Justice for “FLORENCE”

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It is not easy for government to attract medical and health workers to serve the rural and far-flung communities, and when something bad happens to one of the very few volunteers who heeded the call, the more it becomes problematic to sustain the efforts on health service delivery in many parts of the country where people are needing health care the most.

The rape of “Florence” near her workplace in South Upi, Maguindanao on September 25 brought issues of safety over service. “Florence”, a 21-year-old nurse is a volunteer nurse working under the government’s Nurses Assistance for Rural Services (NARS) program. According to police reports she and her co-nurses had a night out at a local videoke bar before the sexual assault against her happened. At about 10 p.m., the group called it a night and parted ways. “Florence” was found barely conscious the next morning in a grassy area at the back of the hospital where she worked.

Police initially arrested the six suspects after witnesses reportedly saw them with the rape victim in a videoke bar before the alleged gang-rape. The six were reportedly among those who found the volunteer nurse naked and unconscious in a cornfield and brought her to a hospital, while one of them reported the incident to the local police.

South Upi Vice Mayor Jordan Ibrahim was also invited for questioning by the police for his alleged involvement in the crime, because he came to the police station asking about the rape incident. He was asked to give a specimen sample for forensic investigation, but he refused and reasoned that he was not a suspect. Then, Melchor Fulgencio, a former member of the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) came out and signed a sworn statement that he and a certain Edwin committed the crime. He recanted his statement later, saying he was tortured by his neighbors into admitting the crime.

Meanwhile, the Maguindanao prosecutor’s office cleared the six men of involvement in the crime citing lack of sufficient evidence against them. On the other hand, the prosecutor’s office recommended the filing of charges against Fulgencio.

As the story developed, the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) remained vigilant in the progress of the case and it coordinated with the Justice Department in fine-tuning the group’s legal moves on the matter. Teresita Barcelo, PNA President, expressed fears that in the end, no one will be jailed because there is n unseen hand muddling the case and confusing the facts.

“Florence” suffered trauma and partial paralysis, but is now in stable condition and recovering.

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