Filipinas Demand Basic Human Rights from the United States on International Human Rights Day

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FROM Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment
December 10, 2010
Contact: Irma Bajar, Chairperson, fire.nyc@gmail.com

Filipinas Demand Basic Human Rights from the United States on International Human Rights Day

NEW YORK CITY, NY – Newly elected President Barack Obama became the symbol of hope for many. The people of the Philippines, along with many other parts of the world, expected a shift towards more humane U.S. foreign policy, after the detrimental consequences of the Bush regime. However, those hopes plummeted when aggressive U.S. policies increasing U.S. militarization in the Philippines came to light. In the sixth decade of International Human Rights Day commemoration, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE) implores civil society to protect basic human rights for all people, and to end torture, death, and militarization on Philippine soil for the sake of the “War on Terror.”

The War on Terror in the Philippines manifests itself under Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), a national security and counter-insurgency plan responsible for arming and training elements of the Philippine military, and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), where “war games” are conducted in civilian communities where the Philippine military suspects rebel fighters. U.S. military aid to the Philippines directly funds these activities, and Obama has explicitly given $30 million in 2010. U.S. delegates continue to praise “counter-terrorism” and the VFA, which is a direct violation of the Philippines’ constitutional ban of foreign troops on Philippine soil. With this, the Obama administration has proven that maintaining U.S. military and capital interests trump the basic human rights of the Filipino people.

The U.S. unquestionably supported the regime of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, though her statements conflated human rights advocates, peasant leaders, and opposition politicians with terrorists; as well as denying human rights to Philippines citizens and silenced community organizers; resulting in the tortures, deaths, and disappearances of over two-thousand Filipino civilians, including surfaced Filipino-American community health worker, Melissa Roxas. While GMA is no longer in office as President, under newly elected President Aquino, about 25 community leaders have died or disappeared since July 2010.  Filipinos living in the United States must remain hypercritical of these neo-liberal policies’ damaging effects on communities back home, and hold the Obama administration accountable for agreements that deny Filipinos their basic human rights to live free of military violence and state repression. 

The effects of a U.S.-backed Philippines are devastating on Filipino communities. The military presence of Armed Forces of the Philippines Marines (AFP), Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and the U.S. military is sharply felt by women and children. Rape and assault are common in militarized zones (the case of Nicole and U.S. Lance Corporal Daniel Smith is a prime example), as are harassment, intimidation, and displacement of indigenous Filipino groups. For those of us living in the U.S., it is our tax dollars that finance these interventionist policies and consequential effects on Filipinos back home.

On December 10th, President Aquino called for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to drop all charges against the 43 Health Workers (known as the Morong 43) who were illegally arrested, tortured and detained for the past 10 months on baseless accusations of being members of the New Peoples Army.  Aquino’s call does not, however, automatically release them as free citizens, replace the 10 months the Morong 43 spend imprisoned, or provide the lack of medical care otherwise received by the communities the Morong 43 served.  The Philippine government propagates this as a strategic act of compassion on International Human Rights day, however, it is the pressure of the international community which has demanded the release of the Morong 43.  This, along with the various community campaigns initated by the friends and family of the imprisoned 43,  the recent hunger strike, and the mainstream attention of the unjust incarceration are the true foundations of the Morong 43’s path to freedom and justice.

Human rights are not meant to be bartered, or overlooked for capital interests.  Violence and political repression  in the lives of everyday citizens speaks to the inexcusable corruption of the Philippine state.  Any nation providing military support or public funding to the Philippines to enact these crimes in the name of the “War on Terror”  is complicit in committing human rights violations against the Filipino people.   During these times,  it is vital that we remain vigilant of the Aquino administration, the DOJ, and their actions towards all victims of human rights violations.  The Morong 43 must be cleared of all charges, and unconditionally released with recompense.

Stop US military funding for the Philippines!

Release the Morong 43!

Surface all the desceparicedos! 

Free all political prisoners!

