By RONALYN V. OLEA
Camp Bagong Diwa, BICUTAN – Carina Oliveros, 26, will give birth to her first child next month. Mercy Castro, 27, is scheduled to give birth to her second child in October. This may seem normal in the cycle of life. However, the lives of the families of Carina and Mercy are far from being normal. The two, together with 41 other health workers, are in prison after being arrested while conducting a health training last February 6 in Morong, Rizal.
On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, the two went out of their cells to meet visitors. Both were wearing yellow shirts, with Carina’s bearing the message “Free the Morong 43.”
Carina was three months pregnant when arrested. Mercy only leaned about her pregnancy at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal where they were detained for almost three months before they were transferred to camp Bagong Diwa. She thought her urinary tract infection (UTI) was acting up. She took a urine test and the military doctor told her that she is pregnant.
Carina hails from Zambales while Mercy is from Pampanga. Both volunteered for disaster relief operations organized by the Council for Health and Development during the typhoon Ondoy. They attended the First Responders Training in February in Morong, Rizal.
Like the rest of the health workers now dubbed as “Morong 43,” the two were blindfolded and handcuffed for 36 hours upon their arrest. “They manhandled us like they did with the others even though I told them I am pregnant,” Carina said in Filipino.
The would-be mothers face many uncertainties now that they are detained at the Metro Manila District Jail.
Supporters of the Morong 43 march to Mendiola bridge on their first month of detention. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)
In the affidavit Carina submitted to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), she narrated the days following their arrest. “The interrogation was relentless, particularly on the night of February 9, Tuesday. The soldiers woke me up and blindfolded me. They forcibly took me out of my cell. They repeatedly asked me about my husband and was forcing me to confess. I told them I have nothing to admit and that I was at the training because I know acupuncture and herbal medicines. They took me again for interrogation on February 15, 2010 at around 8:00 p.m. They confiscated all our medical equipment,” she said.
Mercy experienced the same interrogation methods. The interrogators persistently accused her of being a high-ranking member of the New People’s Army (NPA).Her interrogators told her that she is in the military’s Order of Battle (OB). She was being forced to admit and talk about her supposed involvement with the NPA in Bataan and to reveal her supposed aliases. They, Mercy said, even threatened to bury her alive if she did not cooperate with the military.
“We had many sleepless nights at Camp Capinpin,” Carina said. Mercy added that they could not afford to sleep for fear that the soldiers would seize their colleagues.
Carina recalled the midnight of March 6 when she thought she would miscarry. “The soldiers were trying to take out one of us, Miann Ose . In protest, we held a noise barrage. I slammed the dipper repeatedly into the steel bars and banged the door of the comfort room inside my cell. I was so angry I felt contractions in my womb,” Carina said.
Carina said Miann Oseo literally wrapped her arms and legs around the steel bars so the soldiers could not take her out of her cell. Five of the Morong 43 had been taken out by the military and were eventually forced to admit they are NPA rebels.
While they were protesting Major Manuel Tabion shouted out at the detainees. “He ordered me to stop making a noise or he would electrocute me,” Carina said. Mercy added that Tabion told them he is a butcher— he said the prisoners should not test his patience.
While detained at Capinpin the two pregnant women resisted the military’s attempts to make them confess. “They played good cop and bad cop,” Mercy said, referring to a strategy where some of the interrogators would “kindly” offer them rewards for cooperating while “bad” or overly strict interrogators dish out threats. “I just ignored what they said and refused to answer their questions,” she said.
“When an interrogator asked me what I wanted, I told him we want to be freed. One time, I removed my blindfolds and look at my interrogator straight in the eye. I told him to continue asking questions, he stopped and left. It seemed he was afraid I would recognize his face,” Mercy said.
While the two said their prison conditions got slightly better when they moved to Camp Bagong Diwa, Carina and Mercy Carina and Mercy do not want to give birth nor nurse their baby in prison.