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Hope springs eternal for Morong 43

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
First Posted 17:14:00 11/29/2010

Filed Under: Human Rights, Military, Prison

MANILA, Philippines?Oscar Yaun, 48, looks at the small gray gate of the Metro Manila District Jail (MMDJ) in Bicutan, Taguig. He hopes that one day, he will see his sister, Yolanda, emerge from that door into freedom.

Yolanda is one of the 43 health workers detained in the facility, described by its jail warden, Mary Jane Clemente, as the cell for ?high-risk, high-profile? detainees.

Arrested in a raid by the military while attending a training with her fellow health professionals in Rizal in February this year, Yolanda has been detained since, first at the military camp in Camp Capinpin in the same province and, later, since May, at the detention facility for females in the MMDJ.

Yolanda, a midwife by profession, will turn 60 Tuesday, her very first birthday away from her family and behind bars.

?I hope they release my sister and her companions, soon. She did not do anything wrong,? Oscar said after visiting her on Monday along with their mother, 74-year-old Consolatres, who expressed the same hope for her daughter. ?My daughter is innocent, she?s just a midwife. . . . I hope she is freed soon; her father wants to see her, he is suffering from arthritis,? she told reporters in an interview after seeing Yolanda at the Taguig facility.

Visits at the facility are scheduled from Tuesdays to Sundays, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., but Clemente said they allowed Yolanda?s mother inside to bring food to her daughter because of her birthday.

The Yaun family?s visit coincided with the visit of Deputy Speaker and Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tanada III in the facility.

Oscar said he hopes the support of politicians will help the cause of the health workers, collectively known as the Morong 43, toward freedom.

A total of 23 female members of the Morong 43 were at the MMDJ facility for female detainees, but only 21 were present during Tanada?s visit as the other two ? Judilyn Oliveros and Mercy Castro?had just given birth, in July and October, respectively.

Tanada also visited the two at the Philippine General Hospital, where they were allowed to stay for six months while nursing their babies.

Tanada was allowed to talk with the detainees at the visiting area, but members of media were barred from conducting interviews.

Yolanda thanked the media who greeted her a happy birthday; the others just waved hello and goodbye.

The Quezon lawmaker said the health workers were in better condition than when they were in the military camp. While in the military camp, Tanada said, the detainees said they were snatched from their cells usually at 2 a.m. to undergo interrogation.

Now they sleep without interruption in their new detention cell. The health workers are not letting their guards down, choosing to stay in one cramped cell.

Clemente said the 23 female stay together in one cell, sleeping in triple-deck beds, when the ideal number for one cell for only five persons.

They are let out of their cell every day from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. for sunning and to play volleyball or badminton, she added.

Meals usually consist of fish, chicken or vegetable, or what the cooks can come up with the P50 per detainee/per day budget, Clemente said.

Being health workers, Clemente said the detainees have also helped in the first-aid treatment of other detainees in the facility such as those suffering from hypertension.

Nights are the ?most critical? moment, she said, when ?depression? usually strikes the health workers.

?Some of them cry out of depression, perhaps, it?s been 10 months,? Clemente said.

With the go-signal of the President, Tanada said he hopes Justice Secretary Leila de Lima will recommend the withdrawal of the charge against the Morong 43 so they can be reunited with their families this Christmas.

The court case can drag, Tanada said, and it?s now up to the President and De Lima to make a move.

Yolanda sat at the far end of the chair intently listening to Tanada?s words. Her eyes appeared fatigued, like when someone had just shed tears. But they lit up as she smiled and waved to her visitors. The hope never fails that one day she will emerge in that small gray gate, a free person.

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