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16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: The Morong 43

 GABRIELA-USA Calls for Solidarity as the 43 Health Workers Begin Hunger Strike

Day 8 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
Contact: Terrie Cervas, 
Vice Chair of Finance – GABRIELA USA
Coordinator for Mass Campaigns – Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken!  (SiGAw!)
(213) 537-8278
sigaw.la@gmail.com

December 3rd, 2010 marks the first day that the 43 health workers, also referred to as the Morong 43, embark on a hunger strike in protest of their unlawful detention.  Today also marks the 8th day of GABRIELA-USA’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign, on which we highlight the struggle and bravery of the Morong 43.  

Nearly 10 months ago, the lives of the Morong 43 (which includes doctors, midwives, and community health workers) were violently disrupted when they were arrested based on false allegations that they are members and supporters of the New People’s Army.  While under detention, the 43 have endured physical and psychological torture.  Catherine Traywick, journalist and member of Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken (SiGAw), traveled to the Philippines and personally visited the Morong 43 in the summer of 2010.   The visit to the detention center and the specific experiences of the female detainees of the Morong 43 can be found in the article Traywick wrote for Ms. magazine, entitled “Defending the Rights of Detained Filipina Health Workers”  (see below full article). 

The families of the 43, along with community members from various local and international groups, such as nurses organizations, church groups, human rights advocates, and countless others, have worked tirelessly to demand the release of the 43.  Philippine President Benigno Aquino has the ability to have all charges against the 43 health workers withdrawn, but he has not done so, despite his earlier admission that their arrest was based on a defective warrant.

In light of the fact that the Morong 43 remain unlawfully imprisoned under cruel conditions, they have decided to take on a hunger strike at the risk of their own health.  The Morong 43’s statement notes, “This is the only course of action left us to end our continued illegal detention, there being no clear action by the government for our unconditional release.”

GABRIELA-USA calls on all concerned community members to stand in solidarity with the 43 and demand their immediate and unconditional release.  The campaign calls on all international networks to support the Morong 43 and all political prisoners in the following ways:

  • Join the hunger strike on December 6, their ten month anniversary in jail, and issue a statement of support;
  • Organize a sympathy fast or a hunger strike;
  • Picket the Philippine Embassy and demand freedom for the Morong 43 and other political prisoners especially Angie Ipong, Eduardo Serrano, Eduardo Sarmiento and Sandino Esguerra;
  • Highlight the hunger strike in your commemoration of human rights week and December 10th – International HR Day;
  • Lobby your congress representatives;
  • Write your ambassadors stationed in the Philippines;
  • Encourage international organizations/institutions and those in your network to send support statements to the hunger strike (addressed to Malacanang cc Philippine Embassy in your country, Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima and Karapatan); 
    • H.E. Benigno C. Aquino III

 

President of the Republic

Malacañang Palace,

JP Laurel St., San Miguel

Manila, Philippines

Voice: +63(2) 564 1451

Fax: +63(2) 742 1641 ; +63(2) 929 3968

E-mail: corres@op.gov.ph / opnet@ops.gov.ph

  •  
    • Atty. Leila De Lima

 

Secretary, Department of Justice

Padre Faura St., Manila, Philippines

Direct Line: +63(2) 521 8344 ; +63(2) 521 3721

Trunkline:  +63(2) 523 8481 loc.214

Fax: +63(2) 521-1614

Email:  soj@doj.gov.ph

  • Send postcards;
  • Circulate this and further announcements plus the hunger strike bulletins (visitfreethehealthworkers.blogspot.com) which will be issued from time to time;
  • Solicit financial and material support for the Morong 43, other political prisoners and their families; and
  • Share your ideas with others so there can be a variety of support actions.

Free the Morong 43!
Release Angie Ipong, Eduardo Serrano, Eduardo Sarmiento and Sandino Esguerra!
Free all political prisoners!
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Defending the Rights of Detained Filipina Health Workers

 

  Defending the Rights of Detained Filipina Health Workers

http://www.msmagazine.com/Fall2010/FilipinaWorkers.asp

In an unlawful and unjustified sweep, 43 health workers–including two pregnant women–were detained nine months ago in Morong, Philippines. The women and men were separated and sent to prison camps without explanation. Three women have since “disappeared.” Find out more in this exclusive interview with the women workers from inside the detention center.
By CATHERINE A. TRAYWICK
When we enter the women’s ward of the sprawling, open-air prison complex, we are greeted by a flurry of yellow behind a thin wall of bars. The 23 women we have come to visit are already waiting, buzzing around a wooden table just outside of the cell they share, eager to embrace those among us whom they knew in their former lives.

