03/17/2010, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Filipino bishops call for the release of the 43 volunteers held by army for over a month

by Santosh Digal
The widespread appeal in recent days was signed by over a thousand people including religious leaders and politicians. They accuse the army of human rights violations. Health professionals were working for a local NGO. The army arrested them on 6 March with the false accusation of making weapons and bombs used by insurgents of the communist New Peoples Army.

Manila (AsiaNews) - Bishops, religious leaders and politicians are asking the army and government for the immediate release of 43 medical volunteers held from 6 February in Morong (Rizal Province) who have been falsely accused of supporting the rebels of the Communist New Peoples Army (NPA). The appeal was circulated in recent days by national media and signed by over a thousand people including politicians and religious leaders, Catholics and Protestants.  

"Injustice has no space in society – says Mgr. Edward Malecdan head of the Filipino bishops' conference - especially when it affects those people who try to help our brothers in need".  The 43 volunteers were participating in a refresher course held by the NGO Council for Health and Development at the Philippine General Hospital consultant Dr. Melecio Velmonte in the village of Morong about 100 kilometers from the capital. During the lesson more than 300 soldiers raided the hospital and arrested them. According to the army, the volunteer group was in possession of explosives and firearms used to support the guerrillas of the communist NPA rebels active in the area. After the arrest, the volunteers were transported to a military camp where for a month they have suffered physical and psychological torture.  

"The arrest was based on false accusations and was in violation of normal standards of the law - said Fr Joe Dizon, a priest and activist for human rights - we deplore the torture of volunteers, subjected to continued questioning, forced to stand blindfolded for 36 hours and deprived of legal assistance and medical assistance. " On 10 March the Court of Appeal rejected a petition signed by relatives of the arrested and confirmed the jurisdiction of the case to court in the province of Rizal. The relatives have announced that they will appeal to the Supreme Court.  

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