Photo by Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Health workers' groups on Thursday, April 11, slammed the government for branding one of their own as a communist front, saying this exposes their members to even more harassment and attacks.
The groups made the statement in after National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr included the Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) in a list of non-governmental organizations accused of fronting for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
In a press conference on Thursday, Cristy Donguines of AHW–Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center detailed her experience of harassment even before AHW was red-tagged by the government.
Donguines shared how some people who identified themselves as police went to their workplace and conducted surveillance.
“Talagang kina-qualify nila na ang mga organisadong organization na katulad namin na tayo ay mga banta sa ating gobyerno. Ang mga pinaglalaban natin ay hindi naman para sirain [ang gobyerno], ang pinaglalaban lang natin ay para sa atin, para sa pamumuhay," she said.
(They're really qualifying organized groups like ours as threats to the government. But what we're fighting for is not to destroy the government, what we're fighting for is our livelihood.)
Aside from AHW, the Council for Health and Development (CHD), Health Alliance for Democracy, Health Action for Human Rights (HAHR), Health Sector Against Tyranny (HealthSTAT), Filipino Nurses United (FNU), Laban Nurses, Nars ng Bayan, and Prescription for Peace also called on the government to stop red-tagging progressive groups that only seek for adequate social services for Filipinos.
'Irresponsible, malicious propaganda'
Dr Edelina dela Paz, HAHR chairperson and HealthSTAT co-convenor, warned of the consequences of the “irresponsible and malicious propaganda” linking health workers to the CPP.
She cited the number of health workers killed and the overall culture of impunity in the country as soldiers “get orders from a President who does not respect human rights.”
“Nakakatakot kasi ang security ng aming mga health workers ay nakataya lalong-lalo na kapag ikaw ay na-tag na CPP-NPA front (It is frightening because our security as health workers are on the line especially when we are tagged as a CPP-NPA front),” she said.
“This we strongly protest because they are violating our rights as health workers to work and function as health workers, to serve the people whom we are duty-bound to serve,” Dela Paz added.
Several health workers had received death threats through text messages while doctors and other health workers stationed in faraway places would often get their photos taken and trailed by unknown individuals, according to eports from AHW and CHD.
Dr Eleanor Jara of CHD said such harassment was uncalled for, considering their sacrifices.
“Ang mga health workers ay naglilingkod nang buong-puso at mababa ang salaries nila pero nagtatagal sila dahil mahal nila ang kanilang gawain. Gusto nilang magsilbi sa ating mga kababayan na mas nangangailangan. Tigilan ninyo ang pagsasabi na sila ay mga komunista. Sila ay naglilingkod,” Jara said.
(Health workers serve wholeheartedly and they stay in their jobs despite low salaries because they love what they are doing. They want to serve our countrymen who are in need. Stop tagging them as communists. They are only serving.)
Esperon, in a letter, asked the European Union to stop funding NGOs on the government list, claiming that they were being used to recruit for the CPP.
Groups on the list have denied the allegation.
Human rights groups have consistently denounced the government for red-tagging, profiling, and surveillance. In March 2018, the Department of Justice sought to tag several activists and leaders of progressive groups as terrorists.
Eleanor Nolasco of Filipino Nurses United said they remained unfazed amid such threats.
“Bagamat ito nga ang ginagawa ng ating pamahalaan laban sa ating mga health workers, itutuloy pa rin namin ang aming mga adbokasiya at pag-mobilisa (Despite the government’s actions against health workers, we will continue to push for our advocacies and mobilize),” she said. – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.