SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 31 March) – A Protestant church leader in Surigao del Sur has welcomed the release of human rights and community health advocate Dr. Maria Natividad Castro as he hoped the court ruling would strengthen the judicial system in the country.
Bishop Modesto Villasanta Jr., Bishop Emeritus of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, said the ruling of Judge Fernando Fudalan Jr., of Regional Trial Court Branch 7 in Bayugan City, should be respected.
“The church people are happy in the victory of Doc Naty in the court,” Villasanta said.
Human rights group Karapatan also welcomed the release of Dr. Castro, of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine Class of 1995, saying she has been denied due process when she was arbitrarily arrested and jailed.
Karapatan, in a post by secretary general Cristina Palabay, took a shot at the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, saying “the court decision proves that the NTF-ELCAC’s malicious and baseless statements against our red-tagged colleague and community doctor are all lies.”
Provincial Jail Warden Christopher Bardilas refused to be interviewed by MindaNews Thursday afternoon. He said there was an order from his superiors to refrain from making any statement to the media.
A jail guard earlier asked by MindaNews over the phone said that Castro was formally released around 11 a.m. Wednesday with three of her siblings fetching her.
He said the community doctor has been treated well while being detained at the Provincial Jail at the Provincial Capitol complex.
Castro, the guard who refused to be identified said, tested negative of COVID-19 when she was brought in, and tested negative again a day before her freedom.
The rural doctor, 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 on February 28 for her alleged involvement in the kidnapping and serious illegal detention of a paramilitary man in Sibagat town, Agusan del Sur in 2018.
The military and police claimed Castro is a member of the central committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines and head of the New People’s Army’s National Health Bureau.
But Fudalan, in his resolution dated March 25, said the court found no probable cause against the community doctor and ordered her release.
Meanwhile, the Task Force Free Sally Ujano lauded the RTC judge in Bayugan for releasing Castro.
Ujano, a child and women’s rights advocate, was captured by authorities in Bulacan three months before the arrest of Castro.
The task force is hoping that like Castro, the case against Ujano, who was charged with rebellion, will also be dismissed.
“We fervently hope that our colleague and friend, long-time child and women’s rights advocate, Ms. Ma. Salome ‘Sally’ Ujano, will also be set free,” the task force said in a statement.
“We urge the Duterte administration, in its last days of service to the Filipino people, to free Sally and other political prisoners like her,” the group added.
The task force said the arbitrary arrest and detention of advocates merely working for the welfare of the most vulnerable must stop. (Chris V. Panganiban, with a report from Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)