“Parade of coffins”, march against Oplan Bantay Laya: a photo slideshow

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April 14, 2010 (MANILA) – A protest march in Manila was held today highlighted by a parade of mock coffins draped in flags of different people’s organizations whose leaders and members had been assassinated or abducted by elements widely believed from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Human rights groups have blamed the government’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) for the spate of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other forms of human rights abuses that specifically target unarmed political activists and civilian populations.

Human rights defenders and the victims’ relatives are holding accountable Gen. Jovito Palparan, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, and President Gloria Arroyo herself for their role in the murderous OBL, which has since 2001 resulted in more than 1,000 cases of extrajudicial killings, more than 200 cases of enforced disappearances, as well as hundreds of illegal and politically motivated detention such as the controversial case of the Morong 43.

For more information on the human rights situation in the Philippines, please visit the Karapatan website.

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gaano katagal ang dalawang buwan ng kalayaang dinukot?

TATLONG INA, ISANG LABAN - Jane Balleta, one of the 43 health workers illegally being detained by the military for two months now, is the granddaughter of Ka Osang Beltran (raising clenched fist), wife of the late great labor leader Crispin "Ka Bel" Beltran. Jane's mother, Ofel, stands in the background of this photo taken during the March 18 hearing called by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Jane has a two-year old daughter.

matagal, matagal na matagal para isipin mong sana nga’y totoong pumuputok ang stethoscope

at ang mga tableta’y granadang sumasabog;  matagal upang ang hiringilya’y magbaga’t umusok

lumaya lamang, lumaya lamang

habambuhay ang katumbas ng mahigit isang libo’t apat na raang oras ng pag-aalalang walang patid

habambuhay ang katumbas ng mahigit limang milyong segundo ng pangungulilang tuluy-tuloy

madalas ay hindi mo na alam kung saan nagtatapos ang bangungot at ang katinuang gising

dahil bangungot na walang humpay ang paghihintay, pinahahaba ng walang katapusang kilometro ng mga byaheng paroo’t parito, sa kampo, sa korte, sa kampo, sa mendiola, sa korte

hila-hila natin ang buong bigat ng maraming gabing walang tulog at pasan-pasan ang daan-daang pahina ng mga ebidensya’t testimonyang nilapastangan nila, paulit-ulit nilang nilalapastangan ang ating pagkatao – ah, at hindi natin maintindihan kung bakit hindi ito maintindihan ng utak ng mga hukom-hukumang bugok pa sa itlog na bugok –

at tulad ng utak nila’y gusto ring bulukin ang ating pag-asa, gusto nila tayong patayin sa pagkabagot at walang dulong paghihinagpis, gusto nilang isa-isa tayong sumuko sa tortyur at medalya nilang isasabit sa dibdib ng mga berdugo ang bawat pasa ng ating kaluluwa.

pero alam nating mahapo man tayo’y hindi magugupo, saklutin man ng inip paminsan-minsan ay hindi minsan magdadalawang isip, na sa labanang ito, katulad ng marami na nating digmaan, ay tayo pa rin ang magwawagi –

hindi ba’t mahigit isang libong ulit na nila tayong patraydor na pinaslang?

hindi ba’t mahigit dalawang daang beses na nila tayong dinukot upang hindi na muling ilitaw?

hindi ba’t daang libo, milyong oras na nila tayong ipiniit?

paano nilang mauubos ang dugong hindi naman sa ating katawan dumadaloy kundi sa mga ugat ng lupa, malalim na malalim, malawak na malawak, dumadaloy hangga’t may kapatagan, burol, bundok, at lambak; at hangga’t mula sa lupang ito’y patuloy na umuusbong ang mga api, may kumadronang maingat na aalalay upang sila’y iluwal, at may nars at doktor na buong pag-aarugang lalanggasin ang hindi naghihilom na sugat ng kanilang kahirapan. at hangga’t ang lupa’y patuloy na nagsisilang ng api, patuloy rin itong magsisilang ng mga rebelde – rebeldeng doktor, kumadrona, nars, community health worker, pari, madre, estudyante, abugado, guro, call center agent, makabayang negosyante, OFW, manggagawa, magsasaka, katutubo, sidewalk vendor, maralitang lunsod, ina, asawa, anak, kapatid…

paano nilang magagapi ang bayang rebelde?

