the hospital.
Again, the shortest separation between a mother and a newborn brings a measure of pain. The mother is often unable to keep her eyes of her child, and sometimes the urge, the need to constantly touch and kiss the baby is so strong that the fulfillment of it brings tears. In a just and humane society, she would have been immediately released if not for the complete illegality of the charges against her (and the rest of the Morong 43), then on humanitarian grounds.
Instead, Judilyn remained a prisoner: Judge Gina Cenat Escoto of the Morong RTC rejected the petition Judilyn’s lawyers filed for her temporary release on recognizance due to humanitarian reasons: Judily wanted to breastfeed her child and take care of him in a place conducive to the health and safety of a child. On Aug. 16, the court ordered Judilyn’s return to Bicutan, saying that there was no basis to allow her release.
Undaunted, Judilyn’s lawyers from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) filed an appeal, and on August 25, the court reversed its previous ruling and allowed Judilyn and her baby to return to the PGH and stay there for three months. The RTC issued the more humane decision after the Department of Justice dropped its opposition to the original motion and gave recognition to the provisions of the United Nations’ Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding.
As of this writing, mother and baby are still at Camp Bagong Diwa and the BJMP is yet to receive the court order to effect the transfer.
When one thinks of Judilyn, one cannot help but think of other mothers.
The large majority of Filipino mothers give birth and raise their children in conditions that are far from the ideal. Because of poverty, many rely on the often limited services and medical provisions of public health centers. Most do not have access to valuable information on how to take care of their health to prevent pregnancy-related diseases like gestational diabetes.
Those in the far-flung areas do not even see doctors and depend only on community midwives. In the more squalid areas in the urban centers, pregnant women are often undernourished, and their babies are born underweight. Some are born with deformities, or worse, they die at birth or shortly after.
Immediately after giving birth, these new mothers are forced to get up and attend not only to the needs of their newborns, but the needs of the rest of their families. If employed, to go back to work. Those who are homemakers fight their fatigue and perform their duties as such. If some suffer from postnatal depression, there is no way to diagnose it: ever so often in the seedier tabloids there are reports of mothers suffocating their babies or drowning them in nearby canals.
Then the mothers face the challenge of struggling to be always strong, not so much for themselves, but for their children.
The social, political and economic realities of life in a country as backward as the Philippines are without doubt harsh,and especially for children. Because of a system of government that lays siege to the most fundamental of human rights — the right to protect the self and to live in dignity and peace — mothers suffer seeing their children grow up lacking adequate food, safe shelter, good education, access to immediate medical attention.As for their children, thankfully, many are blissfully unaware of what society has denied them.
The sacrifices of mothers are myriad, and they never end, but because of the bond of love, these sacrifices are willingly shouldered, even embraced.
Judilyn Oliveros and her son have a long and difficult struggle ahead of them as citizens of a country wherein social justice is but a phrase that means very little to those in power. As political detainees, they now suffer being directly denied their right as innocent civilians to be free.
Judilyn, it is certain, now thinks and worries of her son’s welfare more often than she does about her own.
What anger she justly feels against the injustice done against her and the rest of the Morong 43 is without doubt sharpened by the knowledge that her imprisonment also means imprisonment for her son. She is a mother now, and all the commitment she has devoted to her political advocacy and acknowledged duty as a health worker serving the poor can only be strengthened by the love she has for her child.
She remains true to her calling, and her fight for freedom is also a fight for her son. Given this, the unjustness of her plight should anger all mothers, and all those who believe in justice.
Free Judilyn Oliveros and son! Free the 43!
The Health Alliance for Democracy, Karapatan, and Gabriela are also campaigning for the immediate release on human grounds of another member of the Morong 43, 27-year old Mercy Castro. Mercy is seven months pregnant and is expected to give birth in October.