Friday, February 12, 2010

Have you cured Ka Roger?,’ other shockers

By DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:50:00 02/12/2010


THE INTERROGATOR’S taunt outraged Dr. Merry Mia Clamor as she sat blindfolded, her hands cuffed, in a room she could not describe, facing somebody she could not see.

The disembodied voice had sneered: “Ginamot mo na ba ang buni ni Ka Roger (Have you cured Ka Roger’s ringworm yet)?”

The 33-year-old physician did not reply.

“I was shocked. I could not say anything,” she told the Inquirer Thursday in her first interview with the media since she and 42 other health workers were arrested on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal, on suspicion of links with communists.

The interrogator was apparently referring to Gregorio Rosal aka Ka Roger, the spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

The 43 detainees, including two doctors and other health professionals, were finally allowed to confer with their lawyers belonging to the National Union of People’s Lawyers and of the Public Interest Law Center in their tightly guarded detention cells at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.

The eight lawyers led by Edre Olalia were assisted by Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Leila de Lima.

Presumption of innocence

At a meeting with Brig. Gen. Jorge Segovia, the commander of the 2nd Infantry Division, De Lima said the military’s treatment of the detainees did not meet human rights standards.

“Even assuming that they are really all NPAs (New People’s Army, the armed wing of the CPP), they still have rights. All civil and political rights are still available to them, especially the constitutional presumption of innocence,” De Lima said.

To which Segovia replied: “The presumption of innocence that applies to NPAs should also apply to our soldiers… As far as our officers are concerned, they’re only trying to do their job.”

Earlier, the CHR accused the military of subjecting the 43 detainees to “psychological torture”—a charge Segovia denied.

'It’s a shame’

Clamor said she was teaching volunteers first aid and other basic medical procedures at a health training seminar in the early morning of Feb. 6 when she and the other health workers were arrested.

She said her unseen interrogator’s question served to trivialize her efforts.

“I was doing this with the purest intention—to train volunteers and to give them skills so they themselves can help others in their community,” Clamor said.

“It’s a shame… I chose to stay here in the Philippines instead of going abroad. I chose to stay [despite] the knowledge it would be a thankless job,” she said.

Clamor said that as a member of the Council for Health and Development (CHD), she had taken part in medical missions and other health training seminars in Rizal, Bacolod, Negros and Iloilo.

Logistics

Segovia said the detainees had not been allowed to see their lawyers until Thursday largely because of a logistical problem.

He said it was the biggest number of arrests of “underground personalities,” and that Camp Capinpin had no ready facility to accommodate all 43 health workers.

The military also needed to process the detainees’ identities, he said.

Olalia at one point objected to the “underground” tag, prompting Segovia to rephrase his remark by adding “alleged.”

Another problem, according to Segovia, was that some of the detainees refused to reveal their identities, and their lawyers also did not provide the right names to the military custodians when seeking permission to meet their clients.

But Olalia said the right of a person to see a lawyer upon arrest was so crucial that denying it constituted a serious breach of human rights.

‘Violated’

“We felt violated. We were illegally arrested. We were questioned without a lawyer present,” Clamor said from her cell.

Recalling her first night in detention, she said the questioning was relaxed at first, with the interrogator asking where she worked, what she did, and so on.

But the tone turned hostile as the night wore on.

When she said she did not want to answer any more questions without a lawyer, she was told: “You’ll be long gone before your lawyer comes.”

Husband Karapatan exec

But while she had initially been denied access to a lawyer, Clamor said her husband, Roneo Clamor, was granted permission to see her.

“He took it in stride. He’s used to situations like this,” she said of her husband, the deputy secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan.

Clamor said she did not experience rough treatment from the soldiers except during the arrest, when they pointed long firearms at her and the others and ordered them to lie on their bellies.

“We appreciate the handling of the female guards,” she said.

In an interview with reporters, Segovia insisted that all 43 detainees were NPA members.

The military provided reporters a list of the detainees, including name, aliases, addresses, age, educational attainment, schools and “position” in the NPA.

Clamor’s position was listed as “national level.”

“That’s not true,” she said.

Online campaign

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has launched an online campaign for the release of the 43 health workers.

In a letter posted on Tuesday on its website (http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2010/3362/), the AHRC said two of the 43, Janice Javier and Franco Romeroso, were illegally held from September 2008 to June 2009 and tortured by state forces to admit that they were NPA members.

The two were released for lack of evidence but were rearrested, along with Yolanda Caraig, in Morong Rizal, on Feb. 6, the AHRC said.

It also named Clamor of the CHD, Dr. Alex Montes of the Community Medicine Development Foundation, nurse Gary Liberal, midwife Teresa Quinawayan, and other members of the CHD staff as among those arrested.

The AHRC listed the case under its “urgent appeal” desk, which, it said, was a tool “to create an international support network and open venue for action.”

It expressed the hope that the letter would reach United Nations representatives, national human rights commissions, court houses and government officials.

The AHRC suggested that the letter also be sent individually to President Macapagal-Arroyo, CHR Chair De Lima and other government officials by fax or mail.

Melissa Roxas’ case

In a separate statement dated Feb. 7, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chapter in Canada said it was “demanding the immediate and unconditional release” of the 43 health workers.

The group said the arrests were “reminiscent” of the alleged torture suffered by US citizen Melissa Roxas in May 2009 in the Philippines, when she was abducted while on a medical mission.

With a report from Maricar Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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