April 6, 2010 – dalawang buwan na mula nang dukutin at iligal na ikulong ng Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) at Philippine National Police (PNP) ang 43 health workers – kabilang ang dalawang doktor, isang nars, isang midwife at 39 na community health workers – sa bintang na sila’y mga kasapi ng rebeldeng New People’s Army (NPA). Para sa karagdagang impormasyon at mga update kaugnay sa kanilang kaso, bisitahin ang website ng Bayan.

Ilagan Doctrine: a background note

Human rights advocates, relatives, and supporters of the illegally detained 43 health workers trooped to the Court of Appeals in Manila March 11 to denounce the court's dismissal of a habeas corpus plea

Last March 10, the Court of Appeals (CA) denied the petition for a writ of habeas corpus by the 43 health workers who were abducted, tortured, and remain under military detention since February 6. The CA invoked the so-called “Ilagan Doctrine” in its decision.

A habeas corpus refers to a legal action through which a person can seek relief from unlawful detention. It is considered an important instrument in safeguarding individual freedom from arbitrary state action.

Remnant of a dictatorship

Meanwhile, the Ilagan Doctrine is a legal principle established by jurisprudence. It states that a writ of habeas corpus is no longer available after criminal information is filed against the person detained and an arrest warrant or a commitment order is issued by the court where the said information has been filed. Thus, under the Ilagan Doctrine, the unlawfulness of an arrest becomes moot and academic or an illegal arrest becomes “legal” once charges are filed in a court of law.

This legal principle is a remnant of the Marcos dictatorship. It was promulgated by the Supreme Court in an October 21, 1985 decision on the Ilagan v. Enrile case. Ilagan refers to Laurente Ilagan, a legal luminary in Davao City and former chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Mindanao who was arrested without warrant together with fellow lawyers Antonio Arellano and Marcos Risonar by the Philippine Constabulary – Integrated National Police (PC-INP). Enrile refers to then Minister of Defense (and now Senator) Juan Ponce Enrile.

Incidentally, Attorney Ilagan was the late husband of Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) Representative Luz Ilagan. In a speech during a March 11 protest rally denouncing the CA decision, Rep. Ilagan recalled the events that gave birth to this Marcos-era legal principle that was named after her husband and why it undermines democracy and human rights. (See video)

Rebellion, economic sabotage, CPP leaders?

Ilagan, Arellano, and Risonar were arrested by the PC-INP on the basis of a Preventive Detention Action (PDA) issued by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos on January 25, 1985. A PDA legitimizes a warrantless arrest. First to be arrested and detained in Camp Catitipan, Davao City was Ilagan on May 10. Arellano, meanwhile, was arrested when he and 14 other lawyers from the Davao chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) visited Ilagan on the same day.  Risonar was arrested on May 13 when he visited Camp Catitipan to verify his arrest papers.

They were arrested, according to then Brig. Gen. Dionisio Tan-Gatue, PC-INP Region IX Commander, for alleged “specific acts of rebellion and economic sabotage as well as for their leadership in the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)”. He cited as well the participation of the detained lawyers in a Welgang Bayan (People’s Strike) in Davao City. Gen Tan-Gatue also accused the three of “using their profession as lawyers as cover-up for their activities in furtherance of CPP goals and objectives”.

Undermining the judiciary

Lawyers for Enrile, Gen. Tan-Gatue, and then acting Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos, named respondents in the case, justified the arrest and detention of the lawyers by contending that it was conducted under a PDA; that the writ of habeas corpus was suspended by virtue of Proclamation 2045-A; and that courts do not have the authority to inquire into the cause and validity of detention of persons held pursuant to the suspension.

(Proclamation 2045-A stated that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus remains suspended in the two autonomous regions of Mindanao and in all other places with respect to persons detained or who will be detained for insurrection, rebellion, subversion, economic sabotage, etc. It was an amendment to Proclamation 2045 that supposedly lifted Martial Law on January 17, 1981.)

While justifying the arrest and detention of the lawyers as legitimate because of the PDA and Proclamation 2045, the military’s lawyers filed an information for rebellion against the detained attorneys before the Regional Trial Court of Davao City Branch X on May 27, 1985 or 17 days after Ilagan was arrested, which then became the basis of a warrant of arrest. No preliminary investigation was conducted. Lawyers of the military then asked the SC to dismiss the petition for a writ of habeas corpus because it was supposedly already rendered moot and academic by the said filing of information.

During the first hearing on the habeas corpus petition on May 23, 1985 the SC actually ordered the immediate release of the detained lawyers on recognizance of their principal counsels – former Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion and retired Associate Justice Jose B.L. Reyes. But the military refused to honor the SC order to immediately release the detainees with military officials saying that it had to be verified from higher authorities. Then, as already mentioned, a case was hastily filed before a trial court in Davao City four days later.

