Day 100

by Nancy Eng MacNeill

After three months spent at Camp Capinpin, (in Tanay (town) in Rizal province) mostly in solitary confinement, Dr. Alexis Montes and his fellow detainees, known as the Morong 43 (2 doctors, 1 registered nurse, 2 midwives and 38 volunteer community health workers) completed a week to two week arrival process to Camp Bagong Diwa outside of Metro Manila in Taguig City.

On May 16, 2010, a group of election observers from the People’s International Observers Mission (PIOM) was among the first groups to visit the Morong 43. After brief introductions, Dr. Alexis Montes was asked to share the events of their arrest and the status of their current situation. As he would when greeting any visitors, Dr. Alexis opened his arms wide and said “welcome to the Philippines,” choking on the emotion of the words while holding back the tears of his current reality.

Morong 43 for posting May 16 happened to be the Day 100 of detainment for the Morong 43 since their arrest on February 6, 2010. As Dr. Alexis spoke, I was able to capture some additional information about their story that added to my overall understanding and outrage at their detainment.

Last year (2009), after several natural disasters hit numerous areas in the Philippines, the Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED) and the Council for Health and Development (CHD) made an assessment and determined to provide additional training for community healthcare workers on basic and advanced trauma and life support, with the anticipation of saving lives. The training was held at a residential compound owned by Dr. Melecia Velmonte, chairperson of COMMED’s Board of Directors and a renowned and respected infectious disease specialist and a professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. 

While the training was taking place, a search warrant was issued for Mario Condes on allegations of illegal firearms possession. The warrant did not contain an address, only the name of the Barangay (barrio) of the location of Mario Condes.  However, Mario Condes was not a member of the group or ever found.  In fact, using the name Mario Condes in the Philippines would be similar to using the name of John Doe or John Smith in the United States, in this case, Mario Condes was a nonexistent person—a name to put on the warrant.   

Using the warrant, authorities entered Dr. Velmonte’s compound and arrested the participants in the medical training who are now known as the Morong 43. The arresting authorities claimed the Morong 43 were undergoing training on bomb-making with the intent of carrying out an assassination. Bound and blindfolded for the first 36 hours, they were given no information about the reasons they were being held and they were denied their right to counsel. Read more about the arrest.

The Morong 43, interrogated and tortured was repeatedly asked to sign an affidavit admitting their involvement with the New People’s Army—the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Five of the 43 have signed such confessions and remain at Camp Capinpin. They are being represented by different group of lawyers from the rest of the Morong 43. Reports suggest the five are being bribed with land and money in return for turning against other members of the Morong 43. 

Camp Barong Diwa is home to the other 15 men and 23 women, who are known throughout the camp as the Morong 43. They are considered high profile detainees as opposed to the 130 men said to be members of Abu Sayyaf, a group that seeks the establishment of an independent Islamic province in the southern Philippines, who are considered high risk. 

In total there are 683 detainees currently residing in Camp Barong Diwa, some have been there for over three years. The men and the women are located in separate buildings. The 15 Morong men are located on the top floor of a four story building, they have three cells housing five men each. The hallway in front of their cells allows them to gather, walk, share food and talk for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. There cells are situated on the same hallway as the isolation cells, that currently house detainees with tuberculosis. The food is substandard—groups and family members that visit, bring food to supplement their diets, with protein and fresh fruit. Those visiting the detainees have said that the food served they receive is not even suitable to feed pigs.

The 23 Morong women all live in one cell, two of whom need to sleep on the floor to accommodate everyone. The women choose to stay together for community and to be a support to one another. They also believe that another detainee has been placed inside the facility to report on their conversations and activities. Two of the women are pregnant (6 months and 3 months respectively). The day of our visit also brought their first prenatal visit which resulted in one projected c-section birth. The second birth is likely to be a c-section as well. Should these women want to give birth in the hospital, they and their families will need to raise and pay for an expensive hospital birth. After giving birth, the mother and the baby can stay together for one week, before the mother must surrender the baby to family members and return to the detention camp.

Camp Barong Diwa does not allow visitation from children under the age of 3 years. Some of the indigenous women, for whom beading is a specialty, have been teaching the others how to bead—mainly bracelets and necklaces bearing signs of solidarity and the words “Free 43.”

As participants in the February medical training, the Morong 43 did not know each other. This experience has thrown them and their families together as a community. They have just begun to talk with each other, learn about each other and are now thrown together in small, cramped and less than adequate living facilities. In some instances, family members are not able to visit due to distance and cost. Family members are being harassed and constantly watched,  their homes raided and any unlawful conduct in their Barangays are being attributed as the work of the Morong 43.

Write letters for their immediate release and pray for their release to come quickly. With the election of a new president, the Morong 43 believe their case will be moved to a lower priority and will move very slowly, leaving them in Camp Barong Diwa for an extended period of time.

The photo is by Nancy Eng MacNeill.

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