The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on Sunday condemned the “unlawful arrest and unjust detention” of health worker Dr. Ma. Natividad “Naty” Castro called for her immediate release.
In a statement, the CPP said Castro was a victim of the President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war of terror against the people” and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“The party adds its voice to the immediate demand of human rights organizations, colleagues, and friends of Dr. Castro for her immediate release and dropping of all trumped-up charges against her,” the CPP statement said.
Castro was arrested on kidnapping charges Friday by Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces intelligence operatives in Barangay San Perfecto, San Juan City on the basis of a warrant of arrest issued by an Agusan del Sur regional trial court.
The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) said Sunday that they and Castro’s sisters were able to meet with her at the Bayugan, Agusan del Sur police headquarters on Saturday.
FLAG said two of Castro’s sisters were able to speak with and spend time with her.
FLAG denied police claims that Castro was a communist or a terrorist.
“She is a health worker who has been helping those who need help most,” said FLAG national chairperson Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno.
Diokno said that Castro served people in various areas in Mindanao as a health worker and she also helped the Lumad who were victims of militarization.
The Alliance of Health Workers (AHW) also called for Castro’s immediate release, saying she was wrongly tagged by police as a high-ranking official of the CPP.
The group denied police accusations, saying Castro, 53, is a long-time executive director of a community-based health program in Butuan City that helped train community health workers and established health committees in the CARAGA region.
“We health workers are infuriated with what the state forces did to Dr. Castro. We believe that she is innocent and all of the charges accused of her are all fictitious. Dr. Castro and other health workers who chose to sincerely and wholeheartedly serve the poor communities by providing health services to the underprivileged are very scarce nowadays,” said Robert Mendoza, AHW national president.
“A dedicated health worker like Dr. Naty Castro must be honored and protected by this government. Instead of looking for greener pastures by working abroad, Dr. Castro devoted her time and knowledge to educate and serve those who are in need and neglected by the government,” Mendoza added.
Senator Richard Gordon and senatorial aspirant Dr. Minguita Padilla expressed grave concern over Castro’s arrest.
Gordon urged Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra and Chief PNP Dionardo Carlos to look seriously into the matter and ensure that the continuing violation of the Constitution and Castro’s rights cease immediately.
“The talents of people like Castro, a brilliant and humane physician, whose activities included setting up community centers and training on human rights are what are sorely needed by our country, especially in these pandemic times,” said Gordon.
He added that for the sake of argument, even if the charges—she is accused of kidnapping a member of the civilian armed force geographical unit—are true, Castro is still protected by the Constitution and laws that presume innocence, and which prohibit secret detention.
Padilla asked law enforcers to respect Castro’s constitutional rights and that she be given fair and proper treatment.
The Department of Health (DOH) reminded authorities to follow due process.
“The contributions of our health workers, especially those who have opted to work with the underserved are immeasurable,” the DOH said.
“All our citizens, health workers included, enjoy the constitutional guarantees of due process and presumption of innocence until proven guilty. We trust our authorities to uphold these rights,” the DOH added.
The Manila Community of Benedictine Sisters and the Academic Community of St. Scholastica’s College denounced the charges against Castro.
“It is ridiculous to accuse Dr. Naty of kidnapping and illegal detention of those she is helping and whose human rights she is defending. It is unjust that one who has chosen to live in places that are not reached by the services that every human being is entitled to receive; one who has committed her life to give life to others, is now deprived of her right to life, a life that she has lived witnessing to Christ’s love and compassion,” the community said in a joint statement.
Castro, 53, is a cum laude graduate of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) and a valedictorian of St. Scholastica High School-Manila.