WCC urges release of detained Filipino health workers

By agency reporter
February 11, 2010

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has urged President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo "to ensure the immediate release" of Dr Alexis Montes and other 42 health workers detained by military and police forces on 6 February 2010. Montes, a physician, is a long-time staff member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines.

"I am distressed by the reported news that the detainees have been subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment amounting to torture and that they have been deprived of their basic human rights while in custody", the WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, wrote to President Arroyo in a 11 February letter.

Tveit called for the respect of the detainees' human rights, including their rights to legal counsel, access to visitors and due process. According to news reports, the detainees were only allowed to see lawyers on Thursday, 11 February, after almost a week in detention.

The General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Bishop Eliezer M. Pascua, has reported that Montes and his co-workers have been victims of "illegal arrest, disappearance and detention".

According to Pascua, at the moment of their arrest, Montes and the other detainees were participating in training for community health workers at a retreat centre in Morong, about 50 kilometres east of Manila. "The ludicrous allegation that Dr Alex [Montes] was involved in a bomb-making training is deplorable", said Pascua in a statement.

The human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights) reports that 1,118 extrajudicial killings were documented in the Philippines between 2001 and October 2009.

During that same period, Karapatan recorded a total of 204 victims of enforced disappearance and 1,026 victims of torture. The human rights organisation denounces thousands of cases of forcible evacuation and displacement due to military operations in the rural areas.

In April 2009, the Rev Berlin Guerrero, a pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, testified before the UN Committee against Torture meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. "Church people have not been spared from torture", said Guerrero, a victim of torture himself, who was abducted in May 2007 and released 15 months later.

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