CHR holds Arroyo responsible for HR abuses on Morong 43

By DateLine Philippines

The Commission on Human Rights ordered President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her security officials, military and police authorities responsible for the continued detention of 43 health workers to answer allegations of human rights violations.

In a February 26 order released today, the CHR asked the respondents “to file their answer to the complaint within an extendibale period of 10 days from receipt of the order.”

The families and relatives of the 43 detainees filed on Feb. 26 a complaint at the CHR, holding Arroyo as chiefly responsible under the principle of “command responsibility” for the “blatant disregard and violations on the constitutional rights of the 43 medical workers.”

Aside from Arroyo, the CHR also ordered a formal response from Gen. Victor Ibrado, Armed Forces chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit, Philippine Army commanding general; Lt. Gen. Roland Detabali, Army Southern Luzon Command commanding general; Col. Aurelio Baladbad, 202nd Infantry Brigade commander; Lt. Col. Jaime Abawag, 16th Infantry Batallion; and P/Supt. Marion Balonglong of the Rizal Provincial Police.

The CHR also wants an answer from State Prosecutor II Romeo Senson who conducted the inquest proceedings and allegedly denied the detainees of their right to legal counsel, as well as senior assistant chief State Prosecutor Severino Gana who signed Senson’s recommendation.

The commission set the hearing at 9 a.m. on March 18 at the CHR office, UP Complex in Diliman Quezon City. The respondents would be cited in contempt if they fail to appear before the commission.

The army and police custodians of the detainees are also ordered to present the health workers at the hearing.

Their physical appearance, according to the CHR, is meant to affirm under oath the contents of their affidavits submitted to the commission.

The detainees will likewise answer clarificatory questions on facts as alleged in their complaint.

In an earlier interview, CHR chair Leila de Lima said the order was in response to the CHR’s own investigations that confirmed violations of several human rights, including psychological torture, illegal detention, and right to legal counsel, among others.

Detainees also complained of physical torture, the CHR said.

The human rights commissioners said that in addition to filing their answers, respondent officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are “strictly ordered” to explain the legal basis for the continued detention of the 43 health workers in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, “instead of being transferred to a PNP detention facility.”

The CHR said that military and police authorities must submit a detailed list and description of all properties and evidence seized.

They must also “explain why the personal properties and effects of the complainants not subject to confiscation and not illegal in nature were not surrendered to their counsel or relatives.”

The commission also said that army and police officers must “strictly and unconditionally observe, follow and implement” the provisions of Republic Act No. 7438 (the Rights of Persons, Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation).

The CHR said officers must grant access at all hours of day and night to families, relatives, counsels, medical personnel, and priests of the complainants without any restrictions.

On Feb. 6, a 300-strong army and police contingent arrested 43 persons in a house in Brgy. Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal.

The 43 arrested said they were health workers undergoing health training. The military and police tagged the 43 as New People’s Army (NPA) rebels and charged them with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

The day before the arrest, police authorities obtained a search warrant issued by Judge Cesar Mangrobang of the Regional Trial Court in Imus, Cavite. The judge allowed the police to look for a certain Mario Condes at Brgy. Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal.

According to the complaint filed by the families, the search warrant did not specify the house or land where the warrant would be presented.

The CHR said Mangrobang should explain whether he was informed that the search warrant against “Condes was going to be used against the complainants as suspected members of the New People’s Army.”

Condes was not in the official list of attendees and was not among the medical workers who were detained.

The day after the arrest, Senson conducted the inquest on the 43 health workers while their legal counsels were barred from entering Camp Capinpin.

In his Feb. 8 resolution, Senson said he performed a head count and he just stated that the workers should be charged with illegal possession of firearms.

The human rights commissioners said in their order that State Prosecutor Senson is directed to explain his answer regarding the alleged deprivation of the right to counsel of the complainants and to provide a detailed description of the manner of his conduct of the inquest proceedings.

“As it goes without directing, the AFP and PNP officers in charge of the detention and custody of the complainants, and all low-ranking officers and enlisted men under their command, are enjoined from committing the prohibited acts of torture, both physical and mental,” the CHR said.

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