Filipino-Americans in Seattle Rally Behind the “Morong 43” Health Workers*

Seattle, WA – Several concerned Filipino-Americans rallied in South Seattle to show support for the 43 detained health workers in the Philippines. They condemned the Philippine police and military’s abduction of community health workers and doctors who were conducting health skills training in Morong, Rizal, on Saturday, February 6, 2010. They are being accused of being rebels and learning how to make bombs.

The health workers and doctors administer health services to poor communities, and were participating in a First Responders Training, sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation, Inc. (COMMED) and Council for Health and Development (CHD). This was held at the farmhouse of Dr. Melencia Velmonte, professor emeritus of the UP College of Medicine and a consultant at Philippine General Hospital. The home is also frequently used for annual global health conferences for the University of the Philippines.

According to reports by the media and the human rights alliance KARAPATAN, approximately 300 soldiers and police of the Armed Forces of the Philippines(AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) forcibly arrested and took the participants to a nearby military base. The military denied the health workers their right to legal counsel for three days and blocked a team from the Commission on Human Rights. When the detainees were seen by lawyers and human rights advocates they gave accounts of torture for forced confessions of being rebels. Lawyers and human rights workers have noted that the warrant used for the arrest had inaccurate information and was illegal in the first place.

Several Philippine congressmen have denounced the raid and abuse saying it may violate the recently passed Anti-Torture Act as well as the UN Convention Against Torture. Many medical groups & professionals including Dr. Alberto B. Roxas, professor and dean of the UP College of Medicine have criticized the raid. Presidential candidates including Manny Villar and Nonoy Aquino have also condemned the raid.

“This raid sends the message that it is ok for Filipino doctors and nurses to work abroad but will be harassed for staying in the Philippines to serve the poor,” said Pinay sa Seattle Chair Claudia Alexandra Paras. “These detained health workers are the same people who jumped into action in the aftermath of Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng last year.” The health care workers feel they are being targeted with trumped up and claim that the military planted evidence after they were rounded up.

The military has been criticized for inconsistencies in their arguments and defying a Supreme Court order to bring the detainees to court. After alleging early that they were merely bomb makers, Maj. Gen. Jorge Segovia reversed himself and admitted that they were health workers but working for rebels. The military also points to the detainees’ legal counsel of Romeo Capulong as evidence of being rebels.

At the rally, Fil-Ams carried signs demanding the government “Free the 43” and condemning American tax dollars being sent to finance the Philippine military and its on-going human rights violations. They also noted the contrast in treatment of the “Morong 43” relative to the Ampatuan clan, suspects of the “Maguindanao Massacre” where 60 people including 30 journalists were killed on November 23, 2009. “For years under Oplan Bantay Laya, President Arroyo and the AFP maintained a policy of war against unarmed political activists and making peace with the warlords such as the Ampatuans in Mindanao,” said AnakBayan Seattle Chair Sincere Born. “The Ampatuans are comfortably awaiting trial during a slow investigation while the Morong 43 are being tortured and immediately charged with rebellion.”

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