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DILG to CHR: Be fair to cops who arrested Doc Naty

Jonathan Malaya, photo for story: DILG to CHR: Be fair to police who arrested doc

Interor Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, DILG spokesperson (File photo from DILG)

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Tuesday said the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) should be “fair, impartial and unbiased” in investigating police actions during the arrest of community health and human rights advocate Dr. Maria Natividad Castro last week.

“The problem is it has yet to conduct its investigation, but it already has a statement to the media that allegedly, Dr. Castro has been Red-tagged. When they make statements like that, they have already prejudged the case,” Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said.

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The police officers who arrested Castro were only doing their duty to enforce an arrest warrant against Castro for kidnapping and serious illegal detention, Malaya said.

“We are calling on the public, let’s not gang up on our police officers,” he said.

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Questions, criticism

But the manner of Castro’s arrest following a raid on her home in San Juan City on Friday raised questions and criticisms.

Reacting to Malaya’s remarks, the CHR urged the Philippine National Police to cooperate in its investigation and assured the public that it would remain impartial in investigating all cases of human rights violations.

“With the government’s duty to uphold and respect human rights, we urge them, particularly the Philippine National Police, to adhere to the rule of law by participating in the CHR investigations so we can jointly find out the truth and address allegations of human rights violations said [to have been] carried out by the arresting police officers,” said CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia.

She told the Inquirer that the commission was still conducting an independent probe of Castro’s case.

Castro, 53, has been working as a community doctor, public health practitioner, and human rights activist in the Agusan provinces since 1996 a year after finishing medicine at the University of the Philippines. She was accused of kidnapping and illegally detaining a member of the government-armed militia in Sibagat, Agusan del Sur, in December 2018.‘She’s furious’

Castro’s name, along with other human rights defenders in Caraga, appeared in a poster distributed throughout the region identifying them as New People’s Army members, a typical Red-tagging move by security forces or their supporters that often precede vilifications, physical assaults or even killings.

According to the PNP, Castro is a member of the central committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines and head of its national health bureau.

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“She’s not only denying it. She’s furious about the charges against her and that she was falsely accused,” her lawyer, Fred Asis, told the Inquirer in a phone interview.

Asis said that after the return of the warrant was made by the police, Castro was moved on Tuesday to the provincial jail in the Agusan del Sur capital of Prosperidad, about 15 kilometers away from Bayugan City jail where she had been held since Friday night.

The CHR on Monday said the police could be held liable for not showing proper identification during her arrest, denying her access to a lawyer, and refusing to tell her family where she would be taken.

It also said the Red-tagging of Castro “sends a chilling effect not only to community workers, but also to doctors serving in rural areas engaged in development work.”

Malaya said the case against Castro went through the prosecutor before a judge studied it and found probable cause to issue the warrant.

Had the critics been diligent, they could have challenged the prosecutor’s finding in the Department of Justice or appealed the arrest warrant in the Court of Appeals.

“There are many legal remedies available to Dr. Castro. But they did not avail [themselves] of these. Therefore, the PNP, since there is a standing, valid warrant of arrest, enforced the warrant,” Malaya said.

No chance to counter

But Asis, a member of the human rights lawyers’ organization, Free Legal Assistance Group, disputed Malaya’s statement, saying that Castro was not called to a preliminary investigation where she could have countered the allegations against her.Her proper name does not appear in the warrant, which listed 458 respondents, including dozens of aliases, also wanted in the case, Asis said.

Castro’s family noted that the name closest to hers in the warrant was “Dra. Maria Natividad.”

“There was no preliminary investigation that happened at all,” Asis told the Inquirer. “No notice nor subpoena. There was no notice given to the accused to prove him or herself before the fiscal.”

“Not a single paper was presented [during the arrest]. They were shocked as she was attending to her sister,” he said, referring to one of the doctor’s younger siblings with a disability.

Castro’s case would be heard on March 4 since the judge in charge, Fernando Fudalan Jr., only holds hearings at the Bayugan City Regional Trial Court Branch 7 on Thursdays and Fridays, according to Asis. The hearing was originally scheduled for Feb. 25 but was reset because it is a holiday.

Bail request

Asis said he would file a motion to dismiss the case after another lawyer, John Gil, earlier requested bail for Castro. The bail request was for her temporary liberty and the dismissal is for her total freedom, Asis said.

Various groups, including her high school alma mater, her medical class of 1995 and senior officials of the Philippine General Hospital denounced her arrest.

The Department of Health also issued a statement urging the authorities to respect her rights. On Tuesday, the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), the biggest organization of doctors in the country, appealed to the authorities to uphold her constitutional rights and her basic needs, including medical attention.

“In the end, the rule of law must prevail so that justice will be served,” PMA said in a statement signed by its national officers and board of governors.

Bayan Muna party-list called for an investigation of Castro’s arrest by the human rights committee of the House of Representatives.

“Doctors and health workers, especially those who choose to serve the most depressed rural areas should be given support by the government, not subjected to unlawful arrests for possibly fabricated charges,” said House Resolution No. 2496.

—WITH REPORTS FROM TINA G. SANTOS AND JULIE M. AURELIO 

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