SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 19 February) — The Caraga regional police office announced on Saturday that Dr. Maria Natividad Castro, who was arrested in Manila on Friday morning for alleged criminal acts that human rights groups claim are trumped up charges, has been detained since Friday night at the custodial center of the Philippine National Police in Bayugan City.
Castro, who spent at least two decades in community health work in Agusan and was former secretary-general of the human rights group Karapatan Caraga, was arrested in her home in San Juan City in Metro Manila at around 9:30 a.m. Friday for her alleged involvement in the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of a paramilitary man in Sibagat town, Agusan del Sur on December 29, 2018.
The military and police claimed Castro is a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines central committee and head of New People’s Army’s National Health Bureau.
Maj. Dorothy Tumulak, spokesperson of Police Regional Office 13 (PRO 13), said Castro was flown to Bayugan City where her case was filed at the Regional Trial Court Branch 7, on board an evening flight to Davao City from Manila and brought to Bayugan by land transportation.
The Free Legal Assistance Group earlier demanded the whereabouts of Castro after she was last seen Friday by relatives at the PNP intelligence office in Camp Crame in Quezon City.
Her sister Menchie and another lawyer were not allowed access to the doctor who was reported to be detained in Camp Crame after her arrest at her home in San Juan City.
Menchie is expected to arrive in Butuan City on Saturday afternoon where she will conduct a press conference and meet with Rep. Lawrence Fortun.
Tumulak said Castro was examined at the Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City before she was flown to a Davao City Friday evening and brought to Bayugan from there.
The police said Castro is accused of being among those who allegedly kidnapped a member of the Civilian Active Auxiliary (CAA), detained the victim in an unidentified location, and threatened him on December 29, 2018, in Barangay Kolambungan in Sbagat town.
Tumulak said lawyers from the Commission on Human Rights, and her lawyer are are already attending to the doctor’s legal needs in Bayugan City.
PRO 13 Regional Director Brig. General Romeo Caramat Jr. disclosed that Castro alias Yam/Agi/Kyle/Prim, 53, is the number seven priority target in the manhunt against the New People’s Army in the region.
In November 2021, Judge Fernando Fudalan Jr. of Regional Trial Court Branch 7 in Bayugan City dismissed a kidnapping and detention case of militiamen allegedly by human rights defenders. Fudalan ordered the release of 17 human rights workers detained for more than a year in Sibagat town. Castro is not among the respondents of this case.
Tumulak said he will check how many are Castro’s co-respondents in the kidnapping and detention case.
Maj. Aldrin Salinas, chief of the Sibagat police, told MindaNews in a telephone interview that Castro is among “400 co-respondents.”
In Cagayan de Oro, lawyer Beverly Musni of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao, said Castro along with 45 other human rights workers are also facing trumped up charges of allegedly violating Republic Act 9851 or “Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity” and RA 10364 or “Expanded `anti-Trafficking in Person Act of 2012.”
Musni said the case was filed with the Office of City Prosecutors in Libertad, Butuan City.
Along with Castro, named as co-respondent is Renalyn Tejero, a Karapatan paralegal who was arrested in Cagayan de Oro and brought to Butuan City last March 21, 2021.
Not an ordinary doctor but a servant-leader
Castro was the class valedictorian of High School Class 1986 in St. Scholastica’s College, was among 100 honored as its outstanding graduates in the last century, along with Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, graduated Cum Laude, BS Zoology at the University of the Philippines and finished medicine at the UP College of Medicine in 1995.
After passing the medical board exam, in 1996, she pursued a vocation as a community doctor, public health practitioner and human rights activist in the two Agusan provinces.
“I worked with marginalized sectors in rural and urban communities, mainly with families of farmers, agricultural and mining workers, informal sectors in the urban poor and national minorities, helping peoples’ organizations build their capacity to respond to their immediate and long term health needs within the context of mutual cooperation and empowerment,” she wrote on September 11, 2020 in a message forwarded by her batchmates in UP Medicine.
Castro worked as program physician of the Community-Based Health Program – Butuan Inc. (CBHP-Butuan Inc.) while completing her Alternative Residency Program with the Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED) from 1996 to 1998. She also completed her degree in Master of Public Health from the UP Open University in 2008.
From 1996 to 1998, she worked part-time and from 1998 to 2004, full-time as human rights documentor and staff of the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan) in Caraga. She also served as Secretary General of the Karapatan-Caraga in its inception phase until it established itself as a regional alliance in 2008.
She worked as a referral network consultant of the Department of Health in Region 10 in its European Union-sponsored Women’s Health and Safe Motherhood Project; program director of the Alternative Health Program of the Missionary Sisters of Mary in Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur; and health consultant of the Religious of the Good Shepherd Lumad Ministry in San Luis, Agusan del Sur.
From 2004 to 2018, she worked full-time as Program Coordinator of the CBHP-Butuan Inc, and from 2018, started working with the St. Scholastica’s ENFIDE Institute as its pedagogy director in the field of public health. She returned home to San Juan to take care of their mother who passed away last year.
In a statement, the UP College of Medicine Class of 1995 said of their batchmate; “Naty is not an ordinary doctor. She is a servant leader actively involved in health and human rights and working towards providing health care for all by serving in rural and geographically isolated areas. “
Castro noted that in her field of work, “the money is scarce, job/personal security is poor but the rewards are immeasurable when I see the babies that I have delivered thrive and become leaders themselves, dedicating their lives to continuing the development work that I helped start in their communities.
(Chris V. Panganiban with a report from Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)