MANILA, Philippines — A militant health group has condemned the harassment of health personnel by members of the military on June 16 and 17 in Kalinga province.
In a statement over the weekend, the Health Alliance for Democracy (Head), a nationwide organization of health professionals, health workers and students, said it received a report of health personnel in Kalinga being questioned and harassed by soldiers of the 21st and 77th Infantry Battalions of the Philippine Army while conducting a clinic in Sitio Ubel, Barangay Gawaan, Balbalan town, Kalinga.
The four-member health team was led by a doctor and a nurse working for Community Health Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera Region (Chestcore), a community-based health program in the Cordillera Administrative Region.
They were attending to indigent patients when the harassment happened, Head said.
“The continuing intervention of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in medical missions and community clinics directly contravenes the provision of much needed health services to the poor,” said Dr. Gene Alzona Nisperos, Head secretary general.
“The harassment sends a chilling effect to the health sector amid the unabated exodus of health workers,” he said.
Members of the mission also assailed the military for accusing them of being members of the communist New People’s Army.
Dr. Ana Marie Leung, Chestcore executive director, said despite Balbalan Mayor Allan Jesse Mangaoang’s approval of their medical mission, the soldiers questioned the team about their activities, took their pictures and accused them of being communist rebels.
Maj. Ferdinand Razalan, spokesperson of the AFP’s Northern Luzon Command based in Tarlac, urged the group to file a complaint so the incident could be investigated.
Razalan said Chestcore’s allegations might have been “exaggerated.”
He said some soldiers were accused of committing human rights violations in Balbalan in the past and some left-leaning groups could be using these previous incidents to hit at the military.
“Leftists will not stop from discrediting the military,” he said.
Leung said that on June 16, soldiers surrounded the multipurpose hall at Sitio Ubel where the medical team, which included a local guide and a biologist, were attending to patients.
“The soldiers even stayed until lunch to watch the staff eat. While they were eating, the soldiers took their photographs,” Leung said.
She said the soldiers, led by a Corporal Raton, insisted on getting the Chestcore staff’s names and questioned them on their presence in the area.
Leung said the soldiers did not identify themselves and covered their nameplates.
She said the soldiers later called a community meeting in Sitio Pipi, also in Barangay Gawaan, where they claimed that a group of NPA rebels had held a meeting in Sitio Ubel and that four rebels were still in the area.
Chestcore members said the incident last week was not the first time the military had harassed the group.
In April 2005, they said soldiers surrounded the Gawaan barangay hall while health workers were attending a seminar.
In August 2006, Leung said Mangaoang told her to get the 21st IB’s permission before a Chestcore team could check on the health of Balbalan’s small-scale miners.