FREE Morong 43

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Community health service took the angle of rebellion with the arrest of 43 health workers (17 men and 26 women) believed to be members of the New People’s Army, while holding an assembly in a house in Maybangcal Village in Morong, Rizal.

An Army spokesperson said the 43 health workers (which is now known as Morong 43) were arrested by a combined team of local police and Army troops for allegedly conducting explosives training in a private residence owned by Dr. Melecia Velmonte.

Immediately after the arrest, health workers from the Health Alliance Democracy (HEAD) condemned the raid and said that those arrested were community health workers conducting a health skills training in Velmonte’s residence. HEAD added that Velmonte is a “renowned and respected infectious disease specialist and her farmhouse is a regular venue for health training, with participants coming from the communities and the academe.”

The health workers are facing charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. Five of them have been placed under separate military custody at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal after they allegedly admitted they were NPA supporters, while the remaining 38 were transferred last May to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame in Quezon City.

In October, an open letter to the President, signed by officers of international and local organizations coming from various sectors, urged President Benigno S. Aquino III to release the 43 health workers, put an end to their persecution, and to continue the struggle for the people’s right to health.

The open letter stated, “Two doctors, a nurse and two midwives together with 38 community health workers were undergoing a First Responders’ Health training when they were arrested by the military through the use of a defective search warrant. They were held incommunicado for several days, tortured and deprived of their right to counsel. They were falsely accused of undergoing a “bomb-making” training.”

“The arrest of the 43 puts to risk health professionals and volunteer community health workers who serve the poor especially the far-flung areas of the country,” the letter continued. “For health profession who may be considering the option of public service in the countryside,  the incident is terrifying. For it is not only material comfort that one will be giving up when one chooses the selfless path of service to the poor, but possibly one’s life, as well.

On October 14, President Aquino said he will leave the Morong 43’s release up to the courts, in effect rejecting calls for him to grant freedom to the detained health workers as her recently did to some 300 soldiers accused of various rebellious acts. “Hindi naman puwede iutos ng executive na lumaya sila without the court’s sanction (The executive cannot just order their release without the court’s sanction),” said the President.

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