“An empty stomach doesn’t need empty doublespeak from Malacanang. We need our freedom,” the Morong 43 said in a statement.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — On their tenth month in detention, the Morong 43 said they all feel the burden of not having to be with their families this coming Christmas.’
The Morong 43 are the health workers who were arrested on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal while conducting a health skills training. They were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives and were held under military captivity for almost three months. Thirty-eight have been transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa but currently, the two nursing mothers are now under hospital detention.
On Dec. 3, the 36 health workers began a hunger strike, the two nursing mothers did not join for obvious reasons. “As we are on the fourth day of our hunger strike, we demand from Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III our immediate and unconditional release.” “An empty stomach doesn’t need empty doublespeak from Malacanang. We need our freedom,” they said in a statement released to the media.
Aquino reiterated that it is up to the courts to decide whether to release the 43 or not. Justice Secretary de Lima, on the other hand – in an audience with the delegates of the World Council of Churches (WCC) last week – said she would have the charges against the 43 withdrawn by Dec. 10 or at least before Christmas.
“We are not begging the government to grant our freedom, it is our right,” said the Morong 43. “Our hunger strike would go on until genuine efforts are undertaken for our release, as well as all other political prisoners.”
Aquino, ‘Legally Ignorant?’
Reacting to Aquino’s statement that it is up to the courts to decide on the fate of the Morong 43, Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said: “Either Aquino is confused, legally ignorant, being fed with wrong or inaccurate information or there is an unspoken wrong reason or he is succumbing to the wishes of the military that is why he persists in saying that he could not do anything about the release of the Morong 43.”
Olalia said the Morong 43 have not yet been arraigned nor has the trial started. “The executive, through the prosecution, can always move unilaterally to withdraw the false charges. In which case, the court has no logical and legal option but to release them,” Olalia stated.
“It’s been ten months, two DOJ [Department of Justice] memoranda, two babies born in detention and countless appeals from the day the Morong 43 were illegally arrested, tortured and denied counsel and detained. It’s not enough that the Aquino government says the case is up to the courts to decide. What the people want to know is what exactly will Malacanang do to rectify the situation,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in a separate statement.
Health Conditions of the Morong 43
Based on the medical bulletin released by the Free the 43 Health Workers! Alliance, some of the detainees experienced dizziness, vomiting due to hypertension, tremors of fingers. One detainee, Jane Beltran Balleta, had an epileptic seizure that lasted for 45 minutes last December 4. Doctors also noted high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels in some detainees.
Dr. Geneve Rivera, secretary general of the Health Alliance for Democracy (Head) said the jail warden Mary Jane Clemente has not allowed her to conduct a medical examination on the female detainees until Dec. 5 when lawyers talked to Clemente. Clemente said the Bureau of Jail and Management (BJMP) has medical personnel to look after the detainees.
But Rivera said the ambulance and medical attention guaranteed by Clemente were not true. When Balleta had an epileptic seizure, not one from among the medical personnel she was referring to was there to attend to her needs.
Relatives and Supporters, Too
Other political detainees and inmates, both in male and female detention facilities, joined the Morong 43 in their hunger strike; some were holding a sympathy fast.
Relatives and supporters of the Morong 43 also declared today, Dec. 6 that they would likewise hold a hunger strike beginning today.
Carlos Montemayor, spokesman of the Free the 43 Health Workers! Alliance said that by joining the hunger strike, they are ‘taking their campaign for freedom and justice to a higher level.’
Military’s Line Absurd
Olalia also criticized the Armed Forces of the Philippines’s statement that the call of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni to release the 43 is a proof that the health workers are indeed members of the New People’s Army (NPA). The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Olalia called it ‘an absurd and ridiculous argument.’
Reyes said the AFP’s argument is non-sequitur. “The statements made by the AFP show that up to now, they are still unrepentant over the illegal arrest, detention and torture of the 43. They are, quite possibly, the force that is trying to stop the release of the health workers despite the DOJ review,” he added.