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statements February 18, 2009
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Let Justice Prevail! Free the Health 43 Now!

The Community Health Education Services and Training in the Cordilllera Region, Inc. (CHESTCORE) is outraged over the mental, physical and psychological torture suffered by our 43 colleagues in the health profession who have been illegally detained and forced to admit that they are members of the New People’s Army (NPA). We strongly condemn their illegal detention after they were abducted early morning of February 6, 2010 by some 300 fully armed, combined elements of the 2nd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and the Rizal Philippine National Police while holding a health skills training seminar in a private farmhouse in Morong, Rizal. This criminal abduction, and the baseless and slanderous accusation that these health workers are ‘enemies of the state’ or involved in some kind of criminal activity, are an insult to people everywhere concerned with peace and social justice. We then raise this question: When does it become a crime to serve the marginalized and depressed communities in our society?

The organizers of the training activity, namely the Council for Health and Development (CHD) and the Community Medicine Foundation (COMMED) , affirmed that those abducted were doctors, nurse, midwife and civilian health volunteers affiliated with health NGOs or representatives of people’s organizations who gathered to learn, harness health knowledge and skills that they will use to serve poor communities and underserved sectors in far-flung areas.

The health training which was being conducted in Rizal is part of the ongoing work of legal and legitimate health organizations all over the country, taking into their own hands what our government is supposed to be providing our people.  Even as the Department of Health and international organizations such as the World Health Organization are calling on revisiting Primary Health Care and empowering communities to take care of their own health, those who are responding to this call are sadly being the ones persecuted.  As the government lures our nurses to serve in the countryside through its Nurses Assigned to Rural Services or NARS program, those who have genuinely chosen this path are now being vilified by this same government.

The Morong incident is just one among the many incidents being experienced by our health workers and professionals who have chosen a different path of serving the under privileged communities of our country .  We remember a few years back when Dr. Chandu Claver was ambushed by apparently state mercenaries together with his wife Alice who was killed in this incident in Tabuk, Kalinga. Dr. Claver was a dedicated physician who decided to work and provide medical services to his people in the far-flung villages of his province. Chestcore staff themselves have had their own experiences of  harassments and intimidation by government soldiers  during health seminars and trainings conducted in the communities, similarly tagging the organization  of being a communist front.  Just recently, on February 10, a similar incident happened with 2 staff of the Mobile Nursing Clinic (MNC) of the Saint Louis University (SLU) who were with 2 Swedish exchange students of the same school.  They were accosted by the PNP when they were coordinating for a presentation of MNC entry plans with the Sangguniang Bayan in one of the municipalities of Benguet. The lady police Officer told the coordinator of MNC that  “her Boss” wanted to get their names and needed to know why they were in the area.  She said further that they were on red alert since the incident in Morong, Rizal happened.

These terrifying incidents send wrong signals to health professionals wanting to serve the people in the countryside.  Serving the people is now more than just self sacrifice and giving up comfortable lives, it means giving up so much more because of the dangers that go with it.   Yet despite these, the committed health professionals and health workers opted to stay behind to serve the Filipino masses, resisting the bandwagon of overseas migration that would have given them opportunities of earning the much needed cash for their families.  Hence, they do not deserve such treatment! They must be regarded instead as the unsung heroes of the country.

We then demand the immediate release of the 43 health workers from the military camp where they are being illegally held for mere allegations and suspicions of “subversive “association.

We demand that the 43 health workers be surfaced immediately and brought to the proper legal courts to face off their military accusers and man-handlers.
We demand a stop to the harassment of health workers serving in the countryside.

We urge presidential candidates, themselves all potential, to denounce such violation of human rights and come out and join the collective outrage over the illegal detention of 43 health workers and demand the Supreme Court and Department of Justice to dismiss the false charges against HEALTH 43.


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