A doctor helping indigenous community in Mindanao is arrested
by Stefano Vecchia

Charges were laid against Maria Natividad Castro for kidnapping, illegal detention and membership in the Communist Party. She was not allowed to contact her lawyers or family. Other doctors and academics have slammed the arbitrary use of the country’s anti-terrorism law.

Davao (AsiaNews) – Dr Maria Natividad "Naty" Castro was arrested last Friday at her home in San Juan, Mindanao, on charges of kidnapping and illegal detention.

A medical doctor known from her humanitarian work among indigenous communities, Dr Castro was taken to a police station in the city of Bayugan, Agusan del Sur province, police announced today.

The 53-year-old physician is also accused of membership in the Communist Party of the Philippines, in charge of health services in the New People's Army, the party's military wing.

In a statement, the All UP Academic Employees Union slams “The arbitrary arrest of Dr. Maria Natividad “Naty” Castro [which] highlights the dangers of the Duterte government's Anti-Terrorism Law, which can be weaponized against anyone, including healthcare workers.”

The legislation was approved in 2020 and amended in December 2021 following a ruling by the Supreme Court.

In addition to other medical professionals and academics, who have seen colleagues abducted or gunned down in the past, many civil society groups are demanding Castro’s release.

One organisation, Karapatan, is familiar with her work among disadvantaged communities in Mindanao.

For decades, tensions and violence have scarred life on the big southern island, torn by ethnic, religious and other cleavages, rooted in conflicts among various groups interested in controlling its resources.

For this reason, many activists, journalists and intellectuals often end up becoming victims of government repression or targets of one of the parties to the conflict.

According to the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), which is acting as Castro's legal counsel, the doctor “reserves her rights to pursue legal remedies against those police officers who violated her rights with impunity.”

In FLAG’s view normal procedures were not respected when she was taken from her home and she was denied access to her family and counsel.