human rights in the Philippines

CHR probes arrest of doctor Natividad Castro, groups demand her release

Jairo Bolledo

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CHR probes arrest of doctor Natividad Castro, groups demand her release

ARRESTED. Mug shot of Dr. Naty Castro after she was arrested by the police.

Jun Castro

(1st UPDATE) The Commission on Human Rights 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'

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said on Saturday, February 19, that it is conducting a motu propio investigation into possible police violations and other issues in relation to the arrest of health and development worker Dr. Natividad “Naty” Castro over alleged kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

“The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) expresses grave concern over the manner of arrest of health worker Dr. Natividad ‘Naty’ Castro early Friday, 18 February 2022 in San Juan City,” CHR said.

“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,” it added.

The CHR also said that “in ensuring the protection of the rights of the Dra. Naty, CHR is coordinating with local authorities and is in close contact with the Castro family to assist them in Dra. Naty’s safety while in custody.

In a statement on Saturday, the PNP said that Castro was brought to and detained in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur, where the court that issued the arrest warrant is located.

The PNP said that her alleged “membership” in the local communist movement is not the basis of the arrest “but her alleged criminal actions that constitute participation in a case of kidnapping with serious illegal detention.”

The police said that the CHR has already been informed about Castro’s status, but the statement was silent on her right to counsel and if due process was violated. Castro’s lawyers earlier said they were denied information and documents related to her case.

‘Another red-tagging victim’

Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno condemned the arrest of Castro, and said she was another victim of the governement’s-red-tagging. The group called for her release.

Bilang isang doktor at tagapagtaguyod ng karapatang tao, siya ay naging biktima ng red tagging. Noong Nobyembre 20, 2020, nagpakalat ng mga tarpaulin ang mga hinihinalang ahente ng estado na binabansagan siyang “komunistang NPA”. Dahil sa paglilingkod sa mga mahihirap, siya ay binabansagang terorista,” the labor group said. 

(As a doctor and human rights advocate, Dr. Castro has become a victim of red-tagging. On November 20, 2020, alleged law enforcement agents put up tarpaulins tagging her as a member of the NPA. Because of her service for the poor, she’s being tagged as a terrorist.)

The Council for Health and Development urged the government to respect the rights of healthcare workers. 

“Amidst the pandemic and the global health crisis, the least the government can do to doctors who chose to stay and serve the people is to respect human rights and provide an enabling environment that will encourage health professionals to serve where they are needed most,” the group said.

The group Health Action for Human Rights, meanwhile, also hit the arrest and cited the scarcity of doctors in rural areas. 

“Dr. Castro could have made a prominent career in medicine in the urban areas or even abroad. There is a huge lack of doctors in the rural areas where one out of 10 Filipinos die without even being able to have a health consultation. There are only a few doctors who choose to work for the poor. Why arrest her?” the group asked.

‘Deprived of her right to life’

St. Scholastica’s College (SSC) Manila, where Castro finished high school, also condemned the arrest and said it was “ridiculous” to accuse Castro of such charges. 

“It is ridiculous to accuse Dr. Naty of kidnapping and illegal detention of those she is helping and whose human rights she is defending. It is unjust that one who has chosen to live in places that are not reached by the services that every human being is entitled to receive; one who has committed her life to give life to others, is now deprived of her right to life, a life that she has lived witnessing to Christ’s love and compassion,” the educational institution said in statement posted on its official Facebook page.

The statement was signed by SSC president Sister Christine Pinto, and Manila Community of Benedictine Sisters Superior Sister Mary John Mananzan.

St. Scholastica’s College also hit the “continous red-tagging” of the Duterte government. “​​What she deserves is a recognition and appreciation for her commitment to the welfare and human rights of our Filipino sisters and brothers who are most in need. We deplore the continuous red-tagging of this government and making false accusations of innocent people,” the school said.

SSC Manila High School Batch 1986 urged the public to join them in urging law enforcers to “surface” Castro, following reports that she has been held incommunicado, as her family and lawyers have had no access to her.

“Please join us in urging the police and military to surface Naty now, to respect her rights and follow due process,” the group said. “Please join us in maintaining a watchful vigilance over the case of Naty, to keep on asking questions and demanding answers, to support her family,” they said.

The UP College of Medicine Batch 1995 also demanded the dismissal of the charges against their batchmate. 

“The UP College of Medicine Class of 1995 calls for the immediate end to the harassment and intimidation tactics that are being used against Dr. Naty Castro and her family. We call for the immediate dismissal of the charges against Dr. Naty Castro and her immediate release from police custody,” they said.

CHR probes arrest of doctor Natividad Castro, groups demand her release
‘Baseless lies’

Police arrested Castro inside her home in San Juan City on February 18 , based on a warrant of arrest issued in January 2020. The police also tagged the doctor as a high-ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), but her family reiterated that Castro worked in Mindanao as a health worker and human rights advocate.

In a statement on Saturday, February 19, the CPP condemned the arrest and denied that Castro was their high-ranking member.

“Yes, these are baseless lies,” CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena said.

Valbuena said “military red-tagging against human rights defenders is nothing new and has been repeatedly used by state forces to justify its campaign of extrajudicial killings, illegal arrest, and non-stop harassment against progressive social activists who have been critical of Duterte’s tyrannical reign.” – 

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.