The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) welcomes the announcement of President Benigno C. Aquino III ordering the Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw the charges against the 43 health workers, also known as the Morong 43. The health workers were arrested in February 6, 2010 without warrants and detained illegally, by a composite team of the Philippine Army and Philippine National Police. News of the President’s announcement was greeted with applause at an ecumenical gathering timed to mark Human Rights Day. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno who was featured the resource speakers at this gathering was also happy at this development.
The illegal arrest and detention of the health workers was loudly criticized by human rights groups and church advocates in the Philippines. The campaign for their immediate and unconditional release reached the international level with the ecumenical community lending its voice. The last group to call for their release was the Living Letters Delegation organized by the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia who visited the Philippines in December 1-5, 2010. The clamor for the President for their release was also boosted by his previous statement that the arrest had legal infirmities and was a product of the “fruit of the poisoned tree” that is “evidence wrongly gotten cannot be used”.
We hope that the Morong 43 will be released from detention at the soonest possible time so they can be home and re-united with their families and friends. We are glad for the families and relatives who never gave up and stood on principled grounds in maintaining the wrong done to their loved ones.
We would also like to express our most profound thanks to the solidarity and unwavering support of the international community, especially our partners led by the World Council of Churches, the Christian Conference of Asia, the National Council of Churches in Australia and the United Church of Canada. We thank the Filipinos overseas who, individually and in groups added their voices to the call. We also note with constructive pride the member churches of the NCCP who prayed and supported the campaign for the release of the health workers in various ways. We thank the print and broadcast media outfits here and abroad for their help in highlighting this issue since their arrest.
Even as we express elation over this development, we continue to urge that our President look with favor on the plight of the 369 other political detainees, 13 of them arrested since he assumed office. We pray that the Department of Justice under the leadership of Secretary Leila de Lima will persevere in rendering speedy justice to all victims of human rights.
Finally, vigilance with hope is the primary message of the Advent season. The release of these health workers is the result of this vigilance with hope where Christians work hard to turn the hope into reality. After all the greatest hope of all was made real when God sent Jesus Christ to be with us on that first Christmas
Rev. Fr. REX RB Reyes, JR.
Human Rights Day, 2010