Arbitrary arrest and detention of 43 health workers in Rizal Province_Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment - PHL 001 / 0210 / OBS 017

12/02/2010
Urgent Appeal

The Observatory has been informed by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (Gabriela) and the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan), about the arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as of the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, of 43 health workers and members of the Community for Health Development[1], in Morong, Rizal Province, including Ms. Merry Mia, Health Education and Training Services coordinator for the Council for Health and Development (CHD) and wife of Mr. Roneo Clamor, the Karapatan Deputy Secretary General.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its deepest concern regarding the following situation in the Philippines.

According to the information received, on February 6, 2010, at 6:15 a.m., about 300 heavily armed elements of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army (202nd IBPA) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) forcefully entered the residence of Dr. Melecia Velmonte, a respected specialist on infectious disease and consultant at the Philippine General Hospital, in Bgy. Maybangcal, Morong, and arrested 43 health professionals who were attending a health skills training seminar sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation, Inc. (COMMED) and the CHD[2].

The army and police reportedly ignored Dr. Velmonte’s request to present a search warrant, and ordered the health workers to line up. These latter were allegedly searched, handcuffed and photographed before being interrogated and recorded with a video camera. The male victims were also blindfolded and secured with packaging tape.

Only then did a Police Superintendent reportedly show a search warrant which, however, did not mention the identity of the house’s owner, neither the exact address nor the state where the house to be searched was located.

The 43 health workers were then brought to the headquarters of the 202 Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army in Camp Capinpin, Tanay Rizal, where they were reportedly detained three days incommunicado, blindfolded and handcuffed, before some of their relatives were allowed to visit them on February 8. However, they managed to see and speak to their relatives only for 30 minutes and under the close supervision of the guards. Several health workers reported to have been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment during interrogation, including electrocution and sleep deprivation.

The health workers are accused of illegal possession of firearms, manufacturing bombs as well as of being part of the Communist Party of the Philippines - New Peoples Army (CPP-NPA), on the basis of explosives and firearms that were allegedly found by the army at Dr. Velmonte’s residence. Nevertheless, according to witnesses, the military searched the compound only after the health workers and the residents of the house were ordered out of the building. Furthermore, the military were seen holding plastic bags with the “GMA Kapuso” printed on them as the latter entered the building.

On February 9, 2010, the COMMED reportedly filed a petition of Habeas Corpus on behalf of the 43 health workers who were arrested. As of issuing this urgent appeal, they remain detained in Camp Capinpin, in apparently very poor conditions of detention and deprived of their right to their legal counsels and to access a doctor.

The Observatory condemns the illegal arrest and arbitrary detention of these 43 health workers, and the alleged acts of torture and other forms of ill-treatment that they were subjected to. Health workers and right to health activists in the region have been repeatedly harassed by security forces because, in the framework of their activities in the communities, they daily witness the exactions committed by the army against the civilians. The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about these events and fears that this case is just one of the examples of the repression that Filipino human rights defenders are subjected to by the State’s forces.

The Observatory recalls that the Philippines has been elected as a member of the Human Rights Council until 2010 and has, in this regard, committed to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”[3]. Accordingly, the Observatory urges the Philippines to comply with article 2.1 of the UN Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, which states that "Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction", and Article 12.2 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, which states that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any threats, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of the Philippines, urging them to:

i.Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all the above-mentioned health workers, as well as of all human rights defenders in the Philippines;

ii.Release all the above-mentioned health workers immediately and unconditionally as their detention is arbitrary since it only aims at sanctioning their medical and human rights activities;

iii.Order a prompt, effective, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned allegations of torture and other ill-treatments, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal sanctions as provided by the law;

iv.Put an end to any kind of harassment against all the above-mentioned health workers, as well as against all human rights defenders in the Philippines, and ensure in all circumstances that they be able to carry out their medical and human rights activities without hindrances;

v. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as with Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

vi.More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by the Philippines.

Addresses

·H.E. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Republic, New Executive Building, Malacañang Palace, JP Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila 1005, Philippines. Fax: +63 2 736 1010, Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80; E-mail: corres@op.gov.ph / opnet@ops.gov.ph;

·Hon. Eduardo Ermita, Chairperson, Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), 3rd Flr. New Executive Bldg. Office of the President, Malacanang Compound, Manila, Philippines. Trunk Line: + 632 735 6201 Loc. 5301 & 5503. Telefax: + 632 734 6761. Email: phrc.phil@gmail.com

·Hon. Leila De Lima, Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights, SAAC Bldg., UP Complex, Commonwealth Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines. Fax: +632 929 0102. Email: : atty_delima@yahoo.com.ph

·Atty. Jasmin Navarro-Regino, Regional Director, CHR, Region 3, 3rd Flr. Kehyeng Bldg, Dolores Junction, Dolores, City of San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines. Tel. No. +45 2 9614830. Tel-Fax. No. +45 2 9614475. Email: attyjnr@yahoo.com

·General Eduardo Versoza, PNP Chief, Office of the Chief, PNP, National Headquarters Philippine National Police, Camp Crame, Edsa, Quezon City, Philippines. Tel: +632 9116213. Fax: +632 7248763

·Gerardo G. Dia, Police Superintendent, Asst. Chief, Human Rights Affairs Office, Human Rights Affairs Office, Office of the Chief, PNP, National Headquarters Philippine National Police, Camp Crame, Edsa, Quezon City, Philippines 1111. Tel. Nos. +632 723 0401 to 20 local 3668. Mobile: +63 916 442 4536. Email: Gerardo_dia@yahoo.com.ph

·Mr. Jesus D. Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), 7th Floor Agustin Building I, Emerald Avenue, Pasig City 1605, Philippines. Voice:+63 2 636 0701 to 066. Fax:+63 (2) 635 9579. Email: osec@opapp.gov.ph

·Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations in Geneva, 47 Avenue Blanc, 1202 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 716 19 32, Email: mission.philippines@ties.itu.int

·Embassy of the Philippines in Brussels, 297 Avenue Moliere, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Tel: +32 2 340 33 77 / 2 340 33 78, Fax: +32 2 345 64 25.

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of the Philippines in your respective country.

***

Geneva-Paris, February 12, 2010

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