PHILIPPINES - Eight members of the "Morong 43" on Thursday charged former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and 18 others in the Department of Justice (DOJ) with torture and other human rights violations the health workers suffered when they were arrested and detained in 2010.
Edre Olalia, counsel of the health workers, said the case against Arroyo was the first criminal charge filed against a former Philippine president for human rights violations.
He noted that the human rights cases filed against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos were civil cases.
"The complaint serves as an eloquent reminder to GMA (Arroyo) that she will not get away with the inhumane acts that her administration fostered or tolerated," Olalia said at a press briefing at the DOJ.
"This will put to test the application of the dictum on command responsibility. It will also be an acid test for the antitorture law, which ironically was signed by Arroyo into law in 2009," he added.
In a 25-page complaint, eight health workers said Arroyo, former Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Victor Ibrado and former Army chief General Delfin Bangit, "by virtue of their offices, had actual knowledge of the commission of the torture against us, and are criminally liable … under the principle of command responsibility."
Elena Bautista-Horn, spokesperson of Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, said the former President was saddened by the filing of the charges because she had nothing to do with the case.
"However, she feels this may present a good opportunity to uncover the truth behind the incident. We will answer all the charges at the proper time," Horn said in a statement issued late Thursday afternoon.
Arroyo is currently detained at a government hospital in Quezon City on a charge of electoral sabotage.
Colonel Arnulfo Burgos Jr., spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, reserved comment on the charges, saying he has yet to get details of the complaint.
Besides Arroyo, Ibrado and Bangit, the charge sheet included Major General Jorge Segovia, Brigadier General Aurelio Baladad, Army Colonels Joey Reyes and Cristobal Zaragosa, and Police Superintendents Marion Balonglong and Allan Nobleza.
Other respondents were Major Manuel Tabon, Lieutenant Jovilee Cabading, a certain Vicente Lopez, female guards identified only as Calaoagan, Cea and Idloy, a certain Bulaklak, a John Doe, Jane Doe and Mickey Doe.
The complainants-Doctors Merry Mia Clamor and Alexis Montes, registered nurse Gary Liberal, registered midwife Ma. Teresa Quinawayan and community health workers Mercy Castro, Reynaldo Macabenta, Jane Balleta and Samson Castillo-said they were tortured and suffered other abuses while they were detained at Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal province.
The health workers were arrested on Feb. 6, 2010, in a military-police operation at a farmhouse in Morong, Rizal, where they were holding a workshop in community health service.
They were accused of being members of the communist New People's Army (NPA) training to make explosives-a charge they have denied. They claimed that the firearms and explosives purportedly seized from them were planted by the raiders.