Morong 43 story told in Toronto

Community News & Features Sep 24, 2010 at 11:19 am

By Dyan Ruiz

Community gathers at Scarborough residence to hear Dr. Julie Caguiat speak about the plight of the Morong 43.

Community gathers at Scarborough residence to hear Dr. Julie Caguiat speak about the plight of the Morong 43.

Dr. Julie Caguiat came to speak at a Scarborough residence about the plight of the Morong 43 on the evening of August 26, 2010. The Morong 43 are healthcare workers who were arrested in Morong, Rizal on February 6, 2010 while conducting a health seminar and have been illegally detained since then.

Dr. Caguiat told the crowd of about 30 people she wanted to “share that knowledge and let other people who receive the information decide what to do” whether that be sending money for advocacy and support of the detainees and their families, prayers, or the signing of petitions.

She described the February raiding of the first aid training by military troops and police who used what she described a false warrant. The arrested include two doctors, midwives, and volunteer community health workers who were held for five days without being able to see a lawyer.

The detainees have alleged the police planted the bombs and guns found in the seminar site and that they coerced the detainees to give testimonies. These were used to support the charges that the Morong 43 are part of the rebel group, the New People’s Army (NPA). One of the people delivering the training, Dr. Alex Montes has publicly claimed of being electrocuted and tortured while in detention.

In an interview that day she said, “We really need to put pressure on the concerned agencies and the President of the Republic of the Philippines… and to generate support in terms of the logistical needs of the relatives and the 43 health care workers.”

She pointed to the recent success of advocacy efforts in pressuring authorities to allow detainee Judilyn Oliveras to stay in a hospital while breastfeeding her newborn. Oliveras gave birth on July 22, 2010 and was at first asked to return to the Manila jail where her and the rest of the other 25 women detainees are being held.

Dr. Caguiat surprised her friends and colleagues when, after graduating magna cum laude from the University of the Philippines (UP) when earning her Bachelor of Science degree, and becoming a doctor, she decided to practice medicine in far-flung areas. Many of them expected her to start a lucrative career in big private hospitals or practice abroad.

She became involved in the activities of the Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED), a non-governmental organization that seeks to improve the health care system primarily by training and fielding physicians in different marginalized areas all over the country. COMMED was hosting the one-week training session where the 43 were arrested.

Dr. Caguiat is the Executive Director Training Officer for COMMED. She remarked to the audience, “If I were there, I would be in jail and Alex would be giving the presentation.”

Dr. Caguiat elaborated on the need of dedicated health care workers in the Philippines explaining that 7 out of 10 Filipinos die without medical attention. While the ideal patient to doctor ratio is 1:600, the Philippines has a 1:10,000 ratio in the Manila area and 1:26,000 in the provinces, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Philippines.

Dr. Julie Caguiat, Paulina Corpuz of PATAC, and hosts Ricky and Lila Mae de Castro

Dr. Julie Caguiat, Paulina Corpuz of PATAC, and hosts Ricky and Lila Mae de Castro

Dr. Caguiat attended the “Montreal International Women’s Conference” in mid-August and gave the same presentation in Scarborough explaining how the socio-economic conditions affect the health of Filipino people. She described these conditions as “a double-burden for the Filipino women” and how “fighting for your right to health” led to the “violation of the human rights of these health workers, who are sacrificing their time and efforts just to serve the majority of the Filipino people.”

She said the arrests “had a chilling effect” on the students approached by COMMED to promote community medicine. “But at the same time, most of the medical schools were angered and they supported the health workers in terms of demanding the government to release them.”

“Despite the sleepless nights that we had, the emotional challenges that the health workers are facing up to now, the broken routine of the families, something positive has happened, because people are finding the strength to fight for their rights and the right to health.”

“A lot of [the detainees] are saying this is not the end of it all. When they are free, they will go back and serve their communities. Mama Del, the 64-year-old who was the cook in the training program always says, ‘Do not cry for us, cry for our Filipino brothers and sisters who are being oppressed.’”

After some discussion on what can be done to help the families, some of the people in attendance offered used laptops and reading glasses that Dr. Caguiat will bring back to the Philippines.

The event was hosted by Philippine Advocacy Through Arts and Culture (PATAC) and was held at the residence of Ricky and Leila Mae de Castro, who said she wanted to host the event in continuation of her student protest days at UP and to raise awareness among middle-class Filipinos in Canada of the big problems Filipinos are facing. De Castro attended another event where Dr. Caguiat spoke then organized this event to spread the Morong 43’s story to more people.

Paulina Corpuz of PATAC said 100 percent of donated funds sent to them at 1703-509 Beecroft Rd, Toronto M2N 0A3 will be used to help the Morong 43.

To find out more about the Morong 43 go to http://freethehealthworkers.blogspot.com. An online petition can be signed at http://petitiononline.com/FreeD43/petition.html.