Were there violations of the rights of the 43 health workers?
Yes, there were gross violations of the right to due process, the right against illegal searches and seizures and the right against torture.
1. Violations in securing the search warrant
As stated earlier, the search warrant was patently defective and issued with grave abuse of discretion. The warrant did not indicate any exact address and in effect covered the entire baranggay, thus violating the rights of the accused against unreasonable searches and seizures. The house that was searched was not indicated in the warrant and did not belong to “Mario Condes”.
2. Violations during arrest
The 43 were arrested without any warrants of arrest; they were not informed of the reasons for their arrest nor where they were being taken. All throughout they were denied the right to call a lawyer.
All the training participants were frisked and ordered to line up outside the house. They were immediately handcuffed, interrogated and photographed by the military. Their personal belongings were confiscated. The military used old shirts and packaging tape which they brought with them to blindfold all the participants before loading them onto several trucks.
3. Violations during detention
For five days, the 43 were denied their right to counsel During the first 36 hours of their detention, the 43 were not informed of the reasons why they were being held. They were subjected to continuous interrogation and were being forced to admit that they were members of the NPA. Their fingerprints were taken while they were blindfolded.
Only during the inquest proceedings on the second day were they finally informed of the charges being levelled against them. The prosecutor from the Department of Justice (DOJ), State Prosecutor II Romeo Senson, simply called out their names, then read the charges against them. The 43 were denied their right to counsel even during the inquest proceedings.
There were several accounts of torture and ill-treatment as attested to by the detainees and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The AFP violated several provisions of Republic Act No. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Law: both physical and psychological torture were inflicted on the 43. These include: being blindfolded and handcuffed for 36 hours; being subjected to multiple and prolonged tactical interrogation with death threats, harassment and intimidation; being deprived of sleep and urgent medication; being manhandled and beaten; being denied legal counsel for days; being denied medical treatment; being coerced to wrongly make admissions and implicate others; and being subjected to various indignities during their captivity. Some were held incommunicado and some remain in solitary confinement up to now.
Some detainees who were blindfolded and handcuffed were also subjected to the indignity of having their captors lower their pants and underwear just so they could relieve themselves.
The 43 remain detained in a military camp when they should have been transferred to a civilian detention facility especially after charges were filed against them in court.
Have the 43 health workers been charged in court?
Despite all the violations of due process committed by the AFP, PNP and the DOJ, charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives and violations of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) gun ban were filed against the 43 at Branch 78 of the Rizal Regional Trial Court in Morong. The charges were only filed on February 11, five days after they were arrested. Forty of the accused face non-bailable offenses (illegal possession of explosives). Clearly, the purpose of the hasty filing of said charges is to attempt to cure violations of due process and justify the continued illegal detention of the 43.
Were the health workers really members of the NPA? Were they really making bombs at the time of their arrest?
The military has made the sweeping accusation that the 43 are members of the NPA. Their proof consists of the firearms and explosives allegedly found in the premises of Dr. Velmonte. But the accounts of Dr. Velmonte and her household give sufficient ground to believe that the firearms and explosives were planted by the military/police.
Mere membership in the NPA cannot be used as basis for a warrantless arrest. Jurisprudence tells us that an overt act or an actual crime (in this case, taking up arms against the government) must first be committed to justify an arrest. There was no shoot-out at the time of the arrest; the 43 and Dr. Velmonte’s household were either doing their morning ablutions or getting ready for breakfast. It is a stretch of the imagination to claim that the 43 health workers were caught in the act of making bombs as early as 6:00 am when they were arrested.
What the military did was to fabricate and plant evidence and then accuse the health workers as NPA members, to justify their warrantless arrest and illegal detention.