November 8, 2010
‘Free the 43’ FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS!
( The Phillipine Peasant Support Network-USA reprinted the editorial of the leading Philippine Daily-The Inquirer to raise concern on political detainees in the country,
There at least 389 political activist under detention in the Philippines since 2001. The most famous are the so called Morong 43. Free the 43!
Free All Political Prisoners! )
President Benigno Aquino III is concerned over the detention for the past 15 years of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, a democracy icon like his late mother, former President Corazon C. Aquino. Last Oct. 28, while attending the Asean Summit in Hanoi, he urged Burma’s Prime Minister Thein Sein to free Suu Kyi, but predictably, the latter made no clear commitment.
But while Mr. Aquino seems to be passionate in working for the release of Suu Kyi, he does not seem to be very concerned about the detention for the past nine months by government forces of 43 health workers, the so-called “Morong 43.” Last Oct. 14 Mr. Aquino said the case of the 43 detainees would have to be decided by the court that is trying them for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
The President has ordered a review of the circumstances surrounding the arrest of the health workers. The confiscation of guns and explosives from the Morong resort where they were staying showed that the evidence had been obtained through irregular means. He said that “it is a generally accepted principle that that what the lawyers call the fruit of the poisoned tree, [or] evidence wrongly gotten cannot be used.”
The Morong 43, their families and supporters have said that they were attending a training seminar on how to provide health services to poor communities when arrested. Their families said the detained workers were subjected to “psychological torture” by the military.
From all indications, the arrest of the 43 was highly irregular and unjust. The President himself said a review of the case showed that the soldiers who raided the resthouse had an arrest warrant for only one person who was not even at the resort at the time. So why did the soldiers resort to a “shotgun approach” to the case, if we may call it such? Why arrest and detain 43 people when they were after only one wanted person? Firearms and explosives were supposedly found at the seminar site. But we all know that “planting evidence” has been the usual practice of the military and the police since the Marcos martial law days. The President said that “the explosives were not part of the warrant” (but probably part of the arresting officers’ afterthought).
This serious case of injustice is taking place not in a foreign country like Burma but right here in our backyard, just 25 kilometers away from Metro Manila. It has been denounced by various militant and human rights groups. Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), said the arrest of the 43 in the absence of a search warrant was “an acknowledgment of the long-recognized injustice against the 43 health workers.”
Dr. Genee Rivera, secretary general of the Health Alliance for Democracy, said that if the Magdalo Group headed by former Navy Lt., now Sen. Antonio Trillanes could be given amnesty, the Morong 43 should also be freed. There have been many incidents aggravating the plight of the Morong 43. For instance, two of the pregnant women gave birth in detention. The arresting officers did not even have the common humanity to allow them to give birth in a well-equipped hospital.
International organizations, like Human Rights Watch, Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights, and International Association of People’s Lawyers, have criticized the seeming tepid reaction of the Aquino administration to the Morong 43’s allegations of torture and gross disregard of their human rights. Contrast the foot-dragging of Mr. Aquino on the case of the Morong 43 and his speedy action on the Magdalo soldiers involved in the Oakwood mutiny. His rhetoric is good, but it is not backed by concrete action in the case of the Morong 43.
President Aquino should be troubled by the case of the Morong 43 because his late father, former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., was the No. 1 human rights victim of the Marcos dictatorship. And he should be very concerned not only about the Morong 43 but also the 367 political prisoners who remain in detention although the dictator Marcos and the coddler of human rights violators, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, have faded away from the scene.
Several days ago, the families and supporters of the Morong 43 held a protest demonstration and shouted, “Free the 43!” Yes, it’s not just Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma who should be freed. Let’s start in our own backyard.
“Free the 43!”