Junking of trumped-up charges vs Dr. Naty Castro exposes pattern of criminalization vs human rights defenders, dissenters

Photo from Free Dr. Naty Castro Now Campaign/Facebook

As human rights alliance Karapatan welcomed on Friday the release of community health and human rights worker Dr. Maria Natividad “Naty” Castro and the dismissal of the trumped-up kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges filed against her, the group said that these charges and her arbitrary arrest in her family’s home in San Juan City last February 18, 2022 “expose a pattern in the criminalization of the beliefs and work of human rights defenders and political dissenters, which involves the brazen denial of their right to due process under the law.”

“Doc Naty’s right to due process was denied to her when she was not served a subpoena on these charges before the arrest warrant against her was issued: she was deprived of her right to defend herself in the preliminary investigation. While we laud the court for standing up for her rights in junking these charges, her case exhibits a clear pattern in how defenders and dissenters are being wrongly painted as criminals through fabricated charges and unjust arrests after being similarly denied of their right to due process,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

In a resolution dated March 25, 2022, Acting Presiding Judge Fernando Fudalan Jr. of the Bayugan City Regional Trial Court Branch 7 dismissed the kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges against Dr. Castro on the grounds of the “[d]enial of her right to due process” and “[f]or lack of jurisdiction over the person of the accused,” as the court ordered her immediate release from detention. Dr. Castro has since been released from the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail last Wednesday March 30, 2022 and has been reunited with her family.

Ruling on Dr. Castro’s motion, Judge Fudalan asserted that the conduct of a preliminary investigation without issuing a subpoena to her — which deprived her of the opportunity to participate in the preliminary investigation — “is offensive to due process.” He also admonished the prosecution’s comment that Dr. Castro could not be reached by a subpoena for she supposedly had no permanent address as “completely hypothetical without proof to hold it true” which is “in no way considered a reasonable excuse.”

“Cutting off the process of issuing a subpoena to respondents in a preliminary investigation defeats the purpose of preventing the innocents from exposing to the risk of incarceration, inevitable anxiety, aggravation, humiliation, not to speak of expense, and the right to an opportunity to avoid a painful process is a valuable right, to secure the innocent against hasty, malicious, and oppressive prosecution, and to protect from an open and public accusation of a crime, from the trouble, expenses, and anxiety of a public trial,” the resolution read.

Palabay averred that “not only were the cases against Doc Naty utterly baseless: the resolution of Judge Fudalan is a repudiation of this pattern of issuing arrest warrants without even issuing subpoenas for them to participate and defend themselves in preliminary investigations” — citing how Karapatan National Chairperson Elisa Lubi, Karapatan – Southern Mindanao Region Secretary General Jayvee “Jay” Apiag, Karapatan - Caraga paralegal Renalyn Tejero, and cultural worker Lorena Sigua likewise did not receive copies of subpoenas for the trumped-up charges filed against them.

“Denying individuals of their right to due process by not issuing subpoenas for the cases against them — thereby depriving them of their right to defend themselves from these hogwash and malicious accusations — has become a modus operandi to publicly vilify them as criminals. The court’s decision on dismissing the charges against Doc Naty is a clear assertion that this pattern in the criminalization of the work of human rights defenders and political dissenters,” the Karapatan official continued.

“The dismissal of the charges against Doc Naty proves that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s malicious and baseless statements against our red-tagged colleague and community doctor are all lies. We extend our hugs of solidarity to Doc Naty and her family, as we enjoin her to continue doing her work as a community health and human rights worker and to exact justice and accountability from those who violated her rights,” she ended.