Legal luminaries

Aside from former Chief Justice Concepcion and former Associate Justice Reyes, other legal luminaries who stood as counsels for the detained lawyers were Raul Roco, Joker Arroyo, Haydee Yorac, Frank Chavez, Lorenzo Tañada, Wigberto Tañada, Fulgencio Factoran, and Martiniano Vivo.

They argued that the arrests were illegal; that the Welgang Bayans were in legitimate exercise of the constitutional right of expression and assembly to petition the government for redress of grievances; that the detained attorneys’ participation was limited to serving in the legal panel and the negotiating panels; that Proclamation 2045 was unconstitutional because there exists no factual or legal basis for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus as provided for in the 1973 Constitution; that the evidence presented by respondents against the detained attorneys were of a doubtful and flimsy nature; and that the PDA was unconstitutional because it violates the 1973 Constitution prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures.

The decision

But on October 21, 1985, the SC ruled that the petition for habeas corpus was already moot and academic since Ilagan, Arellano, and Risonar were detained by virtue of a warrant of arrest by Regional Trial Court of Davao City in relation to a criminal case of rebellion filed against them before the said court. It argued that the function of a special proceeding of habeas corpus is to inquire into the legality of one’s detention. But because the detained lawyers’ incarceration was already by virtue of a judicial action in relation to a criminal case, no matter if such case was filed more than two weeks after the arrests were made, the remedy of habeas corpus supposedly no longer applies. The SC added that questions to the legality of the arrest or lack of preliminary investigation should be addressed to the Davao City trial court.

Ten justices voted for the dismissal of the petition, namely Chief Justice Felix Makasiar and Associate Justices Efren Plana, Venicio Escolin, Lorenzo Relova, Hugo Gutierrez Jr., Buenaventura Dela Fuente, Serafin Cuevas, Nestor Alampay, Carolina Aquino, and Amurfina Melencio-Herrera. Three Associate Justices, however, offered dissenting opinions – Claudio Teehankee, Hermogenes Concepcion Jr., and Vicente Abad Santos.

In his dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Teehankee, wrote:

“More than four agonizing months after this Court issued its near unanimous Resolution… ordering the immediate release of the three petitioners-detainees… this Court has now refused to enforce its own release order… It has instead dismissed the petition for habeas corpus for having become moot and academic because of the arbitrary filing of precipitate, vindictive, and oppressive charges against them for the capital crime of rebellion without hearing or preliminary investigation and in gross violation of their constitutional right and rudimentary requirements of due process and fair play”.

Tool for repression

Ilagan, Arellano, and Risonar were flatly denied of their constitutional rights and the right to due process and fair play in an era when the military, under the patronage of a dictator, ruled the country. Today, military rule supposedly no longer reigns and we enjoy supposedly the best constitution in the world in terms of human rights protection. And yet we have the case of the Health 43 who will remain in military detention and whose rights will be continuously violated because of a Marcos-era legal doctrine.

As renowned human rights lawyer Atty. Romeo Capulong noted, the CA, “in simply adhering to the outdated Ilagan v. Enrile… disregarded the litany of blatant violations of the constitutional rights of the(se) 43 health workers from the time that they were unlawfully arrested and the continued abuse of their basic human rights in the hands of the military”.

He called the Ilagan Doctrine “a tool of the government, the AFP, and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to carry out the unlawful warrantless arrest and arbitrary detention of members of progressive organizations”.

On March 11, lawyers of the Health 43 filed an appeal to the SC to reverse the CA decision denying the petition for a habeas corpus.

But as in most human rights cases, the struggle is not simply legal but political. There must be public pressure strong and broad enough for the SC justices to seriously rethink or junk altogether the Ilagan Doctrine and free immediately the 43 health workers.

References:

  1. Supreme Court of the Philippines, G.R. No. 70748 October 21, 1985, The Lawphil Project, Arellano Law Fovndation, Philippine laws and jurisprudence databank http://www.lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1985/oct1985/gr_70748_1985.html
  2. Public Interest Law Center (2010), “Morong 43 lawyers to appeal CA decision”, Press release, March 10, 2010

Free the Health 43!

The video above is a performance by Sining Medikal, cultural arm of the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), during a March 5 protest rally at Mendiola Bridge in Manila. It tells the ordeals and fight for freedom of the 43 health workers abducted last February 6, then tortured and being detained for one month now by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

For more information and updates on the case of the “Health 43” and what you can do to show your support, visit the Bayan website.

