Summary and Current Status
On International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2010, Filipino President H.E. Benigno C. Aquino III ordered the release of medical doctors Merry Mia-Clamor and Alexis Montes, nurse Gary Liberal, and 40 other community health workers, who had been held in pre-trial detention since February 6, 2010. President Aquino also ordered the Filipino Department of Justice to withdraw the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives filed against the 43 individuals before the Morong Regional Trial Court (Branch 78). Dr. Mia-Clamor and the other female detainees in the group were released from Camp Bangong Diwa in Taguig City on December 17, 2010. Dr. Montes, Mr. Liberal, and the other men in the group were released the following day.
Dr. Montes is a medical doctor and a member of the health ministry of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) and of COMMED.
At 6 a.m. on February 6, 2010, 43 Filipino health workers reportedly were frisked, blindfolded, and detained during a raid conducted jointly by approximately 300 heavily armed men from the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Morong in the province of Rizal. The military alleges that the 43 health workers (26 of whom are women) are rebel medics of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, who were undergoing training in “combat life-saving techniques and bomb-making.”
The detainees, commonly referred to as the “Morong 43,” initially were taken to the AFP’s Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, which is not a regular detention facility. During their first two days in military custody, they reportedly were held incommunicado without access to legal counsel. In defiance of a court order, the AFP did not bring the 43 health workers before a court of law until 9 days after their initial detention. Subsequently, criminal charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives were filed in the Morong Regional Trial Court (Branch 78) against all of the detainees. According to Philippine law, this is a non-bailable offense.
The detainees, their lawyers, and supporters have denied the charges leveled against them. They assert that, at the time of their detention, the 43—two medical doctors, a registered nurse, two midwives, two health educators, and 36 volunteer community health workers—were participating in a week-long First Responders Training co-sponsored by two non-governmental organizations, the Community Medicine Foundation Incorporated (COMMED) and the Council for Health and Development (CHD) at the farm of Dr. Melecia Velmonte. Reportedly, Dr. Velmonte is a respected infectious disease specialist who is a consultant at the Philippine General Hospital, and her farm is a regular venue for medical health trainings that attract community workers, hospital staff, and academicians. It is alleged that the AFP and PNP planted guns and ammunition in the training facility as evidence against the Morong 43. The validity of the search warrant, issued by Judge Cesar Mangrobang of the Cavite Regional Trial Court, also has been questioned because it lists Mario Condes, who is unknown to the detainees and to Dr. Velmonte, as the subject of the search and did not indicate the exact address of the farm.
Dr. Montes reportedly told his son that, during his interrogation at Camp Capinpin, he was repeatedly hit on the chest and subjected to electrocution and to a simulation of nearly falling off a cliff. The military reportedly accused him of being a member of the NPA’s special unit for assassinations.
On February 15, 2010, Dr. Montes testified at a hearing before the Court of Appeals on the writ of habeas corpus petition filed by families of the Morong 43. According to a Manila Standard newspaper account, he told the court “their constitutional rights were violated as they were subjected to torture through prolonged and repetitive tactical interrogation, denied their right to counsel, and were held incommunicado.”