Health workers, including the wife of Karapatan Deputy Secretary General, illegally arrested in military raid in Rizal province

On February 1, around 40 medical practitioners and health workers participated in a one week First Responders Training, sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation, Inc. (COMMED) and Council for Health and Development (CHD) at Dr. Melecia Velmonte’s Farm, a conference and training facility in Morong, Rizal.

On February 1, around 40 medical practitioners and health workers participated in a one week First Responders Training, sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation, Inc. (COMMED) and Council for Health and Development (CHD) at Dr. Melecia Velmonte’s Farm, a conference and training facility in Morong, Rizal.

Dr. Velmonte is a renowned and respected infectious disease specialist and a consultant at the Philippine General Hospital. Her farm is a regular venue of health trainings, with participants coming from both the communities and the academe.  

At around 6:15 am on February 6, 2010, around 300 heavily armed elements of the military and police forced their way into the farm of Dr. Melecia Velmonte in Bgy. Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal.  At gunpoint, the military forced the caretaker to open the gates. Inside, the soldiers fanned out to different directions. They also kicked the main door to get into the building.

When Dr. Velmonte and her son, Bob demanded for a search warrant, they were merely brushed aside by the military.

All medical practitioners and health workers, were ordered to line up at the garage, frisked, and handcuffed. The victims were also questioned and photographed by the military, while another took a video recording of the interrogation. The male victims were then blindfolded with old shirts brought in by the soldiers and secured with packaging tape. All of the personal belongings of the victims were also taken by the military.

When the participants were already handcuffed, it was only then that Police Superintendent Marion P. Balonglong showed Bob a search warrant for a certain Mario Condes of Bgy. Maybangcal, Morong, Rizal, charged with illegal possession of firearms. The search warrant dated February 5, 2010 and issued by Judge Cesar A. Mangrobang of Branch 22 of the Imus, Cavite Regional Trial Court, did not indicate the exact address of the Velmonte compound.

Bob asserted that the warrant did not specify their address, and that Mario Condes, who is subject of the warrant, is not even the owner of the house, but he was ignored by the authorities.

Outside the compound, were eight (8) vehicles.  Along with the four (4) 6 x 6 military trucks were two (2) Armored Personnel Carriers (APC), a KIA Pride car,  and an ambulance.  Some of the vehicles had no plate numbers while the rest of the license plates were either covered, or smeared with mud.

The male health workers were loaded into the military trucks while female health workers were forced into the cars and vans. They were brought to Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal, headquarters of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of Philippine Army.

The military declared that the victims were members of the New People’s Army because of the explosives allegedly found inside the compound.  However, according to witnesses, the military conducted the search of the compound’s premises only after all of the victims, as well as the residents, were already outside the buildings. Witnesses also said that the military have brought in with them plastic bags with the GMA Kapuso logo printed on it.

Allegedly found were C4 explosives, a pistol with seven bullets, 3 grenades (one allegedly found under a pillow); beside the grenade were some improvised landmines. However, Bob said that they were not issued a receipt of the inventory of the said firearms and explosives.

The military and police arresting team were led by Col. Aurelio Baladad and Police Superintendent Marion Balonglong.

The illegal search of the Velmonte compound ended at past 9:00 in the morning of Saturday, February 6, 2010.

Prior to the incident, one of the participants related that on February 4, the grassy portion outside of the Velmonte compound caught fire at around 8:00 in the evening.  Everyone panicked and went out of their sleeping quarters fearing the fire will cross over to the compound.  Fortunately it did not and the fire died on its own.

On February 5, at around 11:00 pm, the dog tied near the male sleeping quarters and the geese nearby made a raucous.  Then at around 12 midnight, the chickens in a coop nearby were also disturbed and cackled furiously.  One of the male participants went out twice to check but did not see anybody.

