Despite the intensifying persecution of health workers in the Philippines- the most prominent and recent victims of which are 43 health workers who are still languishing in prison today- health professionals and volunteer Community Health Workers (CHWs) from all over the country gather in an assembly “meant to reaffirm their dedication and commitment to serve impoverished communities. ”
With the theme “reaffirm our commitment to serve the people amidst intensifying repression and worsening economic crisis”, their general assembly is also the 10th General Assembly of Community-Based Health Programs in the Philippines under the Council for Health and Development’s (CHD), said Sr. Edith Eslopor, OSB, chairperson of the CHD’s Board of Trustees.
“Delegates come from Bicol, Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, National Capital Region, Eastern Visayas, Central and Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Caraga, SOCSSARGENS, and the Zamboanga Peninsula. They have braved and survived risks for the sake of community health service,” Sister Edit Eslopor, added. The community health workers are themselves victims of harassments. “Despite the odds set against their work, the staff of community-based health programs and CHWs hold on to their commitment to serve the poor and put people’s interests above self.”
“What happened to our fellows who are now knows as “Morong 43” may have caused fear among our CHWs and CBHP staff, but this is only temporary. CBHPs have been around since 1973. These have endured numerous obstacles but because of the worsening condition of our public health care system, and absence of basic social services especially in the rural areas, the need for community-based health programs continue to arise. These CBHPs have also proved effective under varied social and economic conditions,” Sr Edith said.
The Council for Health and Development (CHD) is the national secretariat of more than 50 community-based health programs in the Philippines. Together with the Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED), they have sponsored the “First Responders’ Health Skills Training” in Morong, Rizal last February. It was on its fourth day here that 43 health workers from the training were illegally arrested and detained.
Enlisting The Help of Congress
In detention for six months now while “the wheel of justice is grinding slow on their case,” the relatives and supporters of Morong 43 tried to enlist the help of the Philippine Congress in seeking the immediate release of the health workers.
Bearing letters of appeal and white roses to the legislators of the 15th Congress, relatives and supporters of the Morong 43 and community health workers trooped the House of Representatives last Tuesday to ask for their support.
The group is urging the legislators to act on the human rights violations committed against the “Morong 43.”
According to Dr. Julie Caguiat, spokesperson of the Free The 43 Health Workers Alliance, the case of the Morong 43 “is emblematic of the human rights situation in the country.” The Congress with their legislative and oversight functions can address the human rights issues of the said health workers, and these include their arbitrary arrest and illegal detention.”
“The oversight functions of the Lower House can check on the constitutional guarantees which were violated by the state forces and the Arroyo regime. It could even legislate laws to guarantee protection of community health workers who serve our poor communities” said Dr. Caguiat.
She added that the legislators should also make the most of the challenge brought out by the health workers case “to review the government’s policies violating human rights, such as the Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) which has targeted and even taken the lives of innocent civilians, activists and social advocates.”
Dr. Caguiat said that despite the enactment of Anti-Torture Law, the military still perpetrated physical and psychological torture on the Morong 43 while they were detained at Camp Capinpin.
Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casi?o also delivered a manifestation on the case Morong 43, calling for their release, while community health workers from across the country under the Council for Health and Development were in Congress.