The arrest of 43 health workers in the Philippines is an attack on the right to health of the poor

9 Feb 2010

Third World Relief Fund, a Belgian development NGO, and intal, a solidarity movement with people's movements in the Philippines and other countries, condemns the brazen arrest of 43 doctors and health workers in the Philippines. We consider it an attack on the Council for Health and Development (CHD), our long-time partner organization in the Philippines, and on the right to health of the Philippine people.

Yesterday, Saturday February 6, we were informed that in the early morning of the same day a training seminar of CHD in the municipality of Morong, Rizal province, was raided by a group of about 300 military and police. All 43 training participants were arrested and brought to Camp Capinpin in the same province. Among them is also Dr. Merry Mia, a staff member of CHD and the wife of human rights activist Roneo Clamor.

According to the Philippine press, the military later declared that they had arrested “ranking leaders of the New People's Army”, a Philippine guerrilla group, who were attending a bomb making seminar. The military claims they have found a number of guns, landmines and hand grenades in the building.

We cannot but conclude that these accusations are ludicrous. We have met Dr. Merry Mia on different occasions in the context of our joint efforts to uplift the health status of the poor in the Philippines and know her as a soft-spoken health professional with a remarkable dedication to her work with the community based health programs. We have also attended several activities and trainings of CHD and know for a fact that weapons and bombs are never around when they conduct health trainings. Moreover, the venue of the training was the house of Dra. Melecia Velmonte, one of the country's foremost experts on infectious diseases and a professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines. She herself was present in the compound and even conducted one of the lectures on the eve of the raid.

The initial investigation by human rights organization Karapatan points to a number of irregularities in this case. The search warrant did not mention the address of Dra. Velmonte's residence, the search of the compound was conducted without any witnesses and the owners of the house were not issued a receipt of the inventory of the items that were confiscated. This raises suspicion that these items were planted by the military. Most alarmingly, as of this writing (36 hours after the raid) the arrested health workers were not allowed visits by their relatives nor legal counsels in the military camp where they are detained.

The past few years, the Philippines' human rights record has been compromised by the continuing political killings, abductions and harassments and its military's involvement in these human rights violations. This case confirms once more that the climate of fear targets those people and organizations that are standing for the rights of the poor and marginalized. An attack on health workers and organizations that are training to serve their communities is an attack on the right to health of the poor.

Therefore, we strongly denounce the illegal arrest and detention of these 43 doctors and health workers, urge the Philippine government to ensure their safety and their immediate release. The Philippine military has to stop the black propaganda against human rights defenders and health workers. As a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a party to all major Human Rights instruments, the Philippine Government is bound to ensure the rights of its citizens, including their right to health, are respected.

TWRF - intal
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