Around this time nine months ago, forty three community health workers were arrested by members of the Philippine military and the national police.
The health workers weren’t giving medical care to terrorists or enemies of the state when the arrest happened. No, it wasn’t anything like that at all. (But that too isn’t enough reason to be arrested).
On the contrary, the health workers were in a faraway resort in Morong, Rizal, in the eastern part of the Philippines for a training workshop.
Authorities arrested them on suspicion that they were communist rebels, sparking protests and consistent calls for their release.
They became collectively known as the Morong 43. They were arrested in February. Now, nine months later and after countless reports of torture, the 43 health workers are still detained in a military camp in Taguig in the southeastern part of metropolitan Manila.
Of the 43 health workers, 26 are women, two of whom were pregnant at the time of their arrest and have given birth in detention.
Despite the difficult situation, relatives and families of the detainees are not losing hope.
Relatives of the Morong 43 release white balloons, which symbolize calls for immediate and unconditinal release of the health workers. Photo: Karapatan.
In unwavering voices of protests and in clenched fists, friends, family and supporters of the Morong 43 mounted a caravan of protest on Saturday, 6 November. They trooped to the military camp to show their solidarity with the health workers.
According to the national human rights alliance Karapatan, which organized the caravan, the supporters are one with the health workers in their firm struggle for freedom as well as with those of other political prisoners languishing in different detention centers around the country.
‘Free the 43; Free all political prisoners!’ is the persistent call of friends and families of the health workers.
Families and friends don't give up. Photo: Karapatan.
The newly elected president Benigno Aquino III has dubbed the illegal detention of the Morong 43 as a ‘fruit of a poisonous tree.’ The arrest of the group happened during the time of the previous administration, under the leadership of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Karapatan quoted Aquino as saying that the situation must be rectified in court.
Human rights groups and health organizations around the globe have expressed support for the campaign to release the health workers.
‘We are asking: why is it taking too long for the Philippine government to release the illegally detained health workers? Justice delayed is clearly justice denied,’ Karapatan acting secretary-general Jigs Clamor said.
When they will be released is still anybody’s guess. The only thing that’s clear is that all 43, along with their friends and families, are fighting an uphill battle for freedom.
How long will it take to see their loved ones free again? Photo: Karapatan.