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CONTINUED DETENTION OF MORONG 43 SMACKS OF MILITARY RULE – PIMENTELSenate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. today said the Arroyo government has no moral authority to denounce the repression of human rights by the military junta in Myanmar as long as it tolerates a similar undemocratic practice in the Philippines as exemplified by the arbitrary detention of 43 health workers.
Pimentel said the arrest and incarceration of the so-called Morong 43 despite weak evidence of criminal charges against them, betrays the blatant disregard of their civil liberties and for the rule of law and due process by the administration.
“In the eyes of the public, these people are innocent. And because of the Gestapo-manner by which they were rounded up and detained and being reportedly maltreated, the question in everybody’s mind is are we now under military rule?” the opposition lawmaker from Mindanao said.
He decried that the order of the civilian courts to present the Morong 43 in response to a habeas corpus petition filed by their lawyers, as well as a similar directive from the Commission on Human Rights which is investigating allegations of torture committed by their military captors has been ignored.
And when another court order was issued for the transfer of 38 of the 43 suspects from Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal to the Camp Crame custodial center in Quezon City, they were shooed away by the Philippine National Police on the flimsy excuse that there was no more room for them there.
Pimentel said Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, presumably acting from an instruction of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, did right in calling on the military rulers of Myanmar to stop the repression of the political rights of the Burmese people and to free Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders from house arrest or military detention.
“But where is our moral right to criticize Myanmar, as fellow member-state within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, when the fact is our government continues to carry out similar curtailment of the civil liberties of the people as vividly shown by the denial of the right of the Morong 43 to due process?” he said.
The 43 health workers were arrested by government troops on Feb. 6 in a rest house in Morong, Rizal while purportedly attending a seminar on community health service. The AFP claimed the arrested health workers were members of the New People’s Army but this was vehemently denied by the suspects. Later, the military revised its claim by saying only five of them were confirmed NPA members.
Pimentel said even assuming that some of the arrested suspects were communist rebels, they could not be arrested by the military right away unless there was an arrest warrant or they were caught in the act of committing rebellious and other criminal acts.
“Under the law, you cannot just arrest any person without an arrest warrant except when he was caught flagrante delicto or in the act of committing a crime,” he said.
He further pointed out that mere membership in a communist organization is not a valid ground for arrest specially with the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Act or Republic Act 1700 in the year 1993.
Pimentel said the suspects, at the very least, should be entitled to bail in the absence of strong evidence against them.
He said that while the military may be taking the complaints of the Morong-43 for granted, that is a patently wrong attitude because that would not only unnecessarily cause sufferings on the suspects but also cause a lot of trouble for the government and the nation.
Pimentel cited reports that Rep. Howard Berman, chairman of the United States House committee on foreign affairs, is poised to look into the plight of the Morong 43.