By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — After filing several requests for a dialogue with President Benigno Aquino III, relatives and supporters of the Morong 43 were finally given an appointment at Malacanang, Nov. 17. They came with high hopes but went home still filled with uncertainty.
The Morong 43 are the 43 health workers arrested on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal while conducting a health skills training. Slapped with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the 43 were held under military detention for almost three months. They were made to suffer solitary confinement, physical and psychological torture prompting them to file a complaint for human rights violations before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Thirty-eight have been transferred to a civilian detention facility in Camp Bagong Diwa since May 1 while five have remained under military custody.
Some 30 relatives and supporters were met by Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Jose Amor Amorado at the Malacanang’s social hall on Nov. 17.After almost two hours, nothing came out of the meeting, according to Roneo Clamor, acting secretary general of Karapatan and husband of Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, one of the Morong 43.
“We are trying our best to address this issue correctly. It would be best if we could be a little more patient,” Amorado told the relatives. He said his office was tasked by Aquino to review the case of the Morong 43 and that he would submit the recommendations to the President within the week.
As early as Oct. 4, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, a former chairwoman of the CHR, has submitted her recommendations on the Morong 43 case. The review, however, was not made public. Amorado also refused to divulge the content of de Lima’s review but cited three possible actions.
One is for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to recommend bail. Second is for the DOJ to withdraw the information but, according to Amorado, this would be subject to the discretion of the court. Third is for the prosecutor to move for the quashing of the warrant.
“Another approach is to let the trial proceed with the hope that the court would find the accused innocent,” Amorado said.
The relatives were frustrated.
“Dep. Exec. Sec. Amorado admitted that the Palace is being flooded with support letters calling for the immediate release of the illegally detained health workers. But it seems Amorado doesn’t know what immediate means. Malacanang has no sense of urgency in addressing human rights violations,” Clamor said.
“After this dialogue, there is still no clear resolution [on the Morong 43 case],” said Ofelia Beltran-Balleta, mother of Jane Balleta. “We came here with high hopes. After Aquino’s statement about the illegal arrest, we were expecting that he would soon order the release of the Morong 43,” Balleta added.
On Oct. 14, Aquino, in a response to a question posed by a reporter, said the arrest was a ‘fruit of the poisonous tree.’ Aquino also mentioned that there were irregularities and that errors should be rectified but also said that he is leaving the decision on whether or not to release the Morong 43 to the courts.
The charges were filed before the Morong Regional Trial Court (RTC). Lawyers of the Morong 43 also filed an appeal to the Supreme Court on the Court of Appeals’s decision to deny the petition for habeas corpus filed earlier by the relatives. The high court’s third division has yet to issue any resolution.
“What we want is for Pres. Aquino to announce that the Morong 43 will be released,” Balleta said.
“Nine months is already too long,” said Evelyn Montes, wife of Dr. Alexis Montes. “We, the relatives, are also being harassed already,” she said.
“The jail guards are torturing us, treating us as though we are criminals,” Mrs. Montes said. Visitors of the male detainees are subjected to strip search. “We have to remove our panty and bra before we are allowed to visit our loved ones. It happened to me and to my children,” she related.
Mrs. Montes also said that on Nov. 6, a seven-year-old kid, a visitor of the Morong 43, was escorted by heavily armed policemen. She said she and her son, CJ, also a doctor, noticed that they are being tailed by suspicious men. “Please act on the case immediately,” she told Amorado.
Before the dialogue, relatives and supporters of the Morong 43 were subjected to tight security measures. Two were initially not allowed to enter Malacanang premises for wearing shirts with the slogan “Free the 43 Health Workers!” The guards said it was a security concern. Two men in plainclothes also took pictures of the relatives as they entered the compound.
‘Wait a little longer’
Amorado told the relatives to wait a little longer. He said the relatives should already be thankful that Aquino ordered a review of the Morong 43 case.
“We cannot rush things,” Amorado said in Filipino. “We also have to talk to the security sector,” he said.
“Our president is not only the president of the exploited but also of the perceived exploiters. It is still not proven if they did exploit people,” Amorado said, referring to the military.
In reaction, Dr. Julie Caguiat, spokeswoman of the Free the 43 Health Workers! Alliance said: “It is a moral obligation of Pres. Aquino to release the Morong 43. He must prove to us that he is indeed taking the straight path.”
“It is either Malacanang is willfully stalling the release of the Morong 43, and taking us for fools, or some power player like the US or the AFP is hell-bent to continue the grave human rights violations in the country,” Clamor said. (Bulatlat.com)