March 5, 2010
Lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), representing the 43 health workers illegally arrested and detained in Rizal who are collectively known as the “Morong 43”, today blocked an attempt by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to have them arraigned before the Morong Regional Trial Court.
According to Atty. Julius Garcia Matibag of the NUPL, the 43 health workers cannot be arraigned because the habeas corpus petition filed in their behalf is still pending before the Court of Appeals.
When they were arrested last Feb. 6 in Morong, Rizal on the basis of a defective warrant, the 43 health workers were conducting a Community First Responders’ Health Training sponsored by the Community Medicine Development Foundation (Commed) and the Council for Health and Development (CHD). They were hauled off to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, where they were held in custody for more than 36 hours without charges, and where they are still detained. They were not made to go through proper inquest proceedings, but are now facing charges of violation of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) gun ban and illegal possession of firearms and explosives, which their lawyers say are all based on planted evidence.
The military and the police have made the sweeping accusation that the 43 are members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who were attending a “bomb-making seminar”.
On Feb. 17, the lawyers for the “Morong 43” submitted to the Court of Appeals a petition for habeas corpus, demanding the immediate release of the 43. The Court of Appeals has yet to decide on the said petition.
Earlier today, the “Morong 43” detainees were brought to the Morong Regional Trial Court to be arraigned.
The timely intervention of their lawyers prevented the arraignment from taking place. The pending petition for habeas corpus formed the basis for the lawyers’ opposition to the arraignment of the 43.
“They cannot be arraigned because there are still pending questions on the manner of their arrest and detention,” Matibag said.
The lawyers for the “Morong 43” also questioned the entry of appearance of Atty. Cyrus Jurado as counsel for three of the detainees — Valentino Paulino, Cherily Tawagon, and Eleanor Carandang — who had been made to execute counter-affidavits stating that they are NPA members and denying that they had been physically tortured or sexually abused. The counter-affidavits, which they were made to execute earlier this week, contradict the affidavits attached to a complaint filed by the lawyers of the 43 before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) last Feb. 25.
“How can Attorney Jurado represent the three when they all already have lawyers?” Matibag said. That is unethical.”
The AFP also filed a motion to transfer the detention of the 43 — except for Paulino, Tawagon, and Carandang — to the Philippine Natinal police’s (PNP) Camp Crame in Quezon City. The lawyers of the 43 agreed to the transfer to Camp Crame while at the same time objecting to the retention of Paulino, Tawagon, and Carandang at Camp Capinpin.
The parties were ordered to submit necessary pleadings and objections, including the preferred tentative date for resetting of arraignment.