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For the nth time under this administration, human rights organizations and advocates are again on the defensive when Dr. Naty Castro, a medical doctor, was arrested in her residence in San Juan City, Metro Manila, evening of February 18, 2022. The charges were for the crimes of kidnapping and illegal detention.
Instead of detaining her, for the meantime, in a nearby precinct, she was immediately flown to Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur and is presently detained there as of this writing.
Before Dr. Naty’s lawyers and relatives were allowed access days after her arrest, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) already issued a statement condemning such implementation of the arrest warrant that “denied [her] access to her counsel and to her family” and “denied her medication.” The Commission on Human Rights will conduct a motu proprio investigation as well.
A doctor of social ills
Dr. Ma. Natividad “Naty” Castro has dedicated her life to public service by serving the poor communities of Agusan in Mindanao for more than 20 years. According to a statement released by the University of the Philippines College of Medicine Class of 1995, to which she belongs, “Naty is not an ordinary doctor. She is a servant leader actively involved in health and human rights and working towards providing health care for all by serving in rural and geographically isolated areas.”
Her advocacy went beyond rural healthcare and into human rights. She served as secretary-general of Karapatan in Caraga region. One of her recent efforts, which led to her red-tagging, was her work against development aggression directed at the Lumads and indigenous peoples that eventually reached the United Nations.
Dr. Naty is among the best and the most brilliant Filipinos – being a product of the state university system and a true public servant. Indeed, she proved to be a doctor of the illnesses that pervade Philippine society.
Setting aside momentarily the question of legality of the arrest and detention of Dr. Naty, we inquire into the larger phenomenon of structural abuse and its implications on our long-held values as a people in light of the EDSA anniversary.
EDSA and the people
This week, we celebrate the 36th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution that ousted the 21-year rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Besides toppling an immensely corrupt and captured government through a peaceful uprising, which then became a standard for democratic movements worldwide, the essence of EDSA is bringing the power back to the people. Otherwise stated, its essence lies in making ordinary and common Filipinos matter.
The vision has been institutionalized through people empowerment and citizen participation in governance, party list representation, accountability mechanisms, and a more decentralized local government structure, among others. “The existing Constitution is an effort not only to correct the excesses of dictatorial rule but to institutionalize the ideals of people’s power upon which the Charter rests and from which this [post-Marcos] regime was birthed.” These enabled social mobility to some extent but have slacked in recent years.
Of course, after three decades, some would discredit the success of EDSA in dispersing power and subsequently uplifting the lives of Filipinos. Social inequality is at its height for most of the population, while social justice seems incomprehensible. For instance, it is frustrating for the ordinary Filipino to see that while he and his family are jobless and starving, the wealthiest Filipino billionaires have even managed to increase their net worth during the pandemic.
Coupled with social media platforms saturated with an anti-EDSA narrative and false Marcos glory propaganda that have harped on these frustrations, the widening social gap has impressed upon the people that, perhaps, power is again captured by the political and economic elite – leaving the ordinary Filipino empty-handed.
If we want any speck of EDSA to survive in our national psyche, the alleged “failure of EDSA” should definitely be confronted now more than ever. Let it be studied, analyzed, and discussed in the public spheres, and propose a way to incisively address the failures.
Alternatively, we can look for inspiration from Filipinos who have dedicated their lives to keep the spirit and promise of EDSA. Dr. Naty’s life’s work, like that of many other Filipinos, makes sure that the true spirit of EDSA lives to endure for generations to come – by making people matter.
True EDSA for every Filipino
A deeper appreciation of the EDSA spirit would reveal that it does not merely aim to empower people or make people matter, it must also work to ensure that the true EDSA spirit is available and accessible to every Filipino.
EDSA 1986 was not only for those who marched or knew someone who marched in EDSA and not only for those who were abused by the dictatorship. EDSA 1986 was for everyone who regained their country at that momentous day.
Today, EDSA must resonate with every citizen, with every socio-economic class, and with all professions. EDSA must appeal to law enforcers, public officials, environmental defenders, activists, the business community, indigenous people, Bangsamoro, urban and rural workers, OFWs, youth, political prisoners, and even political rebels.
The true EDSA spirit must be for every Filipino. At this point, we ask why is it that for Filipinos who strive to make this true on the margins of Philippine society, like Dr. Naty, they are rewarded with arrests and red-tagging?
Dr. Naty, like many other Filipinos, tirelessly worked to ensure that the victory of EDSA People Power, the true EDSA spirit, is felt by people on the margins of society. This is not to mean that they served to further the political or economic interests of the few, but they cared for the neglected in society.
Despite these, she has been red-tagged, the most recent of which occurred following her arrest where the PNP claimed she is a ranking member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. They even alleged that she heads the CPP-NPA’s national health bureau. To these, her relatives and colleagues vehemently object. The targeted crackdown aimed at her is uncalled for and unjustified.
To quote Justice Sarmiento’s dissent in the case of Taruc v. Ericta on the constitutionality of the Anti-Subversion Law, “The greatest threat to freedom is the shortness of human memory.” The oppression, violence, and red-tagging of Filipinos who seek to bring the true spirit of EDSA to the margins likewise shorten national memory, for their commitment is simply dismissed as a danger to national security. For every arrest, every day of detention, and every case filed against these Filipinos, the true spirit of EDSA fades.
We thus ask, moving forward, how will the youth and the next generation of Filipinos dedicate themselves to causes that are beyond their comforts, or that are difficult, if these paths are antagonized by the political status quo?
To whom will Dr. Naty pass the torch of the true spirit of EDSA? We are certain that there is no shortage of Filipino youth who would willingly carry the true spirit of EDSA to the farthest islands and conflict-stricken areas. With the energy and political involvement that the youth exhibits today, that is for sure. – Rappler.com