Rights groups, lawyers ‘gravely concerned’ over Naty Castro’s whereabouts

Mico Abarro, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 19 2022 10:28 AM | Updated as of Feb 19 2022 02:16 PM

MANILA—The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) on Friday said the Philippine National Police must disclose the whereabouts of human rights advocate Dr. Natividad Marian Castro. 

In a statement signed by FLAG national chairperson and senatorial candidate Jose Manuel "Chel" Diokno, the group said it was "gravely concerned" over Castro's whereabouts. 

Castro was arrested on Friday by the PNP Intelligence Group in San Juan City over charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in the CARAGA Region. She had been secretary general of rights group Karapatan in the CARAGA. 

Meanwhile, PNP chief Gen. Dionardo Carlos said the arrest was all above board, amid accusations that police forcibly barged into Castro's house to serve the warrant. 

According to FLAG, Castro was no longer being held at Camp Crame and was supposedly flown to Butuan City to face a court there. 

"The scheduled flight to Butuan took off without any confirmation of Dr. Castro being on board," FLAG said. 

The group said Castro had been denied access to her legal counsel and family, as well as access to medication for hypertension and diabetes. 

"FLAG demands that the PNP, through the Chief of the PNP, officially confirm Dr. Castro's whereabouts to her counsel and her family, present her physically and grant access to counsel and family and to all others she may request under RA 7438 and RA 10353 within 24 hours," the group said. "Failing which, the appropriate criminal and administrative suits will be filed." 

It also urged the PNP to give Castro access to medical and mental health care, as well as an investigation into who was responsible for denying her access to counsel and family members. 

Castro is known as a health worker in Mindanao where she helped put up community health centers and taught human rights, according to her relatives. 

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said Castro was “red-tagged” for her human rights and development work.

“CHR has dispatched a quick response team in NCR and Caraga and is undertaking a motu propio investigation on the reports received that indicate possible violations of the Philippine National Police rules of procedure, among other issues,” the commission said in a statement.

The PNP said it was only a warrant of arrest when it arrested Castro. 

"We review the warrant, we review the personality. They would always say something to defend the subject of the warrant of arrest. Everybody will tell their innocence. Again we bring it to the court," Carlos said. 

Carlos emphasized the evidence should be brought to court to counter the charges, and it was the PNP's job to bring the accused before a judge who issued the warrant. 

House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate called for a probe on the incident.

"Is this the new normal of the PNP in affecting arrests under the new terror law? This is outrageous and highly condemnable," Zarate said in a statement. — With a report by Raffy Santos, ABS-CBN News