It appears that President Benigno Aquino III cannot make up his mind on what to do with the so-called “Morong 43.” News reports have it that he has left the matter in the hands of the Philippine justice system to determine the fate of 43 health professionals who were arrested while attending a health training course.
It all happened 9 months ago, when the military raided a house in Morong, Rizal using a faulty warrant of arrest for a person whose existence has never been verified. The house is owned by a well-known infectious disease expert from the Philippine General Hospital. The health training course was being conducted under the auspices of the Council for Health and Development, a non-government organization known for its work in community-based health care.
As usual, the military who conducted the raid produced as evidence firearms and alleged bomb-making paraphernalia. There were no independent witnesses to authenticate the existence of such evidence. There was good reason to believe that the firearms were planted by the men who conducted the raid.
The 43 seminar attendees were blindfolded, handcuffed and brought to a military camp where they were interrogated and subjected to various forms of physical and mental torture.
A public prosecutor brought in by the military hastily conducted inquest proceedings but did so without allowing the forty-three their right to be represented by a legal counsel.
A case was then filed with the regional trial court in Morong for which reason the Court of Appeals (CA), rejected the defence lawyers’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus, on the technicality that the filing of the case “cured” any irregularities in the arrest of the hapless forty-three.
Acting on raw intelligence information, the military pounced on the forty three, initially claiming that they were NPA combatants undergoing training in making bombs. Later, when it could not be denied that the forty three were indeed either medical professionals or community health workers, they amended their line saying they were NPA medics undergoing training in “combat life-saving techniques and bomb-making.”
The bottom line is that the forty three are still languishing in jail. Dr. Alexis Montes, the sixty-year-old physician in the group expressed his frustration by saying that every second in jail feels like an eternity. Two pregnant mothers among the forty three have given birth. Another doctor, Dr. Mary Clamor was rushed to the hospital because of uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension and infected skin wounds aggravated by poor jail conditions. The rest are straining under the weight of uncertainty and the difficult conditions they and their families are subjected to.
Justice Secretary de Lima has already submitted to President Aquino her recommendations and, by all indications, these are favourable. The latter has already acknowledged that the “evidence” against the forty-three was obtained through irregular means. Aquino said, “It is a generally accepted principle that what the lawyers call the fruit of the poisoned tree, evidence wrongly gotten, cannot be used.” Yet Mr. Aquino chooses to drag his feet on the case arguing that it is “up to the courts” to decide.
There is suspicion that Mr. Aquino is hostage to the generals who object to the release of the Morong 43 in the guise of such being a setback to the government’s counterinsurgency campaign. (Source: Business World)