Each is wearing a brightly-colored t-shirt that reads “Free the 43 Health Workers” and, as the barred gate closes behind the last of us, the crowd bursts into song–a hymn about the strength of women–and some begin to cry.

At the time of our visit, the women (who range in age from early-20s to early-60s) had been imprisoned at this facility for nearly two months and, prior to that, were detained at a high-security military camp for three months. As I write this months later, they are still behind bars. By now, they’ve been locked up for nearly nine months—long enough for two of them, pregnant at the time of their arrests, to give birth in jail.
Within the crowd of 23, one woman is a doctor. Two are midwives. The rest are volunteer community health workers. They are happy to share their stories.

One by one, on the day of our visit, they recount the day of their arrest: That morning, they had been participating in a first-responder health training at a local doctor’s house, sponsored by Community Medicine Development Foundation. In the middle of their workshop, they found themselves surrounded by armed Philippines military and provincial police.

They were all, indiscriminatingly, bound, blind-folded and brought to an undisclosed location where they were interrogated for 36 hours and, some say, tortured. They were 43 when they were arrested in Morong, Rizal. Now they are fractured into three groups: 23 women are housed here, at Bagong Diwa Prison; 15 men are housed in the same prison’s high-security ward; and five women and men remain isolated at the military camp.

The arresting officers claim that the health workers are members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the insurgent Communist Party of the Philippines. They also claim that the health workers were making bombs at the doctor’s home. Recently, they started claiming that the health workers were medics of the NPA.

The accusations are ever-changing and outlandish, even in a country as deeply divided as the Philippines. When I ask them, the women vehemently deny all accusations. Numerous local human rights, health and women’s organizations have similarly rejected the allegations, in support of the health workers. The national ire sparked by their continued imprisonment has since fomented into international outrage. Amnesty International has called for a prompt and independent investigation into the legality of the arrest and detention of the health workers, as well as into allegations of torture, and the president of the Philippines has even spoken out (albeit cautiously) about the illegality of the arrests. But as yet all 43 remain in custody.

Sitting amidst the women, whose stories evoke both tears and laughter, it would be difficult to believe that they are terrorists, as the military claims. It’s much easier to believe that they are victims, caught up in the government’s controversial counter-insurgency campaign before anyone knew what was happening. For hours, they talk about the indignities they suffered at the military camp where, for five days, they were denied their right to counsel.

One of them explains that they were diapered during the first 36 hours of their detention, after which they were only allowed to use the toilet with the assistance of guards, who removed and replaced their underwear each time. An older woman tells us that she was isolated from the other women and that the interrogating officer repeatedly called her “mother” in between accusations. Another young woman recalls the day that three women were removed from the cell they shared, the guards muffling screams with heavy palms. They never saw those women again. They have since been told that the missing women, along with two of the men, are still at the military camp and that they are “cooperating” with officials.

While the health workers maintain that they are not affiliated with the NPA, they are honest about being community activists. “It’s hard to be a community health worker and not become an activist,” explains Merry Clamor, a 33-year-old doctor. When one sees the poor conditions of the people, she adds, one is compelled to advocate in their interests.

The contributions of health workers are profoundly felt by Philippines communities, which is, in part, why so many are outraged by the ongoing detention of the Morong 43. Following implementation of socially retrogressive programs imposed by the World Bank and the IMF in the 1980s and 1990s, the nation privatized its health-care system, effectively rendering it economically prohibitive and thus inaccessible to most Filipinos.

According to Ibon International, privatization has lowered government spending on health care to a mere 1.7 percent of total national expenditures over the last decade. For many Filipinos, the care offered by all-volunteer community health teams is the only care they are likely to ever receive.

