Friday, February 12, 2010

Study in contrast

Streetwise
By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo

The contrast is too stark to be missed. “But they are NPA (New People’s Army)!” Thus did Executive Secretary and former General Eduardo Ermita justify the arbitrary arrest of 43 health workers and professionals attending a training seminar in Morong, Rizal last Saturday, their torture, subjection to indignities, deprivation of legal counsel, and denial of visits by relatives and officers of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

This is the same Secretary Ermita who, along with other Arroyo henchmen, immediately invoked the right to due process of the Ampatuans, Arroyo’s warlord allies in Muslim Mindanao suspected to be behind the gruesome mass murder of relatives and supporters of their political enemies, a bevy of media personnel as well as innocent bystanders.

To be labeled as NPA, ergo an “enemy of the state”, is tantamount to a death sentence (via extrajudicial execution) or being subjected to the worst human rights violations by state security forces with the blessings of Malacañang. On the other hand, to be a valued political ally of Mrs. Arroyo, able to deliver hundreds of thousands of fraudulently acquired votes for her presidential bid, to beat back government opposition in an entire region and to terrorize a dirt-poor and restless populace is to be dealt with kid gloves despite being the prime suspects in the most heinous of crimes.

According to General Ermita there was nothing illegal in the arrest of the 43 - two of whom are doctors, two others a nurse and midwife and the rest community health workers - because this is based on solid intelligence information. If this were the case, why were the combined AFP/PNP raiding force of 300 who came in four military trucks and two armored personnel carriers, unable to present any valid search or arrest warrants? Why did they conduct their search of the private resort owned by Dr. Melecia Velmonte, an infectious disease expert at the UP-Philippine General Hospital, to come up with so-called evidence without any impartial witnesses to corroborate their find.

The same military intelligence that led to the "discovery" of a bundle of arms and explosives in a health training seminar had failed to detect an entire arsenal of weapons, ammunition and even armored vehicles in the Ampatuans' possession. It took the declaration of emergency rule and eventually martial law before the authorities could come up with anything substantial against the Ampatuans.

And this same AFP-PNP combine that willfully allowed the Ampatuans to commit the massacre, if they did not actually participate in it by refusing to provide security to the prospective victims, has turned its brutal, coercive power on hapless doctors and health workers whose only intent was to learn how to care for the sick in a setting of want and government neglect.

In order to give the Gestapo military and police time to manufacture more evidence and extract tortured confessions from their victims, the 43 were blindfolded and shackled, held incommunicado, denied food and toilet privileges for maximum discomfort, and deprived of mandatory visits by their legal counsel and CHR officers.

After two days, when the relatives of some of the arrested were allowed in, they were given a very short time to inquire into the condition of their loved ones and always in the intimidating presence of their captors for which reason many could not speak about the despicable treatment they had received.

While refusing to present the 43 to the media, the AFP keeps issuing press releases in a ludicrous attempt to concoct a story about their latest victims: that they were undergoing training in bomb manufacture; that the 60-year-old physician in the group, Dr. Alex Montes, is actually the NPA operative assigned to kill retired General Jovito Palparan, the bloodthirsty general who confesses to “inspiring” his men to kill NPA suspects vigilante style; that several of the women have been identified as having participated in NPA attacks.

And lo and behold, the AFP reported that campaign materials of the progressive party list Bayan Muna were also seized from the group. All the better to keep up the military’s vilification campaign against the party that has successfully won several seats in Congress since 2001 and is now fielding a senatorial candidate? Why limit the propaganda to the AFP’s having chalked up a big blow against the NPA when you can also, by innuendo, implicate Bayan Muna, currently in the thick of the electoral campaign, as an NPA “front” and scare away potential voters?

The raid against the health workers can only be seen as part of the Arroyo regime’s propensity to crack down on those who oppose its policies and its illegitimate rule. The Council for Health and Development, under whose auspices the training was undertaken, is a non-government organization committed to rendering health services to poor and underserved communities. They are critical of government policies and programs that underlie the people’s poverty, ill health and inadequate, low quality health services. As advocates of community-based health care, health training for community volunteers is a staple of their program.

The practice of treating “NPA” or “NPA suspects” as “enemies of the state” and therefore undeserving of due process rights and, more important, non-derogable human rights such as the right to life, against being tortured, against unjust arrest and detention, etc. has brought about a situation wherein military and police officials up to the Executive Secretary can blithely justify their fascist actuations on their mere say so that someone is an NPA.

But more than the fascist military mindset, it is the overweening brutality, ruthlessness and arrogance of power that characterizes the Arroyo regime, in combination with its rabid craving and desperation to remain in power that has cultivated and nurtured the culture of impunity for perpetrating such horrendous atrocities.

With elections crucial to the fate of the Arroyo cabal just around the corner, there is reason to fear that the worst is still to come. #

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