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Staff of US solon seek information on ‘Morong 43’ case

By Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:46:00 04/10/2010

Filed Under: Congress, Military, Human Rights

THE CASE OF THE “MORONG 43” HAS gotten the attention of a United States congressman.

According to two independent sources, two senior members of the staff of US Rep. Howard Berman were in the country recently to look into the Maguindanao massacre when they learned about the case of the Morong 43.

Berman, a Democrat representing the 28th District of California, was recently named chair of the influential House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

His two staff members, a man and a woman, spent two days in Davao and one day in Manila gathering information on the election-related killing of 57 people, half of them journalists, in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao last year.

Later, the two staffers, sought more information about the continued detention of the Morong 43 and the allegations that they had been tortured.

“They were very surprised to find out all these things about the case,” said one source, who declined to identify the persons who briefed the congressional staff members on the case.

Berman’s staff reportedly said that they would brief Berman and review the Morong 43 case with the congressman.

The 43 health workers were arrested by the military on Feb. 6 in a rest house in Morong, Rizal, where they were purportedly attending a seminar on community health care.

The military, however, said they found guns and explosives at the seminar site. The military claimed the health workers were members of the outlawed New People’s Army (NPA), the guerrilla arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Charges of illegal possession of firearms have been filed against them.

Earlier, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it had found evidence to support claims of torture.

Five of the 43 detainees have reportedly admitted to being members of the NPA.

The military transported 38 of the 43 detainees to Camp Crame in Quezon City from Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, on Friday in line with a Morong court order. But the police refused to take them in, saying that their detention facility was full.

In a statement yesterday, CHR Chair Leila de Lima criticized the failed hand-over of the detainees by the military to the police, saying that both uniformed agencies were below par “in terms of criminal procedure and respect for human rights.”

“These two institutions are demonstrating a serious deficiency of coordination,” De Lima said.

She said there was no legal basis for the continued detention of the 43 in a military camp nor was there a legal basis for the PNP to refuse to take them into custody.

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