“In my own little way, I will act [in support of you] without mentioning anything about the legal case. I am only coming from the sense that your dignity as humans should be respected. If human dignity is not respected, nothing else would be given value,” Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz told the male detainees during his visit at Camp Bagong Diwa.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – On the eve of the commemoration of International Human Rights Day, an ecumenical clergy team visited the Morong 43 to express their support for the struggle for the health workers’ freedom.
The 43 health workers 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 branded as members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). They were subjected to physical and psychological torture and were held under military captivity for almost three months. Thirty-eight have been transferred to civilian detention facilities at Camp Bagong Diwa while five have remained under military detention in Camp Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal.
The Morong 43 have been on hunger strike since Dec. 3.
“In my own little way, I will act [in support of you] without mentioning anything about the legal case. I am only coming from the sense that your dignity as humans should be respected,” Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz told the male detainees during his visit. ““If human dignity is not respected, nothing else would be given value,” he said.
Cruz, together with Fr. Joe Dizon, Fr. Greg Obejas and other delegates of the ecumenical team met eleven of the male detainees inside the chapel at Camp Bagong Diwa. Other detainees were not able to get out of their cell because of severe headache. Today is their seventh day of their hunger strike. Dr. Julie Caguiat, spokeswoman of the Free the 43 Health Workers! Alliance said one detainee, Franco Romeroso has been admitted to the Taguig-Pateros District Hospital due to low blood sugar level.
The male detainees were handcuffed. At least 15 jail guards were inside the chapel, listening to the conversations. A female jail guard took pictures.
Aquino, ‘Stumbling Block’
Gary Liberal, a nurse at a public hospital and one of the Morong 43, expressed his frustration over Aquino’s inaction.
“Is he [Aquino] being pressured by the military? Is he playing safe in order to stay in power? He should rectify the error of the military by releasing us,” Liberal said.
Liberal said they had hoped that Aquino, unlike his predecessor, would uphold human rights. “If he is sincere, why has he not mentioned human rights in any of his important speeches?” he asked.
Liberal also expressed confidence in Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. “We know where her heart lies when it comes to our case. She sent the first memorandum to Malacanang but it was never acted upon. Another memo followed and no word yet from Malacanang. Why would Aquino leave our case to the courts? Why can’t he just order the withdrawal of the case?” Liberal said.
“Tomorrow is Human Rights Day and the Philippine government is a signatory [to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights]. However, administrations past and present have not been sincere in adhering to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests continue. None of the perpetrators are brought to justice,” Liberal said.
Dizon, an activist priest since martial law, said Aquino is the only ‘stumbling block’ to the release of the 43. “I could not understand why Aquino refused to act on this given that his father was also illegally detained. The most righteous path for him to take is to order the Department of Justice to withdraw the case,” Dizon said. “It is within his power.”
“We hope that before Christmas, you would be sent back to your loved ones and to the communities where you serve,” Dizon said.
“I think this would soon end,” Cruz said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino who also visited the Morong 43 said six party list representatives have also started fasting in solidarity with the Morong 43. “We skip lunch and take only water and biscuits. Of course, this is nothing compared to what you do but we are one with you,” Casino told the detainees.
Obejas said he keeps on mentioning the case of the Morong 43 to his parishioners. “Our fellow Christians must get involved on the issue of human rights,” he said. “We are always praying for you. Hold on. Truth will set you free.”
Nardy Sabino, secretary general of the Promotion for Church People’s Response (PCPR) said 50 Christian churches have agreed to include the prayer for the release of the Morong 43 starting on the dawn mass on Dec. 16.
Former Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Liza Maza, also vice president of Makabayan coalition, also paid visit to the health workers.
Ely Castillo, a health worker from Mindoro Occidental and one of the Morong 43, thanked the visitors. “Even if we are very hungry, we are strengthened by your support. Even if we have not eaten for days, our resolve becomes stronger,” Castillo said smiling.
Members of the Ateneo Human Rights Center also visited the Morong 43.