By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Doctors, health workers, development workers and colleagues of community doctor Naty Castro reiterated their call for her release as they gathered Monday, Feb. 21 in University of the Philippines Manila.
UP-Philippine General Hospital Dr. Gerardo Legaspi expressed his support in calling for Castro’s release. “We are fighting for our fellow health worker who chose to render her service in far-flung areas,” he said during the press conference.
Castro was arrested on Feb. 18 and was later flown to Agusan del Sur. She is now detained at the Bayugan Police Station. Authorities claimed that Castro is a high-ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.
“She is a community doctor and a human rights advocate,” Julie Caguiat, Castro’s batch mate and friend at the UP-College of Medicine said.
St. Scholastica’s College President, Sr. M. Cristine Pinto, OSB said, “It is unjust that one who has chosen to live in places that are not reached by the services that every human being is entitled to receive; one who has committed her life to give life to others, is now deprived of her right to life.”
Castro is an alumna of St. Scholastica’s College and UP Manila.
Dr. Reginald Pamugas, secretary general of Health Action for Human Rights (HAHR), said there is a pattern of red-tagging, arrests and killing of doctors and health workers in the country. “Physicians who provided medical attention to the underserved such as Dr. Dreyfus Perlas, Dr. George Repique, Dr. Avelex Amor, Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan and Zara Alvarez were government physicians; but were senselessly killed for standing up for compassion for the poor, integrity and honesty in government service,” Pamugas added.
Read: Doctors of the People
Why is Castro serving in Mindanao?
Caguiat, also a community doctor, said that since their college, their hearts are in community work. Until they finished medical school, they decided to join Community Medicine Foundation where they were deployed to Mindanao.
“As Executive Director of the Community-Based Health Program (CBHP) in Butuan, Agusan Norte, Dr. Naty provided vital health services to far-flung communities and trained thousands of volunteer community health workers (CHWs) to educate them and treat the basic diseases of their families and communities. Some of the CHWs are active as paramedical workers and frontliners in their communities in the time of COVID 19, teaching, organizing and caring for their neighbors and family groups and clusters,” Caguiat said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Eufemia Cullamat also shared that Castro helped their community in Surigao del Sur.
“She gave us training on common diseases and how to maintain cleanliness of our surrounding to avoid illnesses,” Cullamat said, adding that they also learned to plant nutritious crops to prevent illnesses.
This is why they are indignant over the arrest of Castro saying that their communities in the far-flung areas are not even reached by the government’s health services. She said that the lessons they learned from Castro have improved their lives as Lumad. “Do people who help the poor, especially professionals like doctors, deserved to be treated this way?” Cullamat asked.
Caguiat admitted they were not surprised but still enraged at what happened.
“This is what we are fearing, even before because there are many threats and harassment,” Caguiat said, who also worked with Castro in Mindanao. She said they knew they were being monitored.
Pamugas urged the Department of Health “to protect frontline doctors, especially those who have answered the government’s call to serve in isolated and remote communities.”
Meanwhile, Castro’s brother Jun, expressed their family’s gratitude to all those who are supporting her sister. (RVO)