Sister finds red-tagged Dr. Naty Castro in Agusan del Sur jail
More than 24 hours after a community health and human rights advocate who had been linked to communist rebels was arrested in San Juan City, one of her sisters found her in jail more than 800 kilometers away in Agusan del Sur province.
About 10 police officers, only two of them in uniform, raided the home of Dr. Maria Natividad “Naty” Castro, on Friday morning and left with her without informing other members of the household where they would be taking her, her elder brother Delfin “Jun” Castro Jr. told the Inquirer.
He said his sister, known to her patients and indigenous communities as Doc Naty, was charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
Maj. Dorothy Tumulak, the spokesperson for the Caraga Police Regional Office, said Castro was involved in the “felonious kidnapping of a member [of the] Civilian Active Auxiliary (CAA) and detained the victim in an unidentified location, and threatened him last Dec. 29, 2018, in Barangay Kolambungan, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur.”
The CAA is the government-backed militia that is helping the military’s anti-insurgency campaign.
Castro’s brother said the family wasn’t given a copy of the arrest warrant, which they later found to have listed her name only as “Dra. Maria Natividad,” along with three pages containing scores of other names and aliases of wanted persons.
Police Maj. Aldrin Salinas, Sibagat police chief, said there were 400 other accused in the case.
‘Many people love her’
After her arrest, Tumulak said Castro, 54, was examined at Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City before she was flown to Davao City. From there, police took her by land to Bayugan City in Agusan del Sur, reaching it around 10 p.m. on Friday.
One of the doctor’s younger siblings, Menchi, told the Inquirer that she finally saw her around 5 p.m. on Saturday at the Bayugan city jail.
“[She’s] now better after seeing us—and knowing that so many people love her and believe in what she represents,” Menchi told the Inquirer in a text message.
Menchi said a city health officer visited Castro and gave her some medicines. The doctor is suffering from hypertension and diabetes.
“She was in handcuffs from Naia 3 (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) airport to Davao, then [during the] land trip to Bayugan,” Menchi said.
In a statement before she was located, Jose Manuel Diokno, chair of the human rights lawyers’ organization Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag), said they were “gravely concerned” about Castro’s condition.
Castro’s sister, Diokno said, went to the Philippine National Police-Intelligence Group’s headquarters at Camp Crame to bring her medicines, but was refused entry.
“Requests for copies of the warrant of arrest, reports and documents relative to Dr. Castro’s arrest and transportation likewise went unheeded,” Diokno said.
According to Caraga regional police chief Brig. Gen. Romeo Caramat Jr., Castro is a member of the central committee and head of the national health bureau of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Schools slam arrest
In November 2020, Castro’s name, along with other human rights defenders in Caraga, appeared in a poster distributed throughout the region identifying them as members of the rebel New People’s Army.
Castro’s high school alma mater, St. Scholastica’s College in Manila, deplored “the continuous Red-tagging of this government and making false accusations of innocent people.”
In a statement, the school’s academic community said Castro had “embraced the lives” of the most impoverished sectors of society, including farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples.
“What she deserves is a recognition and appreciation for her commitment to the welfare and human rights of our Filipino sisters and brothers who are most in need,” said the statement signed by school president Sr. Christine Pinto and Sr. Mary John Mananzan, the superior of the Manila Community of Benedictine Sisters.
Castro’s classmates at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Medicine where she graduated cum laude in 1995 demanded her immediate release.
“Naty had her mind awakened earlier than us. Many of us are still catching up,” Castro’s class said in a statement of support.
In 2020, Castro was one of seven nominees to receive the outstanding alumni award at the UP College of Medicine and was requested to write about her work as a community doctor, public health practitioner and human rights activist.
Not to sound too serious, she laughed off her work for lacking monetary rewards but with plentiful personal security risks.
One of her colleagues said the humorous tone was one of their ways of “coping” with the challenges, “so that we would not appear to be carrying all the problems of this world.”
NGO serving poor
“In my field of work, money is scarce, job and personal security is poor, hahaha,” Castro wrote. “But the rewards are immeasurable when I see the babies I have delivered thrive and become leaders themselves, dedicating their lives to continuing the development work that I helped start in their communities.”
Castro has been working as community doctor, public health practitioner and human rights activist in the Agusan provinces since 1996, when she started her medical practice.
She served as the physician for the Community-Based Health Program-Butuan Inc., a health nongovernment organization serving depressed communities. At the same time, she was trying to complete her alternative residency program with the Community Medicine Development Foundation from 1996 to 1998.
Human rights documentor
For eight years, she worked first part-time, then, as full-time human rights documentor and staff for the human rights group Karapatan in Caraga, where she became its secretary-general.
“Our health services were vital in remote lumad and peasant communities or else people died for lack of medical care,” Castro said of her early days in the area. “As I gained a deeper understanding of the economic, social, political and cultural determinants of health by working with real communities, I became increasingly involved in ‘nonhealth’ issues,” she said.
When the pandemic struck, her brother, Jun, said that his sister took care of their ailing mother until she passed away in October. At the same time, she also attended to their younger sister, Sarah, who has a disability and had to be flown from Cebu to Manila to be cared for by her.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS, DEXTER CABALZA AND CHRIS PANGANIBAN
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