DAVAO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) — A community doctor who joined a United Nations delegation in 2016 to defend indigenous peoples in Caraga Region was arrested following a police raid at her house in San Juan, Metro Manila.
Doctor Maria Natividad Castro, was forcibly taken by police and military intelligence operatives in her home on Friday, February 18 in the morning, the human rights group Karapatan said.
She was charged with kidnapping and illegal detention based on a warrant of arrest issued on January 30, 2020 by acting presiding judge Fernando Fudalan of the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 of Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur. Police claimed Castro is a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Where is Doc Naty?
Castro’s whereabouts remain unknown as of Saturday morning. Her sister Menchie said Doctor Naty was brought to the airport to bring her to Butuan to face the charges, but members of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) said they did not find her at the Butuan airport.
Dr. Castro was tracked on Saturday afternoon already in Bayugan City Jail, her brother Jun posted on their Facebook account. She was tracked through efforts of the Commission on Human Rights Caraga and provided the family with pictures. Dr. Castro’s sisters flew to Butuan on Saturday noon to look after her.
Her sister Menchi deplored how the arrest was made. In a news story, she said plain-clothes officers climbed their wall, knocked down the door and presented a photocopied warrant that contained 300 names but her sister’s name was not in that list.
She said Dr. Castro was brought to Quirino Memorial Medical Center but doctors did not check on her and then to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Intelligence Group Building in Camp Crame.
The human rights group Karapatan denounces the arrest of Dr. Castro as another form of attacks against human rights defenders and calls on the authorities to respect the rights of Castro.
“We call on the PNP to respect the rights of Dr. Naty with regards to access to her family, lawyers, doctors and paralegals, against interrogation without the presence of her counsel of choice, and access to her medicines,” Karapatan said in a statement.
The 53-year old Castro is taking medications for her diabetes and hypertension.
Top of her class
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said the charges are false accusations as Castro is a community physician and a human rights advocate, not a criminal as the military allegedly perceives her to be.
“This despicable policy and practice of the Duterte regime of filing trumped up charges against rights defenders in an attempt to silence them should stop,” Palabay said.
Palabay said Dr. Castro joined her last 2016 as part of the delegation of human rights defenders to the United Nations Human Rights Council session, where she discussed the plight of Lumad communities and schools in Caraga region and Mindanao being attacked by the military.
Castro’s graduating batch, the University of the Philippines Medical class of 1995, issued a statement defending her.
“Naty is not an ordinary doctor, she is a servant leader actually involved in health and human rights and working towards providing health care for all by serving in rural and geographically isolated areas,” their statement read.
Castro graduated cum laude in BS Zoology from UP Diliman in 1990, and in 1995 she graduated with a degree in Medicine at the UP College of Medicine. In 2006, her alma mater St. Scholastica’s College-Manila honored her with the Centennial Award as one of the 100 Outstanding Graduates in the last century. She was the Scholastican High School Valedictorian of Class 1986.
After her graduation, she chose to work in the rural areas in Caraga. She formed community-based health programs, trained community health workers, treated patients and joined medical missions and disaster and relief operations all over Mindanao.
“Maagang namulat si Naty. Marami sa amin, naghahabol. Si Naty, nangunguna (She became aware early on. Most of us have to catch up. Nay was way ahead of us),” her graduating batch said.
Attacks on health workers
Karapatan said doctors and health workers involved in health services in deprived areas and human rights work have been red-tagged. This include Dr. Jean Lindo, a Davao-based doctor and second nominee of Gabriela Women Party-list.
The worse part is the murder of health worker and human rights advocate Zara Alvarez in Bacolod City on August 17, 2020 and Dr. Rose Sancelan, the municipal doctor of Guihulngan, Negros Occidental on December 15, 2020. — with reports from Jan Gargallano (davaotoday.com)