By JAMES ANDREW BUATES
MANILA — Recently-freed community doctor Naty Castro has spent more than two decades in the communities of Northeastern Mindanao helping those in need. But why would the government want the likes of her to be put behind bars?
In a March 25 decision, an Agusan del Sur court junked the kidnapping charge against Castro, who is the secretary general of Karapatan – Caraga. The court found it “offensive to due process” that a preliminary investigation was done without a subpoena. Either intentional or not, “the same produces a serious effect repugnant to respondent’s right to liberty.”
The 53-year-old community doctor who was arrested in her home in San Juan City last month was a graduate of the College of Medicine of the University of the Philippines.
“She saw the kindness of the people of Butuan. She also saw how they were in dire need, including the Lumad. This is the most pressing reason she decided to help them,” Castro’s sister Zarah told Bulatlat.
A sister who loves to cook
The fifth of a brood of 10, Zarah described her as a generous, reliable, caring, and loving sister. Growing up, Castro was always in charge of cooking. This she still does for her siblings and the rest of the family. She also loves to read, Zarah told Bulatlat.
In her constant desire to learn, Castro also watches YouTube and listens to podcasts, Zarah said. She listens to the news in the morning and watches medical forensics, especially historical medical forensics.
“She has a wide array of interests,” she added.
As a student, she treated patients at the Philippine General Hospital, where she witnessed those who have the least in life. This, her sister said, inspired her to become a community doctor.
Zarah said their family never stopped her. There was never any pressure from their family, saying that their parents allowed them to tread their own paths.
“My mother only had one condition for us: that we finish our studies. After that, we can do as we wish,” she said.
Working in communities
After she graduated from the University of the Philippines in 1996, Castro dedicated her life serving poor communities in Mindanao. She also advocated for human rights, including the struggle of the Lumad. As former secretary general of Karapatan-Caraga, she was among the delegates to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to bring attention to the fight of the Lumad.
Castro would sleep on the bus whenever they travel from one parish to another as this is her only time to rest.
A fellow community doctor in Butuan, Lia Hamoy, said it was important for them to not only treat the medical conditions of the people but also to address the social, cultural, and political situation of the people and the rest of the community.
These, she added, “ affect the health of the people.”
“This is maybe the reason Doctor Naty chose to step outside of that box, of being just a doctor of medicine and become an advocate for the people that she is serving.” Hamoy said.
Fr. Benjamin Alforque, who worked with Castro in pioneering community-based health programs in Mindanao, described the recently-freed doctor as a jolly colleague. She would sing in her soprano voice, and would never hesitate to use her intellect in helping the poor.
“Her work in pioneering community-based health programs was very much needed by the people. She treated the, too, ills of the society that is plaguing the poor and the Lumad,” he said.
“I am standing by Dr. Naty’s integrity. The accusations against her are false,” Fr. Alforque said.