Court junks kidnap case vs community doctor-activist

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2022 12:43 AM

Castro now back in NCR after over a month detained in Agusan del Sur

MANILA – A Bayugan City court has junked the kidnapping and serious illegal detention charge against community doctor and activist Dr. Natividad Castro. 

In a resolution dated March 25, Bayugan City Regional Trial Court Branch 7 Acting Presiding Judge Fernando Fudalan, Jr. dismissed the charge due to due process violation and lack of probable cause to issue a warrant of arrest.

He ordered the immediate release of Castro, who arrived in Metro Manila Wednesday after being detained for more than a month in Agusan del Sur, her sister Menchi told ABS-CBN News.

Judge Fudalan cited two grounds in junking Castro’s case.

First, the prosecutors failed to issue a subpoena for the preliminary investigation of her case, violating her right to due process. 

“Issuance of subpoena directing the respondent to submit evidence is the most important aspect of the preliminary investigation that safeguards the right to due process. No amount of reason, like what the prosecution raised that respondent is an NPA member and ha(s) no permanent address, would ever justify its non-issuance,” the judge said.

The Philippine National Police, in a press release in February, claimed Castro is a high-ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines central committee and of being the head of CPP-NPA’s national health bureau based in Butuan City. 

Her family has denied these allegations, maintaining that she is a doctor for the masses.

Castro, 53, worked as a community doctor in Agusan and later served as an official of rights group Karapatan in the Caraga region. 

The Bayugan court also revisited the records of the preliminary investigation and found that she was not mentioned in the original complaint and was merely added to supplemental complaint.

Her identity and participation in the kidnapping and detention of a certain Bernabe Salahay, allegedly a member of the Philippine Army’s Civilian Active Auxiliary in December 2018, were also not sufficiently alleged, according to the court.

The court also noted the “rogue gallery” where Salahay based his identification of Castro was not submitted in court along with the information or criminal charge.

“In the light of the aforesaid factual findings gathered upon re-assessment, the court finds that probable cause does not exist in the absence of evidence to prove the identity of the accused and so holds to overturn the previous findings of probable cause,” it said.

“Without probable cause, the court did not acquire jurisdiction over the accused which warrants the dismissal of this case,” it added.

Castro was arrested on February 18 in her family’s home in San Juan based on a warrant of arrest for kidnapping issued in January 2020 by a Bayugan court.

She was brought to Bayugan City through Davao and all the while, she was not allowed to call her family or lawyer nor given access to medicines, her family said.

Her lawyer questioned her arrest, filing a motion to dismiss which the court treated as a motion to quash.

Aside from assailing the absence of a preliminary investigation, the stage prior to the filing of a criminal case in court, her lawyer Wilfred Asis also questioned how a person could identify the doctor among more than 460 respondents.

Prior to Castro’s arrest, KARAPATAN said she was subjected to red-tagging, with her photo tagged as a member of the CPP-NPA in a Facebook post in November 2020 and in a tarpaulin in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

Karapatan on Wednesday welcomed Castro’s release from detention.

“She has been denied due process when she was arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned — and this has been acknowledged by the court. This proves that the NTF-ELCAC’s malicious and baseless statements against our red-tagged colleague and community doctor are all lies,” it said in a statement.

“We extend our hugs of solidarity to Doc Naty and her family, as we enjoin her to continue doing her work as a community health and human rights worker and to exact justice and accountability from those who violated her rights,” it added.

Since her arrest, various groups have called for Castro’s release, including her former colleagues at the University of the Philippines Philippine General Hospital.

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