MANILA, Philippines - Providing security for the country's medical workers is at the center of heated discussions after the gang rape of "Florence," a volunteer nurse in Maguindanao last week.
Six suspects arrested in connection with the gang rape are facing charges in Cotabato City.
"We have filed the case before the fiscal's office and it's now being scheduled by the fiscal in Cotabato City," said Sr. Supt. Federico Castro, Head of Task Force Joy, PNP-ARMM, on ANC's "The Rundown" Monday night.
Case filed vs 6
"A case has been filed against the first six suspects. As per request of the community and families, we have to pinpoint the perpetrators of the crime because we will be giving undue justice to those who have no participation," Castro said. "That's the request fom the office of the regional governor."
Castro said the police are also looking into possible charges against 2 others in custody. A vice mayor of a South Upi town, where the nurse was deployed, is also being questioned.
"Walo na yan [suspects]. We are investigating one from the government, vice-mayor ng municipality. We invited him because of circumstances coming out in our review of the case."
Castro said they are also trying to identify another suspect, a worker at Hanjin Construction. He added the investigation is pointing to 2 or 3 persons responsible for the crime.
"This is an isolated case. It was a matter of 'nakursunadahan' yung nangyari. It's a far-flung municipality, and with the presence of new people in the municipality, that's one of the causes of what happened."
Castro said Task Force Joy and an National Bureau of Investigation-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) forensic chemist are going over material evidence and looking into all angles that will lead to the early solution of the case.
Walk for Justice
Meantime, the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA), held a demonstration in Mendiola, Manila on Tuesday to demand justice for the 21-year-old victim.
"Joy," or "Florence" as the PNA refers to her, remains confined at a hospital in Cotabato City after being found unconscious near the hospital where she worked.
(Florence Nightingale is a celebrated English nurse who sought to help the sick out of sincere service. Those in the nursing profession look up to her as a heroine.)
Dr. Tita Barcelo, president of the PNA, said "Florence" was part of the second batch of the government's NARS Program that provides year-long training for nurses in areas that are underserved.
To assure security and comply with language and cultural requirements, Barcelo said they make it a point to get applicants from the municipality, initially, and then from within the province if no one from the municipality is qualified. She, however, added that they don't get outsiders.
Barcelo said the program is scheduled to end in December.
"It will really end not because of this event but because this is a short-term project," clarified Barcelo.
But, Barcelo said, Health Secretary Enrique Ona had expressed openness to the possibility of extending the program before the incident, and hiring volunteer nurses in a more permanent way.
Volunteer nurses are currently receiving P8,000 a month under the NARS Program.
Barcelo warned the incident may discourage other health workers from working in far-flung areas where their services are badly-needed. She added the PNA now urges local governments to ensure the safety of volunteer nurses.
"Nurses have the sworn duty to help people, and I think difficulties like this come with the job. So, what we really want is to appeal to local government to ensure our security and protect us. If we cower with every difficulty we meet, the people out there who really need our service will really be the ones to suffer," she said.
"in the final analysis, these are the people who can't afford to go to hospitals, to buy medicines, and this is where we want to be, and our idealist new graduates want to serve. This can serve as another push-factor for our nurses to go out."
Securing medical workers
Dr. Hermogenes Jarin, acting president of the Philippine Hospitals Association, has called for an emergency meeting on the incident on Wednesday.
Jarin admitted securing the safety of volunteer nurses has been a problem for the medical community.
"It's really the responsibility of the community to take care of the safety of these volunteers," he said.
He warned of the repercussions of the gang rape of a volunteer nurse, adding the future of the country's medical workers and its hospitals is at stake.
"Right now, we're facing some 700 hospitals in the Mindanao area might be losing their accreditation from PhilHealth because of the lack of manpower, and this incident is going to aggravate that problem. I hope government can seriously look into this case," Jarin said.