Agusan court reverses ruling, orders rearrest of Doc Naty

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 22 June) – The Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Bayugan City has ordered anew the arrest of Dr. Maria Natividad Castro, community health advocate and human rights activist, after it reversed its ruling for the dismissal of her kidnapping and serious illegal detention case.

Dr. Maria Natividad Marian Silva Castro. Photo courtesy of UP College of Medicine Class 1995

In his eight-page ruling, Judge Ferdinand Villanueva, executive judge of RTC Branch 7, granted the motion for consideration filed by Prosecutor Genesis Efren, agreeing there was no denial of the procedural due process and the Court acquires jurisdiction over Castro.

The decision reads: “The Motion for Reconsideration is granted. Let an E-warrant of arrest be issued against the accused, Dr. Maria Natividad Castro.”

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 evening of February 18 this year 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.

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 the late President 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. 

In his argument, Efren said the dismissal ruling in the case of Castro has no factual and procedural grounds because a subpoena was issued to the then respondent whose lawyer failed to submit any countervailing evidence.

He also cited in his motion for reconsideration that Castro was not denied her substantial right to due process because there was a preliminary investigation.

As part of the ruling, Villanueva cited the supplemental affidavit of kidnap victim Bernabe Salahay, a paramilitary man, who alleged that it was Castro who accompanied the abductors, talked to them while in captivity, and assured them that he would not be hurt.

The Provincial Prosecutors Office at the left wing of the provincial capitol in Prosperidad town received the court dismissal ruling on March 30 this year around 11:30 a.m. Two hours later, they submitted to the court the motion for reconsideration.

Judge Villanueva granted the motion on June 16, and Provincial Prosecutor Ceferino Dino Paredes received a copy of the ruling on June 20.

Judge Fernando Fudalan of the same sala dismissed Castro’s case on March 25 on the grounds of denying her rights to due process and its lack of jurisdiction over her.

Fudalan immediately ordered authorities to release her from detention at the Provincial Jail inside the provincial capitol complex.

“Without the probable cause, the court did not acquire jurisdiction over the accused, which warrants the dismissal of the case,” the decision read.

Fudalan was the same judge who issued the warrant against 468 persons linked to the alleged kidnapping.

The case against Castro and others for kidnapping and serious illegal detention was filed on January 14 last year, less than a month after the alleged incident occurred in Sibagat town in Agusan del Sur on December 18, 2018.

An information was filed in court on December 18, 2019; a subpoena was issued on January 17, 2021; the doctor was arrested on February 18 this year; and her lawyers filed a motion to dismiss a few days later, on February 22. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)