Human Rights lawyers from 10 countries visit Morong 43, hear of squalid jail conditions

International rights lawyers outside maximum security jail.

[The Morong 43 are health workers who were arrested at a community health care training seminar in Rizal province, and were falsely accused of being members of the New People’s Army.-ed]

“It’s amazing to see how strong you are despite everything that had happened to you…It’s fantastic. I am moved and it has given me more encouragement to take your case,” Michael Gooding, a lawyer from United Kingdom, told the Morong 43.

By RONALYN V. OLEA, Bulatlat.com, September 22,2010

MANILA — They came to express their solidarity with the Morong 43, but were instead inspired and moved by the militancy of the detained health workers.  Fifteen lawyers from Haiti, France, Costa Rica, United Kingdom, India, Sri Lanka, Belgium, Canada, Pakistan and Indonesia visited the Morong 43 detainees at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, Sept. 20.

The 43 health workers were arrested by 300 combined elements of the police and military on Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal while conducting a health skills training. The Morong 43 were held in military captivity at the Camp Capinpin for almost three months before they were transferred to a regular detention facility at Camp Bagong Diwa.

The 15 lawyers, meanwhile, were delegates to the recently concluded Fifth Conference of Lawyers in Asia and the Pacific (Colap V) held in Manila.  “We are here to send solidarity greetings from almost 300 lawyers. The whole world is now watching your case,” Jeanne Mirer, president of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) told the Morong 43 detainees. Delegates of the Colap V unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the immediate release and dropping of charges against the Morong 43.

On Sept. 15, the IADL officers and members held a dialogue with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. De Lima vowed to review the case of the Morong 43.

The lawyers met the male detainees at a small chapel inside the high-risk detention facility at Camp Bagong Diwa. Later, they went to see the female detainees at the receiving area which also serves as the kitchen of the prison cells.

Dr. Julie Caguiat, spokeswoman of the Free the 43 Health Workers! Alliance, narrated the human rights violations committed against the Morong 43.

Prison Conditions

Gary Liberal, a registered nurse and one of the detainees, said their regular sunning has been suspended or three months. Some—the aged and ill—were allowed to get sun exposure, only once. The male detainees are obviously pale.

The 15 male detainees occupy three cells, five in each cell. There are two beds and a comfort room in each cell. Considered as a high-risk detention facility, visitors of the male detainees are subjected to strip search.

Jo Dereymaeker, a lawyer from Belgium who was able to visit the cell of the female detainees, said the place is not fit to live in. The cell can only accommodate 12 individuals. Twenty-two women detainees, excluding Carina Judilyn Oliveros who has been under hospital arrest, are cramped up inside the cell which measures ten meters by six meters.

Oliveros gave birth to her first child at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in July. After three weeks, she was sent back to jail with her son. After a few days, a court order was issued allowing her to breastfeed her child at the PGH for three months.

Ventilation is not so good. At the female detention facility, small holes in the wall along the hallway serve as windows.

Asked about their hygiene, Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor said there is a problem with the sewerage. There is one toilet for the 22 women detainees. The septic tank has been overflowing and they had to clean up the feces the whole day the other week.

Only P50 (approximately a dollar) is allotted for the food of every prisoner per day.

Angela Doloricon, one of the Morong 43, said since they held a noise barrage to protest the court order sending Oliveros and her newborn son to jail, raw vegetables, fruit and other uncooked food have been banned from being brought inside the jail.

Franco Romeroso, one of the Morong 43 from Cavite province, said medicines donated by Bishop Broderick Pabillo have been held by the jail guards at the infirmary. Bishop Pabillo visited the Morong 43 on Sept. 19.

Dr. Alex Montes, also one of the Morong 43, said the jail guards are justifying the withholding of the medicines by saying that the detainees might commit suicide. “We don’t have that kind of inclination. We are health workers. We do not want to destroy ourselves,” Montes said.

Bishop Pabillo gave them medicines for chronic illnesses and multivitamins.

Montes said jail authorities told them that if ever any of them would need to be hospitalized, they need to secure a court order. This policy, Montes said, is not being applied to everyone as affluent detainees are brought to the hospital at the slightest of reasons.

Doloricon said Mercy Castro, a pregnant detainee who will give birth this October, was not allowed to have her medical checkup despite a court order.

Castro said jail authorities flatly told her no one was available to escort her to the hospital. When she asked to reschedule her checkup, the jail authorities said her lawyers need to ask for another court order.

High Spirits

The mood was almost festive at the female detention facility. After introducing themselves to their visitors, the female detainees shouted in chorus: “We are the Morong 43!”

Then they sang “Martsa ng Bayan” (March of the People) with Jane Balleta, granddaughter of the late labor leader Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran playing the guitar. Martsa ng Bayan is a progressive song popularized during the Marcos dictatorship.

“If serving the people is a crime, so be it. We are not daunted. They could never dampen our spirits…Behind these bars, our hearts and minds are free,” Maria Elena Serato, one of the detainees, said tearfully.

Serato added that when freed, they will go back to the communities they left behind. “We remain steadfast to serve the people with dignity,” Serato said to the applause of the foreign visitors.

Despite the heavy rain, the female detainees sang three more songs, “Babae” (Women), “Awit ng Pag-asa” (Song of Hope) and “Pahayagan” (Newspaper). The female detainees also taught their visitors the Morong 43 chant.

Moved

“I am so moved by your spirit and camaraderie. We are going to take your spirit with us wherever we are,” Mirer told the female detainees.

Roland Weyl, dean of the Paris Bar Association and first vice president of the IADL, said their support for the Morong 43 is not only because of humanitarian reasons. “We know that by fighting for you, you are fighting for us.”

“It’s amazing to see how strong you are despite everything that had happened to you…It’s fantastic. I am moved and it has given me more encouragement to take your case,” Michael Gooding, a lawyer from United Kingdom, said.

“I’m very proud to be an Asian woman like you. I think you are struggling for all of us. We will be with you until you are free,” Nimalka Fernando from Sri Lanka said.

“It’s amazing to see that amid your conditions, your militancy and the understanding of the work still to be done is clear,” Luis Roberto Zamora Bolanos from Costa Rica said.

Bolanos also praised the female detainees for providing services inside the jail. Every Monday and Thursday, they conduct medical checkup for other female detainees. They also taught the other detainees how to take vital signs and how to prepare herbal medicines.

Gail Davidson, a lawyer from Canada, told the Morong 43 detainees that she would write a letter to the Philippine government and to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention about their plight.

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