Germans indefinitely close hospital in Cagayan de Oro amid extortion

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/22 June) – At the medical facility of the Committee of German Doctors here, sadness and uncertainty were written on the faces of patients who have been lining up for free medical treatment when, at around 4 p.m., staff members started posting signs that there will be no medical consultations on Thursday and Friday.

“Pahibalo: Walay konsulta July 23-24, 2011,” the notice says.

But health workers at the hospital operated jointly by the Committee of German Doctors for Developing Countries and the Jose P. Rizal College of Medicine of the Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan are uncertain about their employment.

Although the notice says July 23-24, employees said they were told by management that the closure is indefinite. Inpatients still recuperating in the hospital’s wards, however, will continue to be served until they are fit to be sent home.

This development may have failed last minute efforts from authorities to assure the German volunteers to stay despite an extortion attempt purportedly coming from the communist New People’s Army (NPA) asking for P5 million from the German non-government organization.

Dietmar Schug, country director of the Committee of German Doctors, said earlier that if the security issues they are facing won’t be resolved today, they will withdraw their volunteers from their facilities here and in Bukidnon by Thursday and would only accept outpatients until such time that a final decision to stay or close their operation has been made.

The umbrella organization of the communist underground, the National Democratic Front (NDF), had unofficially denied the extortion try on the German Doctors. Sources said that they will soon issue an official statement denying the alleged extortion.

Today, though, it was business as usual at the five-story health facility as over a hundred indigent patients wait for their turn in getting free medical services from the German Doctors. What was unusual, however, are the law enforcers from the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office (COCPO) standing guard.

Mayor Vicente “Dongkoy” Emano said that the NDF had called him to deny any hand in the extortion attempt against the Committee of German Doctors, which has been running the charitable medical facility here and in neighboring Bukidnon for the last 25 years.

“The leaders of the NDF called me and they denied any hand in the extortion attempt on the German Doctors,” Emano said in an interview over Magnum News and Music Radio Wednesday morning.

Emano earned the moniker “Peacemaker” for facilitating talks with the NPA in the late 1980s to the early 1990s.

He added that he was assured by the NDF that they will issue an official statement on the matter soon. Emano declined to identify the NDF personality he talked with.

The 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army also admitted that the group behind the extortion try on the German Doctors are criminal groups.

“After our investigation, we now consider the possibility that the group behind the extortion try on the German Doctors may not be NPAs but opportunist criminal elements,” said Maj. Julio Eugeno Osias IV, 4ID spokesperson.

The extortion letter purportedly coming from the NPA was dated May 16, 2011 but was received by Schug on June 8. It gave him two weeks, or until today (June 22), to give the P5 million.

Osias said that 4ID personnel have been alerted and are ready to provide security to the volunteer health service providers.

A source from the NDF who requested anonymity said that if the NPA had any issues with the German Doctors, which he said operates in areas in Northern Mindanao with NPA presence, could have been “addressed in the peace negotiations.”

The government and the NDF have signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) to provide guidelines in the conduct of armed conflict and the right to safety of civilians, humanitarian workers and those disqualified from combat, like the wounded combatants.

The NPA, he added, fully adheres to the CARHRIHL, the Geneva Conventions and other international agreements governing armed conflict and thus “would not resort to such attacks on humanitarian workers as the German Doctors.”

The source said that the German Doctors which are here as “guests” of the government should be accorded respect and their safety ensured. “Any issues against them that may have implications on the operations of the rebels are valid issues in the negotiating table,” he told MindaNews.

Emano admitted there is a criminal syndicate operating in the city whose members identify themselves as being part of the NPA. He said they are monitoring the activities of this gang.

In December last year, authorities arrested nine persons who earlier surrendered as NPAs to avail of government incentives to rebel returnees. They were later arrested when found to be extortionists. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin / MindaNews)