After 10 long months of being unjustly imprisoned, the Morong 43 now stand on the verge of being released. Based on developments and accounts faithfully reported by the likes of Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes, it has been a most painful ordeal all around, not only for the Morong 43 and their families, but for the urban and rural poor who were the primary beneficiaries of the selfless service of the imprisoned health workers.
One of the detainees, Nanay Del or Lydia Obera, wept as she was interviewed by ABS-CBN; but her tears were not for herself or the family she no doubt misses. She cried because she remembered the communities she and her colleagues have been forced to neglect. These were the communities they used to regularly visit and provide medical services to; these are the same communities whose dire need for health and medical programs and provisions the national government has failed to address and deliver. Already weakened because of the hunger strike she participated in, Nanay Del struggled to regain her composure but failed: the unnecessary guilt and sadness over the duties she was forced to let go of weighed on her heart.
Think of the selflessness, feel the strong sense of compassion and empathy, and be angry that such individuals as Nanay Del have been imprisoned.
There are many others like her and not just among the ranks of the Morong 43. Individuals who have sought to devote their lives and skills to others, seeking nothing but the betterment of the lives of the poor and the oppressed. Somewhere along the way their dreams and ambitions for their own selves melted into what they dream and want for the Filipino people and this country. In their selflessness, the poor benefit. In their compassion, others thrive. But in their refusal to back down from injustice, they were arrested and thrown in jail. Many, many others suffered worse fates: many are missing, many have been brutally killed.
This unjust system propped by abusive military might and founded on a long history of exploitation and calculated cruelty creates political prisoners out of Filipinos who choose not to become deaf, mute or blind victims. Human rights advocates, labor activists and socially concerned employees, workers and professionals including those among the Morong 43 remain on the hitlist of the military and the state because of their unrelenting commitment to a cause that will never be irrelevant, unnecessary or incorrect.
Even as they fight and oppose the injustices committed against the poor, they also strive to provide alternatives. They are not content to only criticize and condemn, they also seek to offer tangible service. All these prove an unwavering truth that true democracy can happen in the Philippines, and it will be built on the unity of those who have previously suffered in silence but have awakened and become empowered.
Their impending release from detention is a personal victory for each of the Morong 43; that they remained steadfast throughout their ordeal is proof of their individual strength. Beyond this, however, it’s also a brilliant testament to the righteousness of the cause they consistently sought to uphold: all that serves the best interest of the Filipino people and all that will pave the way towards a society that upholds civil, political and human rights.
The Morong 43 gained the support of Filipinos and members of the international community because they were heroes unjustly and illegally arrested. The call for their freedom did not fell on deaf ears and instead it was echoed by many. At the same time, the hypocrisy of the incumbent administration for declaring its full support for the campaign for the immediate release erstwhile Myanmar political prisoner and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi even there are over 400 political detainees languishing in various detention centers and jails all over the Philippines was exposed.
The Morong 43 rightly deserved all the support they received because their imprisonment represented so much of what’s wrong this country and what needs to be corrected, and the public was outraged by this.
For its part, the Noynoy Aquino regime chose to take its time in deliberating the merits of the case against the Morong 43 despite the overwhelming and glaring facts proving that their arrest and subsequent detention were illegal and unjustified. Noynoy became president in June, but it was only in recent months –around October– that he began to speak on the issue. And when he did begin to speak, he walked around eggs all the same out of fear and worry that he might antagonize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
Noynoy Aquino chose the easy path and stuck to the irregularities surrounding the arrest of the Morong 43 and remained silent on the conduct of the military and what their actions imply when it came to the human rights situation in the Philippines. Perhaps on his own volition, perhaps upon the recommendations of his numerous advisors, Noynoy chose his words carefully when speaking about the Morong 43 and the infamy of the AFP for arresting them. He was very cautious against implying any wrong-doing on the part of the military, all he said was that the process they used in arresting the Morong 43 left much to be desired by way of fulfilling legal and procedural requirements.
I suppose nothing more can be expected of Noynoy Aquino. Here is a man whose service record as a politician was at best lackluster and indifferent. Here is a man who chooses to surround himself with recycled officials whose own records show no obvious bent towards genuine social transformation, pro-poor politics and incorruptible practices. It would have spoken volumes about the kind of values he espouses had he taken action on the demands for the release of the Morong 43 with alacrity, but he dragged his feet and instead allowed justice secretary Leila de Lima do all the work.
In truth one cannot feel a measure of regret that Noynoy Aquino finds it easy to pass off opportunities to do what is just when it comes to human rights. Time and again he has been presented these opportunities, but he did nothing or worse, turned away and undermined issues that have serious repercussions on the economic and political welfare of the Filipino people.
There is no truth to claims that there are always two sides or even three to every issue and leaders must remain objective. Sometimes there’s only black and white, and one must take a stand and decide without fear or compromise. The arrest of the Morong 43 and the ten long months they have spent in detention is a portrait of black, but Noynoy chose to see other colors in it. Not even his trademark yellow could overcome, and what it supposedly represented — change — was proven false.
In the meantime, the AFP feigns magnanimity and arrogantly insists that it was right and justified in arresting the Morong 43. Morons among the mercenary institutions who act as officials conveniently forgot or ignored what has already been exposed in the earlier conducted hearings of the Commission on Human Right, namely that the warrant used in the arrest of the health workers was defective and more importantly, the arrested, tortured and detained victims were genuinely and undeniably civilians, far from being combatants.
The morons also asserted that the Morong 43 are confirmed New Peoples Army (NPA) members because the National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ (NDFP) chief negotiator in the peace talks Luis Jalandoni expressed support and demanded their release as a confidence-building measure in the upcoming negotiations with the GRP. Extending this twisted logic, all the local and foreign government officials, members of religious groups, heads of parishes and legal experts who gave their support for the Morong 43 are automatically enemies of the state.
It was also too much to expect that members and officials of the AFP use their brains to come up with less stupid and transparently malicious reasoning.
As of this writing, there has been no final word as to when the Morong 43 will be released. Noynoy Aquino has finally made a strong enough stand in support for the dismissal of the charges against the health workers, and the latter’s lawyers have expressed hope that it will only be a matter of time before the Justice department lays down a definite order making it possible for the Morong 43 to walk free.
With the release of the Morong 43 comes no rest, however. There are still the rest of the almost 400 other political prisoners whose rights have been denied them and whose continuing detention reeks of injustice and political persecution. Each and every single one of these men and women should be released, and every day that sees them behind bars is a day proving that the Philippines is far from being a democratic country.
Political dissent remains a crime, even as the true criminals run and manage the political system through corruption and with iron fists. The struggle against political persecution and human rights abuses must continue and strengthen. If political prisoners like the Morong 43 never grew weary even for a moment, neither must we who still walk freely let down our guard in the unending fight for true freedom democracy.