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Who's next?

by Pesante-USA Saturday, Aug. 05, 2006 at 1:53 AM 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

THIS morning, I received a text message from a friend based in Baguio City. I'm translating the text: "Update from those who visited Chandu. He's OK now. Can communicate. Hope he'll pull through." That was the uplifting part, but the text ended: "Alice's burial on Friday." Chandu is Dr. Constancio Claver, a physician working in the Cordilleras and chair of the Bayan Muna party-list group in Kalinga province. Last Monday, his family was ambushed by armed men on board two vans. Chandu and a bystander suffered gunshot wounds and both are now recovering. Sandy, their 7-year-old daughter, was in the van and was spared but suffers from shock. Alice, Chandu's wife, died from her wounds.


Who's next?

By Michael Tan,Inquirer

Last updated 02:08am (Mla time) 08/04/2006

Published on Page A13 of the August 4, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THIS morning, I received a text message from a friend based in Baguio City. I'm translating the text: "Update from those who visited Chandu. He's OK now. Can communicate. Hope he'll pull through." That was the uplifting part, but the text ended: "Alice's burial on Friday."

Chandu is Dr. Constancio Claver, a physician working in the Cordilleras and chair of the Bayan Muna party-list group in Kalinga province. Last Monday, his family was ambushed by armed men on board two vans. Chandu and a bystander suffered gunshot wounds and both are now recovering. Sandy, their 7-year-old daughter, was in the van and was spared but suffers from shock. Alice, Chandu's wife, died from her wounds.

On the same day they were ambushed, there were two other political assassinations. League of Filipino Students provincial spokesperson Raymond Guran was killed in Sorsogon province, and Tanod tabloid photojournalist Prudencio Melendres was shot to death in Malabon, Metro Manila. I've lost count of the figures from the human rights groups, but the three murders add to the more than 700 political assassinations that

have occurred under the Arroyo presidency.

Bobby de la Paz

The attempted murder of Chandu has shaken health professionals, reminding many of us of the assassination back in 1982 of Dr. Remberto "Bobby" de la Paz.

I got the news by phone from Dr. Mita "Mamita" Pardo de Tavera. She went straight to the point: "Bobby was killed yesterday."

I was stunned. Bobby and I worked for Mamita's AKAP, an NGO doing community-based health programs with emphasis on tuberculosis control. Bobby and his wife Sylvia, who was also a physician, had chosen to serve remote areas in Samar. It was a dangerous time because to the Marcos dictatorship and the military, anyone who served the poor had to be a subversive.

The people whom Bobby served thought otherwise. He was well loved, content with his P1,000 monthly salary and occasional gifts from patients. As he lay dying from his gunshot wounds, a call went out for blood donations. Hundreds of townsfolk came forward, offering to donate.

Bobby was 29 when he died. His mother, Mommy Lydia, was visiting at that time and recounted later, how Bobby had asked, as she cradled him in her arms: "Masakit, masakit ... Bakit, bakit?" ["It's painful, it's painful ... Why, why?"]

Medical neutrality

Almost 25 years after Bobby's death, this attempted assassination of Chandu makes us ask why again. Why is this nation, with all the trappings of a democracy, reliving the nightmare of the Marcos dictatorship?

Doctors are a respected lot in the Philippines, seen almost as gods, so even a hired assassin has to be driven by a ferocious hatred before he can pull the trigger. Bobby, big gentle Bobby, took 22 bullets.

Chandu also served Kalinga as a physician to the poor, and his attempted assassination sends a signal to other doctors working in similar circumstances to be careful, for they could be next. I remember Bobby telling me how the military would sometimes ask him why he had chosen to serve in Samar province, and didn't migrate to the United States. At that time, doctors could still migrate to America, without becoming nurses.

The Philippines is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and several other international protocols that recognize medical neutrality. In relation to health professionals, that's summarized in two sentences in the Code of Medical Neutrality: Medical workers shall be respected, protected and assisted in the performance of their medical duties. Medical workers shall not be punished for providing ethical medical care,

regardless of persons benefiting for it, or for refusing to perform unethical medical treatment.

The Philippines is suffering enough from the exodus of health workers, including doctors turned nurses. Those who have remained generally stay in the cities, serving the upper classes. With the attempted assassination of Chandu Claver, the stark message we get now is this: "Stop working with the poor. Get real and migrate ... We need your dollars more."


I have heard people arguing, but "these people" are leftists. So? If I recall right, we live in a democracy, which respects political pluralism. With President Arroyo's repressive government, Bayan Muna and other leftist groups are among the dwindling courageous voices that help keep her from imposing a dictatorship. The assassinations are attempts to

silence the remaining voices.

Every assassination has brought more demands for investigations, but for the most part, the government has chosen not to even respond to the appeals. Only recently has President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo begun to call for investigations, but those are seen as coming too little, too late, especially when compared to the praise she heaped on Jovito Palparan, a military officer who does not try to disguise his disdain for human rights, during her State of the Nation Address.

We have to ask, too, who else would have the resources and logistics for so many assassinations nationwide, conducted in such similar styles, and with such similar targets. The murders are too clearly linked, backed by experts in murder and psychological warfare. Just last June, another Bayan Muna leader, Markus Bangit, was killed in Isabela. Shortly after, Alice Claver received a text message referring to her husband: "Matapang si Doc. Hindi niya kayo mahal." ["Doc is being brave. He does not love you."]

A disturbing possibility arises: Has Ms Arroyo, as commander in chief, lost control of the more hard-line factions of her government, both civilian and military? Ferdinand Marcos chose to ride the military tiger, but in his last few years as president, old and sick, he lost control even as the military tried to outdo him in trying to keep the dictatorship.

No one thinks Marcos personally ordered Bobby's assassination in 1982, but his years of dictatorship had created a culture of impunity that allowed that assassination. We didn't know it then, but in retrospect, Bobby's murder was the beginning of the end of the Marcos dictatorship as the dictatorship turned more and more paranoid. In 1983, opposition leader and former Sen. Benigno Aquino was assassinated too when he tried to return to the Philippines. No longer acts of impunity, the killings became the last acts of desperation of a failed state.

* * *

Rally: Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) and Health Action for Human Rights are calling health workers to participate in a protest rally at 10 a.m. today, Aug. 4, in front of the Department of Justice. Please wear white.

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