14 April, 2011
Pursuing their campaign to defend Cordillera health workers as part of their continuing assertion of the people’s right to health, CHESTCORE in partnership with the UP Student Council and UP Kasarian Gender Studies Program held a forum entitled “Stop the Harassment of Cordillera Health Workers!” last April 14, 2011 at the University of the Philippines College of Social Sciences Audio-Visual Room.
A major highlight in the activity is the sharing of testimonies of health workers. Rosalinda Suyam, the Networking and Advocacy Desk Coordinator of CHESTCORE claimed that she has been a victim of harassment since 2007 in Gawaan, Balbalan, Kalinga when they went to check the work of the community health workers and that they were subjected to a three-hour interrogation by the elements of the AFP who implied that they are members of the NPA despite them showing official documents regarding their activity.
The latest and most alarming case in the Cordillera is the death threats received by one of their staff, Milagros K. Ao-wat thru her cell phone. “….,?..!Gusto mo bang sa kutson o sa malamig na lupa. Sabagay kads andyan naman sina Charlie, Daniel, liyap at marami pa. Tsek tsek tsek!” reads one of the text messages sent to her. “At first I was stunned, but then the numbness turned into anger! Is this the prize I get for giving my self to the cause of the nameless poor and marginalized people? ” exclaimed Ao-wat in reaction to these death threats.
Timpuyog dagiti Mannalon ti Kalinga, in a Statement of Solidarity read in the program affirmed the relevance of CHESTCORE’s work in saying that “State officials should be ashamed. They have not been able to ensure that government health services reach our mountain communities. And they persecute the people who have filled this gap! If the state cannot help us citizens to survive, then it should at least stop threatening our survival.”
Ma. Teresa Quinawayan of the Council for Health Development and one of the Morong 43, who came in behalf of the group to attest to the realities of such harassments through their experience in the hands of the military, stated firmly that their freedom is not the end of their fight. “Those behind our illegal arrest and detention must be held accountable so that this won’t happen anymore, not only to community health workers, but to any Filipino”, in citing the legal case they filed against then Pres. Gloria Macpagal-Arroyo and other state officials responsible for violating their rights.
Analyzing these accounts, Dr. Erlinda Palaganas, a member of the Board of Directors of CHESTCORE, emphasized that even with P-Noy’s administration and with the AFP’s new Internal Peace Security Plan Oplan Bayanihan, the safety of development workers and community leaders is not guaranteed. In sponsoring the activity, CHESTCORE said it is an integral part of their service to expose and denounce the human right violations they are being subjected to, along with the many communities they serve because they fear that the continuous harassments will lead to further deterioration of the people’s health situation.
Key partners in CHESTCORE’s work who gave heart-warming support to the institution presented how CHESTCORE has helped advance their work. These include the Mobile Nursing Clinic of Saint Louis University, Association of Cordillera Medical Students, Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera, Cordillera Women’s Education, Action and Resource Center, Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, Hustisya, and Karapatan. The Kilusang Mayo Uno also passed a resolution in support of community health workers during their recently held national congress here in Baguio City.
The University of the Philippines Baguio Alumni Association said that some of their students and alumni who have became staff of the institution inspire the rest of the community through their courage and continued commitment to their work and service to the people.
CHESTCORE was also uplifted by the support expressed by the Association of Women Religious of Baguio-Benguet and Tanggol Bayi. In thanking all of these groups, Executive Director Mia Liguigan, said that they will strengthen resolve in continuing this campaign and to continue to render health services even in amidst of harassment.
Following this forum, CHESTCORE also hosted “Healthy Conversations” (A Dinner Plate) in solidarity with Community Health Workers at the Granary Function Hall within the Resurrection Compound, along Magsaysay Avenue.