NCC Petitions Clinton to Investigate Morong 43

The National Council of Churches (NCC) U.S.A has petitioned Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton to investigate the Philippine army's detention of 43 health workers, who were arrested under charges of being involved in communist activity.

"It is a matter of the deepest concern to us in the United States whenever Christian sisters and brothers are threatened by governments and other forces or slanderously accused of illegitimate activities for political purposes," wrote NCC General Secretary the Rev. Michael Kinnamon.

Some 300 soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Rizal-Philippine National Police (PNP) arrested the 43 health workers on Feb. 6 claiming the group was making bombs and had ties to the communist New People's Army (NPA).

Leaders from the international community have maintained the group - dubbed the Morong 43 - was engaged in legitimate activity.

Bishop Eliezer M. Pascua, general secretary for the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), called the Philippine army's charges "ludicrous," and hailed the detainees, including UCCP member Dr. Alex Montes, as victims "illegal arrest, disappearance and detention."

"We take Bishop Pascua at his word that Dr. Montes and the other detainees were merely pursuing tasks related to their profession of healing, and we are anxious for their safety and wellbeing," wrote Kinnamon, who concluded his letter by urging Clinton to "look into this matter and express the concern and attention of the United States Government."

With his remarks Kinnamon adds himself to a growing pool of international leaders who have expressed concern over the situation, including World Council of Churches leader the Rev. Olav Tveit.

Many leaders have been particularly vocal regarding accusations against the Philippine military of molesting and torturing the detainees.

Human rights group Karapatan was outraged over the AFP's alleged exploitation of one detainee, Valentine Paulino, who Karapatan claims was forced to falsely admit the Morong 43's ties with the NPA under coercion of "severe physical and psychological torture."

"The AFP delayed the lawyers and doctors from meeting all of the victims so that they can 'steal' Paulino," Karapatan Secretary General Lovella de Castro said in a statement. "And this is further proof that the military is again circumventing the constitutional laws and judicial procedures, and they are utilizing all dirty means to implicate the victims of fabricated criminal charges."

The AFP, meanwhile, has denied the accusations, and is reportedly welcoming a petition from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to inspect the condition of the detainees who are being held at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal.

"According to the ICRC, their concern is on the condition of the 43 detainees, if they are being fed well, if they have facilities, if they are given time to sun themselves and other conditions," AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, Jr. told the Manila Bulletin. "We welcome these recommendations and visits just to show that no torture or sexual harassments are taking place inside the detention facility."

The ICRC is expected to visit Camp Capinpin on Thursday or Friday.

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