Failed health system and the Health 43

Image from http://www.bayan.ph

In a poor country where one out of every two people dies without receiving any medical attention, 50 percent of the population do not have access to health care, 40 percent do not have access to essential medicine, 10 mothers die daily due to pregnancy and childbirth-related causes, and 100 municipalities are doctorless and nurseless[1] while more than 7,700 nurses, 83 doctors, and 196 professional midwives leave the country yearly[2] to work abroad, trainings to equip ordinary citizens attend to the basic health needs of poor and neglected communities should be welcomed.

And a government that is sensitive to the needs of its people should support such initiative, or at least be thankful to medical professionals and volunteers who give their skills, knowledge, time, and resources in order to help bridge the widening gap between the need and availability of health services in the country.   

So when 43 health workers – including two medical doctors, a registered nurse, a registered midwife, and 39 community health workers – while conducting a training-seminar, were illegally arrested, and later tortured, by the police and military on outrageous claims that they were making bombs, you know at once that something is seriously, terribly wrong.

Community-based health programs

The Council for Health and Development (CHD), which together with the Community Medicine Foundation Inc. (CMFI) organized the training-seminar attended by the 43 health workers, is the national organization of non-government community-based health programs (CBHPs) in the Philippines. It raises resources for the CBHPs including reading, education, and training materials as well as financial support. The group, which is registered in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as non-stock and non-profit, also conducts trainings and consultations with CBHPs.[3]    

Since 1973, non-government CBHPs has formed part of the Philippine health care system. From simply providing training for paramedics in far-flung and neglected rural communities, CBHPs have overtime become part of the common people’s aspirations and struggles.[4]

Programs considered as CBHPs aim to respond to the basic health needs of the people through education, training, and services. Unlike episodic health campaigns such as breastfeeding or immunization programs, for example, CBHPs deal with the health issue in a holistic approach, i.e. health problems of the community are recognized to be inter-related with the economic, political, and cultural problems of the society. Thus, they do not provide solution to health problems but assists and facilitates in laying the foundation of a health system that is governed by the people at the community level.[5] Maybe this concept of CBHPs is too “communist” for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP)?

But the CBHPs have long been recognized even by the United Nations (UN). In the late 1970s, CBHPs were institutionalized globally following an international conference on primary health care organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). That conference officially recognized the role of paraprofessionals or auxiliary health workers in lieu of physicians in the rapid extension of health services in the Third World. They were to play a key role in achieving universal access to health services.[6] In fact, CBHPs in the Philippines were recognized by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) as among the most “innovative social organization and practices of the South.”

Lack of human resources for health

CBHPs and medical volunteers play a crucial role in the Philippines where there has been a noticeable trend of outward migration of doctors, nurses, midwives, therapists, and other medical professionals. From 1992 to 2006, the country has already deployed 115,871 professional nurses as overseas Filipino workers (OFWs); 2,945 professional midwives; and 1,247 medical doctors. The Philippines is the biggest “exporter” of nurses in the world.[7] The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) alone is losing as much as 500 nurses every year out of their 2,000 health workforce.[8]

These exported medical professionals tend to be well-trained, skilled, and experienced because of their specializations but are enticed to go abroad mainly due to economic factors. Nurses in the Philippines, for instance, are volunteers or casuals without plantilla positions and thus do not enjoy job security and other benefits. The Philippines has been mass producing nursing graduates every year not to attend to domestic health demands. A 2000 estimate, for example, said that 85 percent of the total demand for Filipino nurses are found abroad. Health workers employed in the country, meanwhile, endure low and variable wage rates that do not allow them to earn decent living wages.[9]

The obvious and immediate end-result of this phenomenon is a shortage in health professionals to meet the country’s own requirements. One indicator is the health professional to patient ratio. In some hospitals, one nurse attends to as much as 60 patients[10], which have implications on the quality of health services. A separate report claimed that the nurse to patient ratio in some government hospitals in the Philippines even reached 1:100 while the international standard is pegged at only 1:4.[11]

Meanwhile, processed data from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) online database show that there is only one doctor for every 2,000 Filipinos and one nurse/midwife for every 167. The WHO said that countries with fewer than 2.5 health care professionals (physicians, nurses, and midwives) per 1,000 people failed to achieve adequate coverage rates for selected primary health care interventions as prioritized by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework.[12]

