Free the ‘Morong 43” say Canadian lawyers

by Filipino Post

CANADA — Canadian lawyers have joined calls to free 43 health workers arrested and detained in the Philippines on suspicion that they are communist rebels  from the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

Stressing the charges against the detainees are “ trumped up and the evidence against them fabricated to ensure false convictions”, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) has written a letter  to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to free the so called “Morong 43”.

“LRWC is further of the opinion that the charges against the 43 health care workers (illegal possession of firearms and explosives and violation of the Commission on Elections gun ban) are not sustainable and cannot result in bona fides convictions before a properly constituted court because of tainted evidence, denial of rights to timely access to counsel, due process and a fair trial and illegal treatment during arrest and imprisonment,” Vancouver lawyer Gail Davidson said.
“NGOs around the world have expressed the opinion that the charges against the 43 healthcare workers are trumped up and the evidence against them fabricated to ensure false convictions and have called for their unconditional release… LRWC—as a result of our own investigations—agrees with this assessment,” said Davidson, who founded LRWC  in 2000, in the letter to Aquino and De Lima.

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is a committee of over 200 Canadian lawyers who seek to improve human rights around the world by protecting human rights’ defenders and the rule of law.

Davidson said their Canadian investigation concurred with the assessment of other non-government organizations and Church groups that the Morong 43’s case is a hoax.

The LRWC investigations included: a visit on September 20, 2010 to the prisoners, interviews with legal counsel, a review of the recommendations and conclusions by other human rights organizations about the mal fides of the arrest, detention, treatment and about the charges themselves and a review of the international law bonding on the Philippines and relevant to the issues.

“For example, alleged statements by the five people still held separately (that they are members of the New People’s Army) appear inadmissible by virtue of the illegal treatment used to obtain the statements which available reports indicated included torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, denial of access to lawyers, bribery and intimidation,” she told media in Manila recently.

The 43 workers came from Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, where they had been detained since their arrest last February 6 at the Morong  farmhouse of doctor Melecia Velmonte, chair of the Community Medicine Development Foundation (Commed) and an infectious disease specialist.

The workers were allegedly conducting a bomb-making training, according to the military which conducted the raids.
Relatives and non-government organizations associated with the workers have repeatedly denied the arrested men and women were members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Part of the Philippines (CPP).

They also slammed the military for what it said was the illegal arrest and torture of the workers.
At present, 38 of the detainees have been transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City while the five have chosen to remain at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.

The Canadian letter was sent just before the Philippines Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a 2007 anti-terror law, which Manila enacted to bolster a U.S.-backed campaign against al-Qaida-linked militants
Critics said the court decision reasserts the Filipino definition of terrorism which is too broad and could cover legitimate dissent like labor strikes, anti-government demonstrations and even daring stunts by Greenpeace activists who barge into ships and power plants.

The law allows detention of suspected terrorists without charge for three days and their rendition to other countries. It also includes punishment for mistaken arrests and abuses.

The National Alliance for human rights in the Philippines, Karapatan, assailed the latest Supreme Court ruling affirming the constitutionality of the Human Security Act of 2007 as “paving way for more human rights violations.”
Karapatan was one of the petitioners against the law and said it plans to appeal.

Karapatan acting secretary-general Jigs Clamor said the detention of political prisoners like the Morong 43 health workers who were illegally searched, arrested, tortured and detained by the military, will continue because of the new ruling.
“If violations were rampant even before the  ruling, then it would definitely worsen with a strengthened legal framework by which state authorities could suppress civil and political liberties. This is paving way for more violation of human rights,” Clamor said.

Earlier Omega Bula, Executive Minister of the United Church’s Justice, Global and Ecumenical Relations Unit called on the Government of Canada to condemn the arrest of the 43 health workers,

“We call on the Government of Canada to help safeguard the future of democracy in the Philippines by putting pressure on the Philippine government to take immediate and concrete steps to implement measures to stop and prevent election-related violence and human rights abuses. (The Filipino Post)

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