MANILA – ‘Morong 43’ arrest, detention illegal — CHR
Five years since the arrest, detention and release of the 43 health workers dubbed as the "Morong 43," the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has finally issued a resolution stating that state forces violated the rights of the health workers.
"This is a welcome development though it is five years late," Ephraim Cortez, National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) assistant secretary general for legal services, told Bulatlat.com.
In its resolution dated April 21, the CHR said the health workers were tortured and deprived of their rights against unlawful search and seizure and their rights as detainees.
Though it came late, Cortez said the resolution still vindicates the detained health workers.
The CHR resolution, which the NUPL described as a document that "could have been written all in a day's work," has "tardily validated what every sensible person already knew even at that time - that the Morong 43 community doctors, nurses, midwives and health volunteers were brazenly illegally arrested, illegally detained, viciously tortured and routinely denied their basic constitutional rights while in military and police custody."
The 43 health workers were arrested on Feb. 6, 2010 in Morong, Rizal while attending a community health training workshop. They were held incommunicado in a military camp, where they were interrogated and tortured to falsely admitting they were members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army.
Ten months later, amid strong local and international pressure, President Aquino ordered the dropping of charges against them.
Citing the Philippine laws against torture, the CHR said "those specifically complained by the complainants/detainees cannot be more obvious." The Republic Act No. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 states that torture could be either physical or mental.
"As noted by the CHR medico-legal team who visited the Morong 43, on Feb. 11, 2010, at their detention cells in Camp Capinpin, some of the detainees had abrasions and contusions in the different parts of their bodies, like wrists, foreheads and heads, which corroborated their account that they were blindfolded and handcuffed tightly for a long period," the resolution stated.
The CHR listed down the rights violated at the time of their arrest. These were:
1. Right to counsel immediately after arrest
2. Right against incommunicado status
3. Right against prolonged and repeated interrogation to elicit information
4. Right to sleep
5. Visitation rights of families and relatives
6. During tactical interrogation, they were threatened with death and forced to admit membership in the New People's Army
7. They were alternately threatened, and convinced to cooperate with the military in exchange of getting their cases fixed or rewards
8. They were deprived privacy, and sexually harassed
The CHR resolution said the validity of the search warrant used by the military was questionable from the very start. The warrant was issued against a certain Mario Condes, a resident of Maybangkal, Morong, Rizal, by Judge Cesar Mangobang of Imus, Cavite.
Condes, who was not among the 43 health workers, did not own the house where the training was being conducted and was never produced by the military even during the hearings conducted by the CHR.
The CHR also found it "highly irregular" that the arresting officer applied for a search warrant in Imus, Cavite and that the state forces were not able to come up with a compelling reason to justify why they resorted to seeking out a court outside the jurisdiction of the courts in Rizal province.
The warrant, the resolution read, also failed to describe the specific and exact house to be searched, which it described as "an important requirement under the Rules of Court."
"Necessarily, as the search warrant is invalid, the search conducted on the strength of such invalid instrument is considered unlawful," the resolution stated. It added that the arresting military team had no valid authority to enter and search the house where the Morong 43 were staying.
In this light, the CHR ruled that the arrest of the 43 health workers "is unlawful as there is no valid warrant of arrest issued against any of them."
On its recommendations, the CHR called on the Supreme Court to look into the martial law-era doctrine of curative information, referring to the Ilagan vs. Enrile ruling. It added that while courts must adhere to judicial precedents, "the same courts are capable of overturning themselves if the current circumstances dictate a change."
As a consequence of the unlawful search, the warrantless arrest against the Morong 43 "naturally becomes unlawful and arbitrary," the CHR said.
AFP won't dispute CHR's torture findings but insists 'Morong 43' were rebels
By: Priam F. Nepomuceno, Philippine News Agency
MANILA, Philippines -- The military is not disputing the Commission on Human Rights' findings that members of the so-called "Morong 43" were illegally arrested and tortured but insists that those nabbed in a 2010 raid on farmhouse in the Rizal town were communist rebels and not health workers.
In a 26-page resolution released recently, the CHR said the rights of the medical workers were violated when they were illegally arrested in Morong, Rizal on February 6, 2010 based on a search warrant issued by a judge from a court in Imus, Cavite but with no valid warrant of arrest against any of the 43.
"We will not question the finding of CHR about the Morong 43. However, we would like to maintain that they are not health workers but New People's Army members who were undergoing explosives training," Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office chief Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said.
He claimed that after the bulk of the 43 were released, "most of them went back to the mountains to rejoin the NPA where two of them were killed in encounters in Bulacan and Bicol, one surrendered in Mindoro and one was rearrestad for a murder case in Batangas."
"Five of them have taken side with the AFP and they affirmed their membership (in) the NPA and that they were not tortured during their detention," he added.
He also said recommending charges against any person for alleged human rights violations is well within the competence of the CHR, referring to Section 18, Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution.
"The AFP will give due respect to such authority," he added.
Cabunoc said the Office of the Solicitor General, which had previously represented AFP officers named respondents in the habeas corpus proceedings filed by the relatives of the Morong 43, will be consulted on charges the CHR may recommend.
He noted that the Supreme Court ruling in 2014, which dismissed the habeas corpus petition, had ruled that there were no "serious violations of, and utter disregard by the state forces of the constitutional rights of the petitioners ... "
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