On 6 February 2010, 43 Philippine medical practitioners and health workers, known commonly as the "Morong 43," were illegally arrested by heavily armed elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and police while participating in a one week First Responders Training, sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation, Inc. and the Council for Health and Development at the farm of Dr. Melecia Velmonte located in Bgy. Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal. Dr. Velmonte is a respected infectious disease specialist as well as a consultant at the Philippine General Hospital and her farm is a regular venue for medical health trainings that attract community workers, hospital staff and academicians.
Contrary to constitutional and international law the health workers were detained incommunicado without access to legal counsel or visits from their families for their first two days in military custody. Moreover family members, legal representatives, medical doctor, priest or religious minister continue to face difficulties in gaining access to visit the detained health workers.
These unjustified restrictions on external visitations have heightened concerns for the wellbeing of the health workers. The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP) has categorically stated that its own findings and initial observations confirm formal complaints that the health workers were subjected to mentally and physically degrading treatment while in military custody.
The involvement of the AFP in the detention of the 43 health workers and in the civilian legal process is also deeply worrisome. In defiance of a Philippine Supreme Court order, the AFP did not present the 43 health workers before a court of law until 9 days after their initial arrest. The AFP has further sought to evade the Trial Court's 7 April 2010 order to transfer 38 of the Morong 43 from the military Camp Capinpin to the police Custodial Center in Camp Crame; by arranging for buses to transport the health workers to Camp Crame only to have the buses turned away at the gate by the Philippine National Police and returned to Camp Capinpin on the flimsy grounds of not having sufficient facilities to accommodate the health workers.
The Philippines remains one of the most dangerous places in which to be a civil society activist. Despite repeated calls by CIVICUS and other civil society groups, the campaign of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest, torture and intimidation continues in the Philippines.
The AFP continues to make malicious and abusive statements about the victims so that the illegal arrest and their continued illegal detention and torture can be justified. This may trigger fears of health workers now being afraid to go to and serve the rural areas for fear of being accused as sympathisers or outright members of the rebels.
The Morong 43 (names in the attached document)
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