“We are doing the work that the government refuses to do,” Clamor says, “and this is how they repay us.”

The Morong 43 are not the first community health workers to be accused of being NPA members and summarily arrested. At least 8 others have been detained or killed prior to their arrest. The human rights organization Karapatan, which keeps a running record of detentions, disappearances and deaths associated with the government’s counter-insurgency program, calculates that 59 women (of 317 people in total) have been taken into custody as political prisoners under the current administration–among them community organizers, health workers and environmental activists.

Nevertheless, the women remain optimistic. While their families, lawyers, and organizations try to secure their release, they are putting their skills to use in the women’s ward–they’ve started performing health check-ups on other inmates and, in their spare time, they make colorful beaded necklaces that read “Free 43.”

Before we leave, they insist on singing us another song.

CATHERINE A. TRAYWICK is an immigration blogger for The Media Consortium, and a staff writer for Campus Progress. She interned at Ms. in the spring of 2010. She has a B.A. in English and a minor in Women & Gender Studies from Arizona State University.
Comments on this piece? We want to hear them! Send to letterstotheeditor@msmagazine.com. To have your letter considered for publication, please include your city and state.

FIL-AM WOMEN CALL ON PHILIPPINE MILITARY TO STOP THE TORTURE AND HARASSMENT OF MOTHERS AND PREGNANT WOMEN

FIL-AM WOMEN CALL ON PHILIPPINE MILITARY TO STOP THE TORTURE AND HARASSMENT OF MOTHERS AND PREGNANT WOMEN

Health Care Workers Should Be Released To Their Families And Communities Who Rely On Them For Health Care Given The Government’s Neglect Of This Basic Need

Walking from the court of appeals, one of the 43 healthcare workers raises their fists.

Contact: Valerie Francisco, Vice Chair, GABRIELA USA, fire.nyc@gmail.com

Filipino women member organizations of GABRIELA USA across the United States demand the release of the 43 illegally detained healthcare workers. Of the 43 healthcare workers, 26 are women including a woman doctor and midwife, and two are pregnant. Most of the healthcare workers are peasant women from various poor communities that were taking classes on first aid and basic healthcare. However, the Philippine military justifies the illegal arrest, detainment, and torture by claiming that they are members of the New People’s Army.

For a great majority of poor women and children in the provinces as well as urban poor areas, community healthcare workers provide the only access to basic healthcare, education, and prevention services because it is not being provided by the government. The ratio of doctors to patients in the Philippines, according to the Department of Health, is at 1:30,000.

These healthcare workers should be praised and supported for their work in their local communities. Instead, they have been illegally detained and maltreated with forms of torture and sexual harassment. During their detainment, they were also denied access to food and bathroom privileges, and subject to inhumane treatment. They were also blindfolded and handcuffed for days on end. In this process, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has even defied the Philippine Supreme Court’s writ of habeas corpus, an order that compels them to present the 43 community health workers.

“While so many nurses and doctors have left for greener pastures to the United States and other countries, these community healthcare workers have chosen to stay and serve the poor. Many of them are mothers who have volunteered their time out of their busy schedules from working on their farms and taking care of their children to serve their communities with basic healthcare. They should not be criminalized. The real terrorism that has plagued our country is a broken, fascist government that has denied basic necessities like healthcare to the majority of the people.” stated Raquel Redondiez, chairperson of GABRIELA USA, chapter of GABRIELA Philippines.

Child at Rally for the 43 healthcare workers outside of Court of Appeals

GABRIELA USA, a national alliance of progressive Filipino women organizations, stands in solidarity with the members of 43 illegally detained healthcare workers and their families. GABRIELA-USA is an overseas chapter of GABRIELA Philippines, with Babae in San Francisco, Pinay Sa Seattle, Sisters of Gabriela Awaken in Los Angeles, and Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment in New York City.

FREE THE 43 HEALTHCARE WORKERS NOW!
JUSTICE FOR THE VICTIMS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS!
STOP TORTURE AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN!

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