Arrested community doctor reunited with family, case details unclear — FLAG


Posted at Feb 20 2022 01:14 PM

MANILA — Two sisters of Maria Natividad Castro were finally able to meet the arrested community doctor in person, though details surrounding her case remain unclear, a lawyers' group said Sunday.

In a statement, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) said Castro was reunited with her sisters on Saturday at the police headquarters in Bayugan, Agusan del Sur.

"They were able to speak with her and spend some time together," the FLAG said.

"As the records of the case are still not available to FLAG because the courts are closed until Monday, FLAG and Doc Naty are still unaware of the exact circumstances of the case that has allegedly been filed against her and the reason for her arrest," the group added.

Police captured the 53-year-old doctor in San Juan City last Friday over charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in the Caraga region. Castro was a secretary general of rights group Karapatan in the region.

In a statement, Caraga police chief Brig. Gen. Romeo Caramat Jr. said Castro was arrested based on a warrant issued by a trial court in Bayugan City under Criminal Case No. 6527.

Caramat said Castro was allegedly involved in the kidnapping of a member of the Philippine Army's Civilian Active Auxiliary last Dec. 29, 2018.

He added that authorities followed standard protocol in arresting Castro, thus protecting her rights.

Caramat belied Castro was denied access to her family and legal counsel.

FLAG reiterated that Castro "is not a communist nor is she a terrorist," contrary to police statements.

The group said it would "pursue all available legal remedies to secure Doc Naty's freedom or the immediate dismissal of the case against her."

The doctor also plans to take legal action against police officers "who violated her rights with impunity and went against established procedure when they took her from her home in San Juan" as well as those who "red-tagged" her, FLAG said.

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

In an earlier statement, FLAG said Castro was denied access to her legal counsel and family.

Various groups, including the Commission on Human Rights, have condemned the arrest.

Without mentioning Castro's name, the Department of Health, in a statement, said it trusts authorities to uphold the rights of all citizens, including health workers, who "enjoy constitutional guarantees of due process and presumption of innocence until proven guilty."

"The contributions of our health workers, especially those who have opted to work with the underserved are immeasurable," the DOH said.

The University of Philippines College of Medicine Class of 1995, to which Castro belongs, called for the immediate dismissal of charges against her, her release from policy custody, and for the end to "the harassment and intimidation tactics" used against her and her family.

"Naty is not an ordinary doctor. She is a servant leader actively involved in health and human rights, and working towards providing health care for all by serving in rural and geographically isolated areas," they said.


— With a report from Charmane Awitan