Philippines: Release of rights defender and health practitioner Naty Castro

Photo: Lars Dunker

PHL 001 / 0322 / OBS 015.1
Release
The Philippines
April 4, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your intervention in the following situation in the Philippines.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by Karapatan Alliance Philippines (Karapatan) about the release of Dr. Maria Natividad Marian “Naty” Castro, a public health practitioner and human rights defender. Ms. Castro has worked in the poorest and most marginalised areas in the Philippines as a community-based health worker. She has also worked for the defence of community rights of the indigenous Lumad and is a former National Council member of Karapatan.

On March 25, 2022, the Bayugan City Regional Trial Court Branch 7 dismissed the charges of “kidnapping” and “serious illegal detention” filed against Ms. Castro under Criminal Case No. 6527, and ordered her release. The decision was made on the grounds of “[d]enial of her right to due process” and “lack of jurisdiction over the […] accused”. The judge ruled that not providing Ms. Castro with a summons while the preliminary investigation was conducted amounted to a denial of her right to due process, as it deprived her of her right to participate in the preliminary investigation.

After 42 days of arbitrary detention, on March 30, 2022 Ms. Castro was released from the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail and subsequently reunited with her family.

The Observatory recalls that officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army (PA) arbitrarily arrested Ms. Castro at her residence in San Juan City, Manila, on February 18, 2022. Members of the PNP and PA presented an arrest warrant issued by the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 of Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur Province, in January 2020, on charges of “kidnapping” and “serious illegal detention”, filed by public prosecutor Genesis Efren in March 2019. Ms. Castro was subsequently taken to the San Juan Police Station and then moved to the Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon, where she underwent medical examination.

During her detention period in the PNP’s headquarters in Camp Crame, neither her family members nor legal counsels were allowed to have contact with her, and their requests to bring her medicine for hypertension and diabetes were denied. Furthermore, on February 19, 2022, Ms. Castro was held incommunicado by the authorities, who had flown her to the island of Mindano without her family or legal representatives being informed. After multiple calls from her family and representatives, the PNP disclosed Ms. Castro’s whereabouts. On February 22, 2022, the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 of Bayugan City ordered her transfer to the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail.

The Observatory notes that since November of 2020, Ms. Castro has been a victim of red-tagging. Her name and picture have been circulated on social media platforms in Lianga, Surigao del Sur Province, falsely accusing her of being a “communist”, a “terrorist”, and a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The Observatory further recalls that since President Duterte took power in June 2016, human rights defenders in the Philippines have faced relentless vilification and have been subjected to trumped-up charges and lengthy pre-trial arbitrary detention, with the aim to discredit their peaceful work and to silence all critical voices, thus creating a climate of fear, in which attacks against them are acceptable and legitimized.

The Observatory welcomes the release of Ms. Castro but underlines that she should have never been detained in the first place, and reiterates its concern over the pattern of criminalisation to which human rights defenders are subjected to, which is aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities

The Observatory urges the Philippine authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against human rights defenders like Ms. Castro, release them, and put an end to all acts of harassment against them.

The Observatory reiterates its utmost concern over the violence, including killings and physical attacks, against human rights defenders in the Philippines, and calls upon the authorities to adopt effective measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders in the country.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of the Philippines asking them to:

i. guarantee in all circumstances the continuation of the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Maria Natividad Marian “Naty” Castro and of her family, and provide her with full and effective reparation for her period of arbitrary detention;

ii. immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the Philippines, since their detention and the judicial harassment against them seem to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;

iii. put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Maria Natividad Marian “Naty” Castro and all other human rights defenders in the Philippines, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Addresses:

· Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Republic of the Philippines, Email: op@president.gov.ph or send a message through http://president.gov.ph/contact-us/;
· Mr. Teodoro Locsin Jr, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, Email: osec@dfa.gov.ph;
· Hon. Menardo Guevarra, Secretary, Department of Justice of the Philippines, Email: communications@doj.gov.ph;
· Hon. Leah C. Tanodra-Armamento, Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Email: chrp.leaharmamento@gmail.com;
· Police General Oscar Albayalde, Chief, Philippine National Police, Email: pnpo.adm1n@gmail.com; ocpnp@pnp.gov.ph; srocpnp@yahoo.com
· H.E. Mr. Evan P. Garcia, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: mission@genevapm.ph;
· Embassy of the Philippines in Brussels, Email: brusselspe@gmail.com .

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of the Philippines in your respective countries.

***
Geneva-Paris, April 4, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39
· Tel FIDH: + 33 (0)1 43 55 25 18

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