Uphold Doc Naty’s right to due process, DOH tells PNP
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) on Sunday issued a statement urging “our authorities to uphold [the] rights” of health workers, amid the growing public concern over a physician whom the police picked up at her home in Metro Manila and detained some 820 kilometers away in Mindanao.
On Friday morning, police raided the home of Dr. Maria Natividad Marian Castro in San Juan City and took her with them.
A sister of Castro, known to her patients as Doc Naty, later said she found her the next day detained at the Bayugan City headquarters of the Philippine National Police in Agusan del Sur province.
Castro was formerly based in Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte beginning in the 1990s. This was where she started her practice and also became involved in community work.
Delfin Jr., an older brother of hers, said the arresting officers brought no warrant with them when they raided the Castros’ home. He also claimed that only two policemen were in uniform.
The DOH said in its statement that “All our citizens, health workers included, enjoy the constitutional guarantees of due process and presumption of innocence until proven guilty.”
“We trust our authorities to uphold these rights,” the DOH said, without mentioning Castro. A DOH media staff confirmed that the statement was referring to the doctor’s case.
Delfin Jr. said the family eventually saw the Jan. 30 arrest warrant issued against his sister for alleged kidnapping and serious illegal detention.
But he said the warrant issued by the Regional Trial Court of Bayugan City merely identified Castro as “Dra. Maria Natividad.”
Two other siblings were able to visit Castro on Saturday, according to the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).
But FLAG could not give any further details yet. The group also said it was unclear about the charges against her.
“Contrary however to what the police have been announcing on their social media pages, Doc Naty is not a communist nor is she a terrorist. She is a health worker who has been helping those who need help most,” FLAG chair Jose Manuel Diokno said on Sunday.
He said the group will “pursue all legal remedies” to have Castro released and the charges against her dismissed.
Diokno also said Castro “reserves her rights to pursue legal remedies against those police officers who violated her rights with impunity.”
In his statement, reelectionist Sen. Richard Gordon expressed his “grave anxiety and deep concern” over Castro’s whereabouts, saying she had “not [yet] been presented in public.”
Gordon said Castro “is still protected by our Constitution and laws which presume innocence, which allow consultation with family and/or lawyers, and which prohibit secret detention places, among others.”
The senator said the absence of information about her safety violates the Constitution, as it prohibits “secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention.”
“I urge Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra and PNP Chief Dionardo Carlos to look seriously into this matter and ensure that this continuing violation of the Constitution and Doctor [Castro’s] rights cease immediately,” Gordon said.
On Saturday, Sen. Francis Pangilinan demanded Castro’s release, saying, “the tactics used by the authorities in capturing her are shocking and resemble martial law.”
“We heard her name wasn’t even on the warrant of arrest, and her arresting officers were not wearing nameplates and uniforms. Doctor Naty was taken to places before charges were filed. And she wasn’t allowed to talk to her lawyer,” Pangilinan said in Filipino.
“Those are the actions of criminals who don’t recognize the law, not law enforcers,” he added.
Bayan Muna chair and senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares also joined calls for Castro’s release.
He described her as a “human rights defender serving the poor and powerless in far-flung communities in Mindanao.”
“Instead of a lucrative career in the medical profession, she chose instead to advance the causes of the ‘lumad’ (indigenous peoples) and other vulnerable sectors in the rural areas,” Colmenares said.
FLAG, in a statement, said that “as a health worker, [Castro] served both rich and poor in various areas in Mindanao. Many years ago, Doctor Naty helped the lumad who were victims of militarization by bringing them to the United Nations in Geneva and speaking for them to seek help.”
Her classmates at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine had also called for Castro’s release, as they cited her social commitment and exemplary academic record.
Gordon said the doctor’s track record appeared to be inconsistent with the authorities’ claims.
“The talents of people like Castro, a brilliant and humane physician, whose activities included setting up community centers and training on human rights, are what are sorely needed by our country, especially in these pandemic times,” he said.
The police, however, accuse her of being the head of the health bureau of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army, and of involvement in the kidnapping of a militiaman in Agusan del Sur.
“We demand that the PNP immediately drop the fabricated charges and fully respect Doctor Naty’s rights, including her right to medical attention and an attorney of her choice,” Colmenares said.
“Our best and brightest doctors who go to the countryside to help the poorest and most vulnerable Filipinos do not deserve this treatment,” he added.
—REPORTS FROM DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN, DJ YAP AND NESTOR CORRALES
Sister finds red-tagged Dr. Naty Castro in Agusan del Sur jail
CHR probes possible violations of PNP in arrest of red-tagged doctor
UP Manila demands justice for arrested red-tagged doctor
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