MANILA, Philippines - Despite the change in government, and the Philippines being a signatory to international laws of human rights, some freed members of the "Morong 43" said the country seems far from the shadow of military rule.
"Yung claim ng AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] that they're different from the Marcos era is quite false," Dr. Alexis Montes told ANC's "Headstart" on Monday.
"Sa experience namin, it's been proven that even without the official martial law declaration, they are still thinking above the civilian [authority]. That's why I was wary with the President saying there were pressures. If he claims he was the only President who got the mandate of the people, why would he be afraid of other sectors?" he added.
On December 10, Human Rights Day, President Aquino ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to release the Morong 43. Over the weekend, 38 members of the Morong 43 walked free.
Others detained in Camp Bagong Diwa spoke of similar experiences with the military.
Human rights denied
Dr. Merry Clamor, one of the freed health workers, said that in the first few days, they were handcuffed, blindfolded, unaware of what was happening around them. They only heard the shouts and interrogations and pleas of her co-workers.
In recounting their ordeal, Montes and Clamor said they had no right to counsel or visitation in the first 36 hours following their February 6 arrest in Morong, Rizal.
"Even if you're demonized or made to appear like an animal, you still have some rights, you have to go thru a legal process, a humanitarian process," Montes said.
"We were not allowed visitors in the first two days. They kept on asking questions, alleging I knew somebody inside the movement. They even claimed I was talking to a military commissioner of the NPA in Rizal Park," Montes added.
Montes said he was only training some 40 health workers on trauma cases when the military stormed their training venue and conducted the arrest, supposedly for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
"It's very clear that the evidence they [the military] were presenting were all planted," Montes said.
"At night time, usually may dinadalang civilian trying to identify us kung kilala nila kami. Yung iba na malakas, yung suspicion they were brought outside, pinadaan sa isang gauntlet ng military soldiers, pinagmumura siya," Montes said.
"Ikinakasama ng loob namin, we know our rights, we need a lawyer, I will talk in front of a counsel. They say walang kara-karapatan dito, wala kayong abogado," Clamor recalled. "That worried us. Baka mamaya hindi na kami makalabas dito. It was only after 7 days that we were allowed to talk to our counsels."
They said they were allowed to speak to their counsels 7 days later.
"There should be people accountable for what happened," said Clamor. "This should not happen again, yung mass arrest and gross violation of human rights."
They added they were also subjected to humiliation especially when they had to answer the call of nature.
"It was really humiliating, ayaw talaga nila tanggalin yung handcuffs kasi there was a risk of escaping so they had to pull our pants down and they had to wash us. Alam mo na hindi tama iyon, pero they have guns. You are at their mercy," Clamor said.
"Sa CR [comfort room], I was accompanied by a soldier sa loob ng cell. He was the one who pulled my pants down and held my organ para mag-urinate," Montes added.
He said the experience was even more humiliating for another detainee, who had to endure defecating on napkin, which he wore for three days. "On one of the detainees, they had to place a napkin kaya doon nalang siya dumumi. Tinatawanan nalang siya, walang lumalapit sa kanya."
After the first few grueling days, for 3 months out of their 10-month detention, Montes and Clamor said they lived in virtual isolation.
|Freed Morong 43 Dra. Merry Clamor (left) & Dr. Alexis Montes talk about their detention
"The first three months when we were detained in Camp Capinpin, we were confined, one to each cell. We barely talked to each other. At night time, usually may dinadalang civilian, trying to identify us kung kilala nila kami. Yung iba na malakas yung suspicion, they were brought outside," Montes said. "In Camp Bagong Diwa we were in one cell, congested pero at least we know were safe."
Following their release from detention, released members of the Morong 43 look forward to spending Christmas with their families, one which they admit will be quite different from any other given their newfound freedom.
"When we were in Camp Bagong Diwa, my family did not decorate the house. When they learned we were about to be released, that's when they started to put out the decorations," Montes said.
Montes and Clamor insisted they are not members of the New People's Army, but will not hesitate to do their sworn duty to treat anyone in need.
"As a medical doctor, I'm sworn to save lives. Anybody who comes to you, who needs assistance and you're capable of providing that, I don't scrutinize whether you have some political inclinations," Montes said.
"It is our duty to save lives, NPA ka man, military ka or if you have political affiliations, I would treat you," Clamor added.
Montes admitted he has not fully come to terms with his arrest and detention. "I'm still trying to cope with what happened in the past 10 months."
"If you know you're innocent and you're detained, there's no way of rationalizing it with yourself. I need justice," Montes added.
The "Morong 43" plans to file charges against the military before the month is over.