FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Reference: Kuusela Hilo, Vice Chair of BAYAN-USA
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Los Angeles, California–Concerned leaders and human rights advocates representing various communities in Los Angeles sent a delegation to speak with California U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer’s office. They met with Senator Boxer’s office to deliver petitions signed by over 500 people and organizations to demand the immediate release of the 43 health workers who have been illegally arrested, detained, and tortured by the Philippine military since February 6, 2010. Representatives of the delegation urged Senator Boxer to continue her commitment to human rights by supporting the demand for the immediate and unconditional release of the 43 and to stop human rights violations in the Philippines.
The delegation included community leaders Reverend David Farley and Reverend Sandra Richards of the United Methodist Church; Melissa Roxas, a survivor of abduction and torture in the Philippines; Chito Quijano of California Nurses’ Association and the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS); Kuusela Hilo of BAYAN-USA and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA); representatives from the organizations AnakBayan Los Angeles; Habi Arts; Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken!; International Action Center; Confederation of Iranians; and other concerned individuals.
ILPS representative Quijano stated, “We request Senator Barbara Boxer to support the release of the 43. As long as the 43 health workers are languishing in a ‘Guantanamo-like prison’ and the Philippine military continues violating human rights, no U.S. tax dollars should be given to the Philippine government.”
In 2008, following a hearing in the United States Senate on the human rights situation in the Philippines, convened by Sen. Boxer, the US Congress voted to withhold $2 million of 2009 military aid until the Philippine government complied with certain human rights conditions. However, the Philippine government has not made any significant efforts to improve the human rights situation in their country. The Ampatuan Massacre in November 2009, which saw the slaying of 58 people, along with the illegal arrest and abuse of the 43 health workers at the hands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines only demonstrate the worsening human rights conditions in the country.
Rev. Richards, Rev. Farley, and Hilo took part in the United Methodist Church California Pacific Pastoral and Solidarity visit to the Philippines last week. They also participated in a delegation that visited the 43 health workers illegally detained in the military Camp Capinpin. Rev. Richards shared her firsthand accounts with Senator Boxer’s office, including the conversations with the families of the 43 detained health workers and the forum with Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila de Lima. Rev. Richards concluded, “Regardless of whether one believes that the 43 health workers are innocent of the charges, it is a fact beyond doubt that their civil and human rights have been violated. They were forced to sit handcuffed and blindfolded for 36 straight hours, were not told with what they were being charged, were not allowed to lie down or sleep, and were fed and toileted by strangers. This kind of torture is illegal in the Philippines. The military has shown extreme disregard for human rights and the law of the country they are meant to protect.”
Rev. Richards elaborated, “The global United Methodist Church has determined that two of its four goals are: global health and ministry with the poor. The 43 health workers were living out this call. It’s troubling that the Philippine government has criminalized the work on behalf of these goals. If these selfless acts of mercy are allowed to be categorized as criminal, then who can be safe?”
Rev. Richards highlighted, “The United States is widely seen as a partner in the Philippine Military, and is a funder. If the U.S. Government does not step in to free these health workers, the United States Government will have become a party to religious persecution of the Christians in the Philippines.”
On February 15, 2010, after the petitioning for writ of habeas corpus and mounting public pressure, the Philippine military presented the 43 health workers to the Court of Appeals. The testimony from one of the victims, Dr. Alex Montes, shows proof of psychological torture, physical abuse and other inhumane and degrading treatment of the detainees. The deadline for the court to make a decision on the writ of habeas corpus is Wednesday, February 24, 2010.
“All the 43 health workers did was to serve the poor and the most vulnerable in society and they filled a great need that the Philippine government was not able to provide,” stated Roxas. “I know what it feels like to be detained and tortured. No human being should have to go through that. The situation is critical. Every day that the 43 health workers are not released, it is one more day they have to endure of pain, fear, and torture. We demand the immediate release of the 43 health workers. We need to help stop human rights violations in the Philippines.”
An on-going petition http://www.petitiononline.com/Free43/petition.html has been launched online. All supporters of human rights are invited to join the international effort to Free the 43. More information can be found at http://www.freethehealthworkers.blogspot.com