Karapatan assails terrorist tag on community doctor, calls for junking of anti-terror law

Human rights alliance Karapatan condemned the Anti-Terrorism Council’s (ATC) designation of Dr. Natividad “Doc Naty” Castro, a community health worker and a former human rights worker of Karapatan, as a “terrorist individual.”

In a resolution dated December 7, 2022, but released to the public only yesterday, January 30, 2023, the ATC claimed there was probable cause for Dr. Castro’s designation, alleging her “active and continuous role in attaining the CPP-NPA-NDF’s mission and objectives” by holding key positions in these organizations, including being the executive director of the Community Based Health Program (CBHP) which it accused of having links to the CPP-NPA-NDF.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay slammed Doc Naty’s designation as “arbitrary, baseless and malicious.”

“This designation is the latest attempt by State authorities to harass and intimidate Doc Naty through foul methods that are in clear violation of her right to due process and other constitutional rights,” said Palabay. “With impoverished areas in the countryside in dire need of medical services, health professionals like Doc Naty who have chosen not to join the diaspora of doctors and nurses abroad should be hailed instead of being persecuted,” she stressed, “and pro-poor programs like the CBHP should be supported instead of being red-tagged.”

In 2020, Castro was one of seven nominees to receive the outstanding alumni award at the UP College of Medicine and was requested to write about her work as a community doctor, public health practitioner and human rights activist. That same year, Castro’s name, along with other human rights defenders in Caraga, appeared in a poster distributed throughout the region identifying them as members of the NPA.

Castro has been working as a community doctor, public health practitioner and human rights activist in the Agusan provinces since 1996, when she started her medical practice. She served as the physician for the CBHP, attending to depressed communities, while completing her residency training.

For eight years, she also worked first part-time, then full-time, as human rights documentor and staff for Karapatan’s chapter in Caraga, where she became its secretary-general.

Dr. Castro was arrested at her family home in San Juan City on February 18, 2022, after she came home to care for her ailing mother and sister. The charges against her and some 500 other persons named in a warrant for the alleged kidnapping and serious illegal detention of a member of a paramilitary group were made known to her lawyer only after Dr. Castro had already been detained for several days. She was freed after a month but later ordered rearrested after the court granted a motion for reconsideration filed by the Department of Justice questioning her release.

“Doc Naty is a respected doctor, a much loved community health worker and a brave human rights defender. She is not a terrorist,” averred Palabay. “There is neither credible nor sufficient basis for this designation. It is meant to not only threaten and harass her, it is meant to place her life in danger.”

Palabay demanded the junking of the Anti-Terror Law, which she said, “institutionalizes the ATC’s mandate to act as judge and jury in implementing this draconian law.”

“The Marcos Jr. administration and the ATC must be held accountable for their continuing use of the terror law to quell dissent and violate people’s rights,” concluded Palabay.