Consequently, the 2007 Philippines Midterm Progress Report on the MDGs shows that based on the country’s current pace, the 2015 deadline on health-related targets will not be achieved. As of 2006, the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births was pegged at 162. The MDG target is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio to 52. Meanwhile, access to reproductive health care was pegged at 50.6 percent while the UN goal is 80 percent access.[13]

Government neglect, double injustice

The exodus of Filipino health professionals is reflective of the backward state of the Philippine economy and aggravated by wrong policies and priorities of past and present governments. The export of labor including medical professionals has been a flawed government policy since the Marcos years to provide jobs and generate dollars for the economy. In recent years, government has even intensified the export of health workers such as through the 2008 ratification the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), which supposedly guarantees access for Filipino nurses and caregivers to the Japanese health labor market.

These policies combine with total government neglect to provide basic social services including health. At an average of 1.8 percent national budget allocation since 2001, the Arroyo administration has allocated the smallest portion of the country’s budget for health services among all post-Marcos governments.[14] Actual spending is even worse. In 2008 (latest available data), public spending for health comprised only 1.2 percent of total spending (while debt servicing for principal and interest accounted for 47.6 percent).

Lack of public health services has forced many Filipinos to rely on their own. In a 2009 survey, Sun Life of Canada found out that 76 percent of Filipinos are concerned about paying for health treatment and an overwhelming 85 percent rely on their own savings when they get sick.[15] But because of poverty, medical needs are largely not met as indicated by the alarming national health statistics

Official poverty statistics show that there are 27.6 million poor Filipinos or 32.9 percent of the total population,[16] although independent estimates such as IBON’s claim that as high as 8 to 9 out of every 10 Filipinos do not meet decent living standards.

The situation is more severe and more felt in the countryside, where an estimated two out of three poor Filipinos live. These are the people that CBHPs serve in remote barangays and sitios where government services such as health are absent.

Thus, by arresting and torturing the 43 health workers, the Arroyo administration and its armed forces have twice committed a grave injustice – first against the victims and their families, and second against the countless poor people long neglected by government and that these health workers serve. ###

Sources, references, and notes   


[1] Galvez Tan, Jaime Z. (2004), “The brain drain phenomenon and its implications for health: 10 strategic solutions for action by Filipino leaders”, p. 5, paper read at the International Conference on the Medical Workforce sponsored by the United States Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), Washington DC, 4-7 Oct. 2004

[2] Based on 1992-2006 (latest available data) cumulative OFW deployment per skill and per country as compiled by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA 

[3] Council for Health and Development website, http://www.chdphilippines.org/about.php 

[4] __________ (2001), “Community-based health programs”, p. 7, Examples of Innovative Social Organizations and Practices of the South”,  Vol. 6, UNDP Special Unit for South-South Cooperation

[5] Ibid., p. 6

[6] Ibid., pp. 3-5

[7] Lorenzo, Fe Marilyn E., RN, DrPH et al. (2005), Migration of health workers: Country case study Philippines, Institute of Health Policy and Development Studies, National Institute of Health, University of the Philippines, pp. 14, 21, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2005 

[8] Op. cit., Galvez Tan (2004)

[9] Op. cit., Lorenzo (2005), 18-19

[10] Ibid., p. 44

[11] Makilan, Aubrey SC (2005), “Poor pay, working conditions are driving health professionals abroad”, Special report (last of three parts), Bulatlat.com, Vol. V No. 43, 4-10 Dec. 2005, http://www.bulatlat.com/news/5-43/5-43-poor.htm

[12] World Health Organization Statistical Information System, Human resources for health, WHO website, http://www.who.int/whosis/indicators/compendium/2008/3hwo/en/index.html

[13] __________ (2007) “Philippines Midterm Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals”, p. 15

[14] IBON Features (2010), “Violations of economic, social rights severe under Arroyo administration”, Bulatlat.com, 12 Dec. 2009, http://www.bulatlat.com/main/2009/12/12/violations-of-economic-social-rights-severe-under-arroyo-administration/

[15] Dumlao, Doris C. (2010) “Most Filipinos have nothing to leave their children, study shows”, Philippine Daily Inquirer, INQUIRER.net website, 6 Feb. 2010 http://business.inquirer.net/money/breakingnews/view/20100206-251545/Most-Filipinos-have-nothing-to-leave-their-children-study-shows

[16] National Statistical Coordination Board, Philippine Poverty Statistics, NSCB website, http://www.nscb.gov.ph/poverty/2006_05mar08/table_2.asp