The low educational attainment of most of the 43 health workers was also peddled by the military as proof that they could not be bona fide health workers. This was disputed by Dr. Michael Tan, a medical anthropologist and World Health Organization (WHO) consultant, who wrote in his recent column that the profile of a majority of the 43 fit that of volunteer community health workers (CHWs) in the tradition of China’s barefoot doctors and Latin America’s promoters de salud or health promoters.
Despite low levels of literacy and socio-economic disadvantages these CHWs have proven highly capable of serving the health needs of their communities. In fact, by the late seventies, their example was being held up by the WHO to be emulated and promoted the world over as part of the global strategy to achieve “health for all by the year 2000”.
Thus the military’s story line has shifted from the tall tale that the Morong 43 are NPA combatants conducting a training on bomb-making, to the taller tale that they are “NPA medical officers” who belong to a “’super body” or what the military claims is the “NPA’s version of the Department of Health.” The military now acknowledges that the group was indeed undertaking a health training but one that was for the purpose of the communist-led guerilla army!
Ironically, even granting that the 43 are “NPA medics”, the AFP claim that this catch is the “biggest victory of the government in recent years” unwittingly reveals its lackluster performance and belies all previous grandiose claims such as dozens of guerrilla zones being dismantled and thousands of guerrilla fighters neutralized.
Now the AFP spokesperson avers that since cases have been filed in the Morong regional trial court against the 43 for illegal possession of firearms and explosives, these constitute “sufficient grounds for their continued detention” and “it would be up to them to prove their innocence in court.” Consistently, the military and the public prosecutors have taken the stance that the burden of proving their innocence lies with the 43 rather than the other way around; that is, their accusers, in a democracy, must prove the guilt of the accused.
What the military tries to gloss over is the fact that their entire operation was marked by illegality, including a spurious search warrant and planted evidence. Moreover, the detainees were never accorded legal counsel when they were charged before the fiscal and the case summarily filed before the RTC. Thus the cases filed cannot cure such gross violations of due process.
Under the Arroyo regime, it is clear that the Philippine military can do as it pleases with impunity, trampling on universally-recognized and constitutionally-guaranteed human rights. By the AFP’s actions and words, and clearly with the backing of Malacanang thru Executive Secretary Ermita and Defense Sec. Gonzales, the military has been relentlessly undermining the supremacy of civilian rule. Malacanang is caught in a hypocritical cop-out, pretending to take a “hands off” posture now that public, including international outrage, is mounting.
No doubt, the military claim that the 43 are NPA medics will go the way of its other lies, and be proven untrue. One shudders to think what other lie — or cop-out — this government, thru the AFP, will come up with to justify its actions. Meanwhile the Morong 43 continue to suffer under this oppressive regime.