DOCTORS AND NURSES SEIZED BY THE PHILIPPINES ARMY –health organisations demand their release

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The Philippines Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) on Sunday called for the immediate release of two doctors, a nurse, a midwife and other health workers (CHWs) arbitrarily arrested and illegally detained by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

‘Contrary to allegations made by Colonel Aurelio Baladbad of the 202nd Infantry Brigade, the people they are holding are long-time medical personnel who are well-known to their patients and the communities they serve,’ declared Dr Geneve E Rivera, HEAD Secretary-General.

Dr Alex Montes of Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED) and Dr Merry Mia of the Council for Health and Development (CHD) were among those blindfolded and hauled to Camp Capinpin after elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Southern Luzon Command and the Rizal Philippine National Police forced their way into a private resthouse in Morong, Rizal early Saturday morning.

The two doctors have been working with their respective NGOs for many years.

Together with Gary Liberal, a nurse, Teresa Quinawayan, a midwife, and CHD staff members, they were conducting a health skills training with volunteers from various communities when they were arrested.

‘Colonel Baladbad is now accusing all 43 of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in order to justify their actions.

‘The AFP should prove their allegations instead of using bogus arrest warrants and planted evidence,’ said Dr Rivera.

HEAD strongly condemned military allegations that bomb-making materials, guns, and even a claymore mine were found under the beds of the participants during their raid.

Dr Rivera added: ‘The absurdity of the military’s story is confounding!

‘The AFP conveniently finds these so-called weapons after confiscating all of the personal belongings of the participants as well as the materials used for the training.

‘He (Baladbad) and his men should be reprimanded for gross abuse of authority and outright violations of basic human rights.’

Dr Melecia Velmonte, who owns the resthouse, is a respected consultant of the Philippine General Hospital for infectious diseases.

The place has three buildings and is a regular venue of health training courses.

Yet, the Armed Forces of the Philippines alleges that this is an ‘NPA training camp’.

The health group also denounced attempts by the military to link them and the Bayan Muna party-list group to the NPA.

Dr Rivera said: ‘It is obvious that the Arroyo regime is doing everything to discredit legal organisations that have been critical of its anti-people policies.

‘With such implicit consent, the worst forms of criminal behaviour are those of state security forces, who conduct illegal raids and arrests with impunity, and who make baseless accusations with wanton disregard for the rule of law.’

‘We demand an end to the abuses by the AFP, PNP, and the Arroyo regime. We demand the immediate release of our colleagues!’ concluded Dr Rivera.

Meanwhile, university students are fighting for their democratic rights.

A statement by the University Student Council, University of the Philippines-Diliman (UPD), issued last Saturday, said: ‘Contrary to the claims of the University of Philippines administration that Ms Charisse Bernadine Bañez is not qualified to sit as a Student Regent (SR), the University Student Council of UP Diliman (UPD-USC), asserts that Ms Bañez remains qualified and remains to be the Student Regent, unanimously mandated by the General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC), to represent the student body.

‘The UPD-USC further condemns to the highest level the manipulation of some members of the Board of Regents (BOR) and the Chancellor of UPLB (UP-Los Banos) in once again trying to render our SR incapacitated to discharge her duties as the representative of the students in the highest policy – and decision-making body in the University . . .

‘The vendetta of Chancellor Velasco against Ms Bañez is familiar to the students of UPLB. During the term of Ms Bañez, she has effectively exposed Chancellor Velasco as a conspirator behind the repression, harassment, and militarisation incidents in UPLB . . .

‘Clearly, this is not the first time that the Velasco administration attacked our student leaders in an attempt to abate student protests and the movement for democratic rights in the University . . .

‘Currently, even President Roman and the Malacanang appointees in the BOR have their own interests in making the SR position vacant.

‘They have currently cited the ratified CRSRS [student regent selection rules] to discredit our SR, but we must not forget that nine months ago, they had explicitly violated the same document when they kept our SR from representing us in the Board for two months.

‘They have proven to us that they can implement the rules when it suits them; they disregard the same rules when it is in conflict with their interests.

‘Their interests lie in the Directorship of the Philippine General Hospital and the micro-privatisation of PGH . . .

‘This move from the administration to discredit our SR is a curtailment of our right to genuine representation as they are aware that Ms Bañez does not have a successor and that the GASC shall not convene until April 2010 to select a new SR . . .

‘It is imperative for us to take our historic role of defending our student institutions. We are called once again to stand by our Student Regent and condemn this intervention from the Roman administration.

‘Our SR must discharge her duties of representing the students until the end of her term especially since fee increases and various anti-student policies in other campuses shall be decided upon.

‘Together, let us assert that UPLB Chancellor Velasco grant the application of Ms Banez for Residency, give back her rights and privileges as a student of the University, and stop the political persecution and harassment in UPLB.

‘With the firm resolve demonstrated by those who fought for the establishment of the OSR, we call on our fellow members of the General Assembly of Student Councils (GASC) to reaffirm the mandate we have given to Ms Banez.

‘We call on the broadest number of students in the entire University system to support the campaign to defend our SR from political persecution and attacks; to prove, once again, that measures meant to impede our democratic rights shall fail against the collective militancy of the students.

‘Stop political persecution in the University!

‘Reaffirm the mandate and Defend our Student Regent!

‘Fight for our right to be represented!’

• Crew on board the Hong Kong flagged vessel Mount Owen loading gypsum in the Port of Thevenard, South Australia threatened strike action last Thursday unless their US$37,000 leave payments are made before the ship returns to China.

The 23 seafarers threatened to stop the ship sailing from Australia but have now agreed to take the shipment to New Zealand, the last port of call before five crew leave the vessel and it returns to China.

ITF assistant co-ordinator Matt Purcell boarded the ship yesterday with the ITF (International Transport Workers Federation) blitz team and spoke to the crew who asked for help.

‘They said they wanted all leave paid when the ship arrived in Auckland, or they won’t get it at all.

‘They are getting ripped off. At first they were going to strike here. They’ve been on the vessel nine months. They’ve got the right to ask for the around US $37,000 wages owing.’

The Flinders port of Thevenard is 793km west of Adelaide, and 3km from the centre of Ceduna. Major export cargoes handled through the port include gypsum, grains, seeds and salt exports, and fertiliser.

The ITF Australia has blitzed ten South Australia ships in the last three days and found three in dispute over wages and conditions.