Group, family of arrested health worker call for her immediate release

·4 min read
Dr. Ma. Natividad Marian Castro. The health worker and human rights advocate is accused of being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. (Source: Karapatan/Facebook; Jun Castro/Facebook)
Dr. Ma. Natividad Marian Castro. The health worker and human rights advocate is accused of being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. (Source: Karapatan/Facebook; Jun Castro/Facebook)

Authorities said health worker and human rights advocate Dr. Natividad "Naty" Castro is currently detained at the Bayugan City police station in Agusan del Sur, after human rights groups flag concerns on the doctor's whereabouts after her arrest.

"After proper documentation and booking procedure upon her arrest in San Juan City on Friday morning, she was immediately flown to Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur where she is presently detained," PNP-PIO chief Police Brigadier General Roderick Augustus Alba said in a statement.

A Bayugan court reportedly issued the arrest warrant on Castro. The detained health worker will be presented before the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 of Bayugan City for proper disposition.

Police arrested the health worker on Friday based on an arrest warrant that a human rights group says are trumped-up charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention in Caraga.

Dr. Ma. Natividad Marian "Naty" Castro, who was repeatedly red-tagged for her work in Mindanao, was arrested by a composite team of police and military intelligence operatives in Barangay San Perfecto, San Juan City, according to the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The police alleged in a report that Castro is a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines’s (CPP) central committee and head of the New People’s Army’s (NPA) National Health Bureau. However, rights groups Karapatan said that she is a known human rights and health worker in Mindanao.

“Dr. Naty is a known human rights and health worker in Mindanao, where she helped set up community centers and programs and trained many human rights workers for several years. She had led several fact-finding missions and assisted victims of human rights violations in the region,” Karapatan said.

The human rights group said that in March 2016, Castro joined a delegation of human rights defenders in Geneva, Switzerland to participate in the UN Human Rights Council sessions. In meetings with UN Special Procedures, diplomatic missions, international NGOs and solidarity groups based in Switzerland, Castro discussed the plight of Lumad communities in Caraga and the whole of Mindanao.

Castro was reportedly brought to the Quirino Memorial Medical Center and to the PNP Intelligence Group Building inside Camp Crame. “When Karapatan National Office’s team inquired with the said office, we were told that Dr. Naty is being brought to the airport to be flown to where her cases are pending,” the group added.

The arrest was made through the orders of Fernando Fudalan, acting presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court of Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur who issued a warrant of arrest against Castro on January 30, 2020, the police said.

Caraga police alleged that Castro was involved in the kidnapping of a member of CAFGU Active Auxiliary unit, detained the victim in an unidentified location, and threatened him on December 29, 2018, in Barangay Kolambungan, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur.

Meanwhile, Karapatan called the charges “trumped-up,” denouncing the arrest and calling it as another form of attack against human rights defenders.

The group also called on authorities to respect the rights of Castro without denying the doctor access to her family, lawyers, doctors, and paralegals; against interrogation without the presence of her counsel of choice; and access to her medicines, noting that the doctor has hypertension and diabetes.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) on Saturday (Feb 19) expressed “grave concern” as to the whereabouts of the health worker.

In a statement, CHR said that Castro had been reportedly red-tagged for her work as human rights and development worker.

The human rights commission also highlighted that Castro initiated several health programs in Mindanao prior to the pandemic.

“CHR has dispatched a quick response team in NCR and Caraga and is undertaking a motu propio investigation on the reports received that indicate possible violations of the Philippine National Police rules of procedure, among other issues,” the agency added.

(UPDATE: New additional information made in paragraphs 1 to 3).

Pola Rubio is a news writer and photojournalist covering Philippine politics and events. She regularly follows worldwide and local happenings. The views expressed are her own.

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