ICHRP Canada condemns the arrest of health worker Dr. Maria Natividad “Naty” Castro on the morning of Friday, 18 February 2022 by the San Juan City police.
As a health worker and human rights advocate, Dr. Naty Castro has long dedicated her life towards serving the community. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Castro helped Lumad communities set up community health centers and started several health programs in Mindanao. According to the academic community of St. Scholastica’s College, Dr. Castro’s alma mater, she “embraced the lives of the most impoverished of farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous people… in the Caraga Region of Mindanao.”
Dr. Castro was also a National Council member of the Karapatan human rights alliance, serving as the secretary general of the Caraga branch. In this capacity, she led several fact-finding missions, trained many human rights workers, and tirelessly aided the victims of human rights violations. In 2016, Dr. Castro also joined Cristina Palabay, Karapatan Secretary General, and Michelle Campos of the Lumad to advocate for the plight of Lumad communities in Caraga and the whole of Mindanao before the UN Human Rights Council, international NGOs and solidarity groups in Geneva.
On Friday, the Philippine National Police (PNP) confirmed Dr. Castro’s arrest, alleging that she is the head of the CPP-NPA Health Bureau. She was arrested on trumped-up charges of kidnapping. Her brother, Jun Castro, claimed that Dr. Castro has only worked in Mindanao to provide medical and human rights assistance, and that she had a history of being red-tagged; all the cases filed against her were related to her human rights and development work.
According to the PNP, Dr. Castro is currently being detained in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur, where her arrest warrant was issued. They were silent on her right to counsel and if due process was violated, and her lawyers had been denied information pertaining to her case.
Dr. Castro’s case is only the latest in a string of red-tagging tactics used by the Duterte regime to crack down on activists and human rights defenders. In typical red-tagging cases, community and human rights workers are branded members of the CPP-NPA and targeted for arrest, justified by bogus warrants issued by courts around the country. These activists are then detained on trumped-up charges such as kidnapping and weapons possession in order to silence them. These deplorable tactics must stop, and all political prisoners arrested on such grounds must be freed.
Moreover, according to Health Action for Human Rights (HAHR), seven out of 10 rural Filipinos die without access to health consultation. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the Philippines, it is preposterous for the state to crack down on health workers helping these underserved rural communities.
Release Dr. Naty Castro!
Free all political prisoners NOW!