Thursday, 11 February 2010 00:00

The Manila Times

Detained health workers suffered various forms of torture at the hands of the military to force them to admit they are members of the New People’s Army (NPA), it was revealed Monday.

“Based on accounts by the detainees, the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] has subjected them [health workers] to various forms of torture and sexual harassment,” said Dr. Geneve Rivera, secretary general of the Health Alliance for Democracy. Rivera was accompanied by Human Rights Chairman Leila de Lima, who visited the detainees on Monday.

The 43 health workers, detained since Saturday at Camp Capinpin in Rizal, were arrested while conducting a training-seminar at a resort in Morong, Rizal based on suspicions that they were members of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

According to the detainees, they were handcuffed and blindfolded for more than 36 hours after being forcibly brought to Camp Capinpin, headquarters of the 202nd Infantry Brigade. They were also allegedly denied food and even bathroom privileges.

“They were not allowed to go to the bathrooms on their own, and their custodians were the ones who removed their underwear every time they had to urinate,” added Rivera.

“A female health worker complained that a female custodian was even the one who washed her genitals after she used the bathroom,” she added.

According to accounts of their relatives, the detainees were subjected to hours of interrogation despite their demands for legal counsel.

Confined in dark cells and forced to listen to sounds of gunfire, the detainees were also reportedly forced to admit that they were members of the NPA. Rivera related that they were not allowed to speak to each other and were slapped several times every night.

“One of the detained men already has sore arms and wrists from being tied down for so long,” added Rivera.

Sixty-year-old Alex Montes was allegedly electrocuted and repeatedly hit on the chest while being questioned. He said the pain was so intense, he was willing to admit to anything to end the punishment.

Various groups have called for the immediate release of the detained health workers who, they said, were illegally and arbitrarily arrested.

Health Care Without Harm-Southeast Asia and Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns condemn the harassment and detention of the health workers.

“Unlike other doctors who flew abroad for greener pastures, these doctors and other health workers stayed and chose to serve in the country. As a matter of fact, they are serving the poor communities that are normally beset of health services. The least the military could do is pay them respect and not scare away other health workers,” said Merci Ferrer, executive director of Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition of more than 470 organizations in 52 countries, working to transform the healthcare sector worldwide.

“The torture inflicted on them goes against all humanitarian law and the AFP once again has shown its wanton disregard for human rights by adding this to its long record of torturing detainees to extract information against their will,” Sophia Garduce, spokesman of the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, a group of child rights advocates.

Garduce noted that one those detained, Dr. Merry Mia Clamor is a Parent-Teacher Association vice president of the Parents Alternative for Early Childhood Care and Development Inc., a Salinlahi member organization.

The group also raised their concern that two among the 26 female detainees are pregnant and in dire need of healthcare for themselves and their unborn children.

“The pregnant women need maternal healthcare, but with their present condition, we fear for their health and the safety of the unborn fetus,” Garduce said.