Vancouver health workers condemn abduction and torture of 43 health workers in Philippines

Organizing Centre for Social and Economic Justice

672 E. Broadway Vancouver, BC,

Canada V5T 1X6

February 8, 2010

Ambassador Brilliantes

130 Albert Street, Suite 606

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

K1P 5G4

Dear Ambassador Brillantes, I am writing on behalf of the Organizing Centre for Social and Economic Justice, an alliance of grassroots community organizations with hundreds of members in Vancouver, Canada, to convey our strong condemnation of the abduction of 43 health workers by the Philippine Army and Philippine National Police on February 6 in Rizal, Philippines.

This criminal abduction, and the baseless and slanderous accusation that these health workers are ‘enemies of the state’ or involved in some kind of criminal activity, are an affront to people everywhere concerned with peace and social justice. The health training which was being conducted in Rizal is part of the ongoing work of legal and legitimate health organizations in the Philippines who work tirelessly to improve the health of poor and marginalized communities throughout the country.

As health workers, community organizers, union members, students, and concerned community members we join the call for the AFP and PNP to immediately and unconditionally release the abducted health care workers and cease and desist the labelling, harassment and intimidation of progressive organizations and individuals engaged in grassroots health work and advocating for social justice in the Philippines.

We ask you to convey our concerns to the appropriate authorities in the Philippines.

Sincerely,

Beth Grayer

Zailda Chan

Aiyanas Ormond

Martha Roberts

Dave Hendry

Erika Fuchs

Azar Mehrabadi

Rocio Vasquez

Yuly Chan

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Background information: Media Release 09 February 2010

“AFP Tortured Detained Doctors and Health Workers” – HEAD

Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) strongly condemned the torture perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines on 43 doctors and health workers illegally arrested and detained since Saturday.

“Based on accounts by the detainees, the AFP has subjected them to various forms of torture and sexual harassment,” said Dr. Geneve E. Rivera, HEAD Secretary-General. She was among those who accompanied Commission on Human Rights Chair, Atty. Leila de Lima, who visited the detainees yesterday.

The illegally detained health personnel 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 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 Dr. Rivera. “A female health worker complained that a female custodian was even the one who washed her genitals after she used the bathroom.”

Family members cried openly when they were finally able to see their loved ones. Yet Colonel Aurelio Baladad did not even let this pass and taunted them by calling them “paid actors who are not really relatives of the detained”. According to accounts by the relatives, the detainees were subjected to hours of interrogation despite their demands for legal counsel.

The pregnant women were not spared. Confined in dark cells and forced to listen to sounds of gunfire, the detainees were also forced to admit that they were members of the New People’s Army. They were not allowed to speak to each other and every night, they were slapped several times. “One of the detained men already had sore arms and wrists from being tied down for so long,” added Dr. Rivera. Some had their pictures taken without their consent.

Dr. Alex Montes, who is already 60 years old, was electrocuted and repeatedly hit on the chest while being questioned. The pain was so much that after several hours, he was willing to admit to anything if only to end the brutal punishment he was receiving.

“The mental and physical torture inflicted by the AFP is inhumane and criminal. That they can do this to the very people who care for our lives and well-being speaks volumes as to the kind of soldiers and officers the military establishment employs,” added Dr. Rivera.

“We live in a time when civilian authorities under its chief executive, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, provide the military and police implicit consent to conduct the worst forms of abuses on the people.” “This is worse than the Marcos dictatorship. This is Oplan Bantay Laya, Mrs. Arroyo’s legacy of counter-insurgency aimed at civilians, especially those who serve the poor and those who are critical of her regime.”

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References:

Dr. Geneve E. Rivera Secretary-General, +63920 460 3712

Dr. Darby S. Santiago Chair, +63927 473 7700

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