The Observatory has been informed by Karapatan Alliance Philippines (Karapatan) about the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Dr. Maria Natividad Marian “Naty” Castro, a public health practitioner and human rights defender. Ms. Castro has worked in the poorest and most marginalised areas in the Philippines as a community-based health worker. She has also worked for the defence of community rights of the indigenous Lumad and is a former National Council member of Karapatan.
On February 18, 2022, at around 9:30 a.m., officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army (PA) arbitrarily arrested Ms. Castro at her residence in San Juan City, Manila. The members of the PNP and PA presented an arrest warrant issued by the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 of Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur, in January 2020, on charges of “kidnapping” and “serious illegal detention” (Criminal Case No. 6527), filed by public prosecutor Genesis Efren in March 2019. Ms. Castro, together with 540 other individuals, is being accused of kidnapping and detaining an unknown individual in Barangay Kolambungan, Sibagat, Agusan del Sur Province, on December 29, 2018.
Following her arrest, Ms. Castro was taken to the San Juan City Police Station and then moved to the Quirino Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City to undergo medical examination. She was subsequently brought to the PNP’s headquarters in Camp Crame. However, neither her family members nor legal counsels were allowed to have contact with her, and their requests to bring her medicine for hypertension and diabetes were dismissed.
On the same day in the afternoon, Ms. Castro was flown to the island of Mindanao without her family or legal representatives being informed. On February 19, 2022, the authorities held Ms. Castro incommunicado. Only after multiple calls from her family and legal representatives, the PNP disclosed that Ms. Castro was being held at the Bayugan City Police Station in Agusan del Sur Province.
On the afternoon of February 20, 2022, Ms. Castro’s family and legal counsel were able to visit her and bring her medicines. On February 22, 2022, the Regional Trial Court Branch 7 of Bayugan City ordered her transfer to the Agusan del Sur Provincial Jail, where she was still being detained pending trial at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal
Ms. Castro’s lawyers filed a petition for bail and a motion to dismiss the charges against her. Both requests were pending before the court at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.
The Observatory notes that since November of 2020, Ms. Castro has been a victim of red-tagging. Her name and picture have been circulated on social media platforms in Lianga, Surigao del Sur Province, falsely accusing her of being a “communist”, a “terrorist”, and a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
The Observatory recalls that since President Duterte took power in June 2016, human rights defenders have faced relentless vilification and red-tagging with the aim to discredit their peaceful work and to silence all critical voices, thus creating a climate in which attacks against them are acceptable and legitimised. On March 7, 2021, nine human rights defenders were killed by the PNP and the PA following President Duterte’s order to “ignore human rights” and “kill” communist rebels in any armed encounter with them.
Human rights defenders in the Philippines have been subjected to trumped-up charges and lengthy pre-trial arbitrary detention. Karapatan members have been subject to frequent harassment, criminalisation, and attacks, including the killing of Ms. Zara Alvarez and the arbitrary detention of Teresita Naul, Alexander Philip Abinguna, Nimfa Lanzas, and Renayn Tejero. Ms. Naul was released on October 28, 2021, after 18 months of arbitrary detention. Mr. Abinguna and Mses. Lanzas and Tejero remain detained.
The Observatory expresses its utmost concern over the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against Ms. Castro, as it seems to be only aimed at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities.
The Observatory urges the Philippine authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Ms. Castro, release her, and put an end to all acts of harassment against her.
The Observatory reiterates its utmost concern over the violence, including killings and physical attacks, against human rights defenders in the Philippines, and calls upon the authorities to adopt effective measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders in the country.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of the Philippines asking them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Maria Natividad Marian “Naty” Castro and grant her access to adequate medical treatment;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Maria Natividad Marian “Naty” Castro and drop all charges against her, since they seem to be merely aimed at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities;
iii. Guarantee Maria Natividad Marian “Naty” Castro’s right to due process and fair trial;
iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Maria Natividad Marian “Naty” Castro and all other human rights defenders in the Philippines, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.
- Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Republic of the Philippines, Email: email@example.com or send a message through http://president.gov.ph/contact-us/;
- Mr. Teodoro Locsin Jr, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Hon. Menardo Guevarra, Secretary, Department of Justice of the Philippines, Email: email@example.com;
- Hon. Leah C. Tanodra-Armamento, Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Police General Oscar Albayalde, Chief, Philippine National Police, Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
- H.E. Mr. Evan P. Garcia, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Embassy of the Philippines in Brussels, Email: email@example.com.
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of the Philippines in your respective countries.