CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Aside from kidnapping and serious illegal detention cases in Agusan del Sur, the physician arrested by the police in San Juan City on Friday, February 28, is also facing at least two more in Butuan City.
Lawyer Beverly Musni of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) said Dr. Natividad “Naty” Castro was included in another set of charges filed against dozens of other human rights activists before the prosecutor’s office in Libertad, Butuan City.
Musni said the charges were filed against Castro and 45 others for violation of the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity and the expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012.
One of the respondents is Renalyn Tejero, a paralegal of Karapatan, who was arrested in Cagayan de Oro and brought to Butuan City on March 21, 2021.
Tejero, who was 25 then, was arrested based on a warrant for murder and multiple attempted murder cases in Caraga. Her arrest also caused a stir because no one could say where she was for hours since her arrest.
Like Dr. Castro, Tejero was also linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
Tejero remains in detention while awaiting trial.
The UPLM said the cases filed against human rights workers and activists showed a pattern of harassment and trumped-up charges.
In the case of Tejero, she was accused of non-bailable offenses.
“While the cases are likely to be dismissed, it could take so much time before they are freed. And so, they suffer in detention. The effects are chilling,” said Musni.
Dr. Castro was arrested on Friday morning based on a warrant issued by Judge Fernando Fudalan Jr. of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 7 in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur.
Incidentally, Fudalan is the same judge who dismissed kidnapping and robbery cases against 17 human rights workers and activists in November 2021.
The court threw out the cases because the accused were detained in Sibagat town for more than a year without the “benefit of a speedy trial” due to delays in the prosecution.
Brigadier General Roderick Augustus Alba, chief of the Philippine National Police’s information office, said Dr. Castro’s arrest was the result of “her alleged criminal actions that constitute participation in a case of kidnapping with serious illegal detention,” and not because of her alleged links to the communist rebel organization.
Dr. Castro’s younger sister Menchi, who spoke on behalf of the family, denied that the doctor has ties with the CPP-NPA.
Menchi told Rappler that Dr. Castro never espoused violence, and that the CPP-NPA’s “philosophy is not congruent with what she believes in.”
In a statement on Saturday, February 19, the PNP said Castro was booked in San Juan City on Friday morning, and was “immediately flown to Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur where she is presently detained.”
Jun Castro, in a Facebook post on Saturday night, confirmed that her sister was located by family members, lawyers, and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in a detention facility in Bayugan.
Alba said Dr. Castro was provided a hygiene kit, clothes and toiletries, while the local office of the CHR was informed of her status.
He said the physician would be presented to a court in Bayugan.
“It must be understood that the accused is wanted by the law to stand trial in Criminal Case No. 6527… Her appearance in court will allow her to further enjoy all the guaranteed rights of an accused person,” read part of the PNP statement. – Rappler.com
Froilan Gallardo is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship, and Herbie Gomez is Rappler’s Mindanao bureau coordinator.