In the afternoon of the February 6, Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor, husband of Dr. Merry Mia, Olive Bernardo, Karapatan Services Head, along with Karapatan counsel, Atty. Ephraim Cortez, Dr. Geneve Rivera and Dr. Edelina De La Paz, chairperson of Health Action for Human Rights (HAHR), went to Camp Capinpin to inquire about the victims.  They were not allowed to enter the camp premises.  

On February 7, families and relatives of the illegally arrested went to Camp Capinpin to try to visit and see the conditions of the victims.  They waited at the gate and held a short program but the 2nd Infantry Division played very loud music trying to drown the speeches of the family members and their supporters.  Two groups of fierce-looking dispersal units (with firearms and shields) were dispatched and blocked the gate of the camp. Later, Mr. Clamor and Dr. Caguiat were allowed to enter the camp premises but once again were not allowed to see the victims because allegedly they will be presented for inquest.  They waited until very late in the afternoon no inquest took place.  

On February 8, the team remained in Camp Capinpin. It was heard over the radio that the 2nd IDPA issued a statement that an inquest took place at past 9:00 in the evening of the previous day.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) issued a statement condemning the act of the arresting team.  A team was dispatched by the CHR to Camp Capinpin.  It was allowed to enter camp and Chairperson Leila De Lima was to follow later.

Suddenly, the 2nd IDPA provided a tent, chairs, breads and juices for the people at the gate.  The loud music was turned off.

When Chairperson De Lima arrived, the relatives requested her to intercede to allow them to see the victims.  She agreed.  However, only Chairperson De Lima with Dr. Rivera and two relatives were allowed to enter the camp.  The other victims were denied entrance despite the agreement that all the relatives would be allowed to.

At around 3:00 pm, Chairperson De Lima went out of the camp and briefed the waiting families and relatives. She told the soldiers to allow the relatives to see their loved ones.  They were finally allowed to enter.  They entered by batches of seven.  There were three batches.

They were only allowed 30 minutes each to speak to their loved ones.  They could not freely talk because they were closely guarded by soldiers.  But despite this, the horrors of what the victims suffered under their captors were revealed.  It was learned that they were blindfolded and their hands bound behind with a plastic cuff since they were arrested until a few hours before Chairperson De Lima arrived.  They slept sitting down but when the CHR team arrived, they were already placed in quarters with beds.  All females were put together in one big room while the males were either given their own room or sharing a room with another with toilets.  Their meals were fed to them and their guards pull down their underwears for them everytime they go to the comfort rooms.  The female guards even washed the private parts of women detainee.  They were deprived of sleep because they were repeatedly interrogated.  Others related that the interrogation was done in unholy hours with the clear intention to deprive them of sleep.  

Others related that they were physically tortured.  

Dr. Alexis Montes complained to his son that his shoulders are sore from being pulled back due to the prolonged binding of his hands behind his back.  He also told his son that during interrogation, he was told that he was standing at the edge of a ravine and everytime he answered a question, he was poked with a pair of stick forcing him backward.  He also said that he was electrocuted.  He did not lose consciousness but was paralyzed for a time.  

Ely Castillo softly whispered to his sister to avoid being overheard by the soldier accompanying her that he was tortured.  He was not able to elaborate because of the presence of the soldier.

Dr. Merry Mia related to her husband that she was alternately interrogated by “kind” and harsh men. The “kind” interrogators only asked about personal details, the harsh ones threatened her by saying “You know what we are capable of doing to you and your family.” “We will soon know who your husband is.”  She was also asked over and over again where she lives, where she studied, and what her task was in the training, etc. There was an instance  that three men interrogated her simultaneously.  Threatening to harm her family.  One of whom told her, “We’re not done with you yet.  I will come back for you and will not let you sleep tonight.” Although she was not physically tortured, she was worried that the others were hurt because she heard screams of both men and women in pain.  

Dr. Rivera saw Dr. Mia first before her husband.  Dr. Rivera told the team that she found Dr. Mia in a fetal position.  When she softly called her name, she raised her eyes but it took her a long time to recognize the very familiar face of her friend.