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MANILA, Philippines – Doctor Natividad “Dr. Naty” Castro has been reunited with her family after the Bayugan City Regional Trial Court in Agusan del Sur dismissed the kidnapping charges against her and ordered her release from the provincial jail, where she was detained for 42 days.
In a resolution dated March 25, Acting Presiding Judge Fernando Fudalan Jr. said that 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.”
“Without the probable cause, the court did not acquire jurisdiction over the accused which warrants the dismissal of the case,” Fundalan wrote.
In dismissing the charges against Castro, the court cited “denial of substantive right to due process; and for lack of jurisdiction over the person of the accused.”
On February 18, San Juan City police arrested Castro in their home over cases of kidnapping and illegal detention.
The arrest of the 53-year-old doctor drew backlash. Several groups, including the medical community and human rights groups, have called on the government to follow the rule of law following her arrest.
Prior to her arrest, Castro had been red-tagged for her human rights advocacy, according to her brother. She was secretary general of rights group Karapatan in Caraga.
The controversial National Task Force to End Local Communist and Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) claimed that Castro was a central committee member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CCP-NPA-NDF). The PNP said that her alleged “membership” in the CPP is not the basis of her arrest, “but her alleged criminal actions that constitute participation in a case of kidnapping with serious illegal detention.”
Before the pandemic began in March 2020, Castro started several health programs in Mindanao. She also brought a member of the Lumad community to the United Nations in Geneva to seek help against harassment in Lumad areas.
Karapatan said in a statement that the court decision “proves that the NTF-ELCAC’s malicious and baseless statements against our red-tagged colleague and community doctor are all lies.:
“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.
While the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) welcomed the dismissal of the cases against Castro, it expressed concern over the manner Castro was arrested and transported incommunicado. FLAG said the PNP violated Castro’s rights as well as existing laws.
“While FLAG is greatly relieved that Dr. Naty is now back home with her family after being unlawfully arrested and detained for over a month, we remain deeply concerned by the manner by which Dr. Naty was seized from her home and transported incommunicado without assistance of counsel and support from her family,” FLAG said.
“The dismissal of Dr. Naty’s case for failure to accord her due process should shine the light on existing practices during preliminary investigation by the Department of Justice and the issuance of warrants by the trial courts. It should also call attention to extrajudicial efforts to influence the courts by the government agents through red-tagging,” they added.
FLAG had filed the motion to dismiss the charges against Castro.
Following the release of Castro, Task Force Free Sally Ujano also called on the release of long-time child and women’s rights advocate Ma. Salome “Sally” Ujano who was nabbed by authorities three months before the arrest of Castro.
“We urge the Duterte administration, in its last days of service to the Filipino people, to free Sally and political prisoners like her,” the task force said, noting that her arrest is “based on fabricated charges.” – Rappler.com