By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — After President Benigno S. Aquino III granted amnesty to rebel soldiers, relatives and supporters pressed anew for the release of the Morong 43 and other political prisoners in the Philippines.
The 43 health workers were arrested in Morong, Rizal on Feb. 6 while conducting a health-skills training. Charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives, the 43 were detained at a military camp for almost three months. Thirty-eight of them have been transferred to a regular detention facility at Camp Bagong Diwa since May. Five have remained under military custody.
“We express our support in granting amnesty for all rebel soldiers, but we are dismayed by the inaction of the president on the plight of almost 400 political prisoners who, like the mutineers, fought the corrupt and repressive Arroyo regime,” said Roneo Clamor, acting secretary-general of human-rights group Karapatan and husband of Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, one of the Morong 43.
Clamor said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima already submitted her recommendations on the case of the Morong 43 to the president. “But up to now, there is no action from Malacañang,” said Clamor.
In an interview over DZUP this afternoon, Evelyn Montes, wife of Dr. Alexis Montes, also one of the Morong 43, said that she and the other relatives have been seeking a dialogue with Aquino even before he assumed the presidency. Montes said they went to Aquino’s residence on Times Street in Quezon City and to Malacanang palace but never had the chance to meet Aquino They also sent three letters to the president.
“Until now, we have yet to receive any notification from Malacanang regarding our request for a dialogue,” Ofel Balleta, mother of Jane Balleta, also one of the health workers detained, said in an interview over DZUP.
Balleta said the relatives will go to Malacanang again tomorrow, Thursday, to follow up on their request.
“The Morong 43 and all political prisoners are victims of injustice under the Arroyo administration. President Aquino must not prolong their suffering and injustice by releasing them now,” Clamor said.
Meanwhile, the international support for the 43 health workers continues to mount.
In a letter dated Oct. 12, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) called on Aquino “to move with dispatch to release the 43 health workers who have now been held for more than eight months.”
The IADL is an international NGO of democratic lawyers with consultative status in Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It has individual and organizational members in 90 countries and actively intervenes and engages the UN in Geneva, New York, Vienna and Paris. It regularly participates in the sessions of the UN Human Rights Council.
“We understand that the Justice Secretary has completed her review and has forwarded it to you for action. While we do not know what the Justice Secretary has concluded, we know from our meeting with her, that based on her work as head of the Human Rights Commission, she was aware of the facts of the case and the problems … regarding their arrest and detention. She also acknowledged the policy of prior administrations of legal harassment which the workers claim they have been subjected to. We, therefore, hope that she has recommended that the prosecutions be abandoned and that you will agree to this request, ” IADL president Jeanne Mirer said. (Bulatlat.com)