The Case of the Morong 43, a Fight Against Impunity


MANILA — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deployed around 300 men, a battalion, to arrest them in the morning of Feb. 6. The health workers were handcuffed, blindfolded and held in isolation for days. When they had to answer nature’s call they were each led by a military officer who pulled down their underwear for them. They were interrogated and denied sleep for days. Representatives from the government’s Commission on Human Rights were even denied entry to the camp where the detainees were kept the following day.

The AFP claimed that the 43 health workers, who were arrested in a farmhouse owned by a doctor, Dr. Melecia Velmonte, in Morong, Rizal, were New People’s Army guerrillas undergoing a training in bomb-making. It also claimed that soldiers found bomb-making materials, guns and a claymore mine “under the beds” of the health workers.

The military stuck to this preposterous claim even when it was revealed that among those arrested were two doctors — one of which is a senior citizen — and a midwife. The AFP went to the extent of producing a witness who also claimed that those arrested were members of the NPA. The military also claimed that one of those arrested was a participant in a “failed plot to assassinate” Jovito Palparan, a former major general, currently a representative of a government-sponsored partylist group.

As if to lend credence to their claim, Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, spokesman of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, insinuated that another proof of the health workers’ communist affiliations is that their lawyer is Romeo Capulong. Capulong has been a human-rights lawyer for the past 52 years.

When the Supreme Court ordered the military to produce the detained health workers, the AFP initially refused, adding another lie: the military supposedly discovered a plan by the NPA to spring the detainees from jail.

The absurdity of the AFP’s claim is best debunked by the following statement by a doctor in a press conference by various medical associations held at the UP College of Medicine:

“The only weapon that a health worker carries with him in the so-called battlefield is the stethoscope for the doctor, the sphygmomanometer for the nurses and the cotton balls for the other community health workers, and their only common enemy is the disease that threatens the community,” said Dr. Bu C. Castro, spokesman of the Philippine Medical Association and president of the Alliance of All Health Organizations of the Nation.

And when the lie was too obvious to maintain, it became clear even to military “intelligence” that their storyline must be changed. Now the military claims that those arrested were members of the “health bureau of the CPP-NPA.” So how does this new discovery of the AFP fit with the supposed bomb-making materials, guns, and claymore mine found “under the beds” of the health workers?

An illegal arrest backed by lies, the use of torture, denial of visitation rights even from the government’s own Commission on Human Rights, the fabrication of pieces of evidence and witnesses, the refusal to honor the order of the Supreme Court — all this point to what Makabayan senatorial candidate Satur Ocampo aptly called as a “grand slam day for impunity” and a “classic throwback to the martial law era.”

Thus, it is important for the Filipino people not only to support the defense of the rights of the Morong 43 but to act now against this classic manifestation of impunity. If the AFP and the Arroyo government are not held accountable for this gross violation of the health workers‘ rights, more of such cases could be expected in the coming months. If it happened to health professionals who are training community health workers to provide care to the poor, it could happen to anybody. And if the AFP, under the Arroyo government, is able to act with impunity again and again, what would prevent it from doing the same under the next administration? That is, if indeed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo steps down from power. But if she doesn’t, or if her anointed Gilbert Teodoro is able to grab the presidency, then impunity would surely continue. The time to act is now. (

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