The illegal arrest and continued detention of the “Morong 43” in a military facility represent serious threat to the civil liberties of the Filipino people. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) follows with grave concern the shifting accusations of the military against the health workers, the conflicting positions of government authorities on the legitimacy of the arrest and detention, and the seeming lack of regard of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for human rights and the rule of law.
We are deeply worried about the wellbeing of the health workers in Camp Capinpin. We share the sentiments of other human rights groups that the presence of the detainees in a military camp makes them vulnerable to further abuses, psychological tortures, threats, and intimidation. Sustained exposure to psychosomatic strains may eventually break the fortitude and resistance of the Morong 43 into admitting under duress the accusations made against them.
The fact that the necessary defense against torture and human rights abuses has been rendered null by Court of Appeals (CA) elevates the concerns of the Church on the delivery of justice for the accused. Even assuming the legal correctness of the “Ilagan Doctrine” invoked by CA in denying the writ of habeas corpus to the detainees, we are still troubled by the reality that the Court has just, in effect, sanitized and legitimized the violations committed by the military against the health workers.
However, CA’s decision in itself does not remove the taint of an unlawful arrest and detention. The three ruling justices failed to recognize the nature of the arrest, which is deemed illegal because of a defective search warrant and the glaring contradictions in the military officers’ statements.
Similarly, the credibility of the inquest proceedings and the subsequent filing of charges are in doubt because the accused were denied counsel during interrogation, and the fact that statements or confession obtained during an illegal arrest are not admissible.
The issue is no longer about the Morong 43’s involvement or noninvolvement with the NPA nor about the veracity of torture claims of the detainees. The issue is a fundamental one about the importance of government institutions maintaining an objective distance and observing the rule of law in its operations.
Instead of calling for an end to CHR’s inquiry on human rights violations committed against the Morong 43, the AFP should support the initiative as concerned groups are only trying to shed light on the unlawful activities taking place in military operations.
The Church acknowledges the armed forces’ efforts and difficulties in putting an end to communist resistance, but under no circumstances can state agencies deal with citizens in any manner as they please.
Most of the Church’s development programs and ministries are community-based. Our clergy and laity work in rural areas and empower far-flung communities. Now, we could not help but fear that one day our efforts to help the poor and the marginalized will be perceived as threats, and that we may also be branded as insurgents.
This is the moment to press for answers and to demonstrate that there is a growing public demand, including from the Church, to restore the integrity of the government institutions—the military, the police, the civil courts, and the Department of Justice—and remind them of their mandate and fundamental principle, which is to impartially protect and defend the human rights.
For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines,
+NEREO P. ODCHIMAR, D.D.
Bishop of Tandag
7 April, 2010