"The Philippines Solidarity Task Force celebrates with the people of the California-Nevada Annual Conference for a great work done," exults the Rev. Felicisimo ("Fel") Cao.
The community health workers known as "Morong 43," whose arrest and detention by the Philippines military was widely condemned, have been released.
In June, 2010 the Cal-Nevada Annual Conference Session approved a recommendation submitted by the Philippines Solidarity Task Force to support actions by the General Board of Global Ministries, World Council of Churches, and National Councils of Churches in both the U.S. and the Philippines, in protesting the arrests. The Secretary of the Annual Conference was directed to send a letter demanding release of the Morong 43 to the newly elected Philippines President, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, III.
On Human Rights Day, President Aquino ordered the Philippines Department of Justice to withdraw the charges against the health workers – abducted while undergoing training for their health work in the remote and poor areas of the Philippines, under claims that they were suspected of being members of the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist party of the Philippines.
"The Morong 43 health workers suffered from illegal arrest, detention, torture, and were denied proper health care intervention – as two women gave birth in detention," Rev. Cao states.
The release of the Morong 43 follows pressure from the Philippines Solidarity Task Force and the California-Nevada Annual Conference Session, along with other Philippines and international human rights groups and churches, for the Philippines government "to do the right and just thing," says Cao.
Task force member the Rev. Ruth Cortez (retired) wrote, "Every step in response to our claims and petitions is a point of thanksgiving and celebration. Yet it is an opening for us to pursue the other issues – and the bigger and more fundamental and historical struggles – that the PDO (poor, deprived and oppressed) Filipinos continue to wage. But again, an auspicious opening like this is something that we are grateful for."
A Philippines Solidarity Task Force delegation left for the Philippines on January 4th. The delegation, headed by task force member Jeanelle Ablola, Minister of Youth and Outreach at Buena Vista UMC in Alameda, will work in partnership with the Manila Area of the UMC and National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and is expected to have an opportunity to visit and have a dialogue with the released health workers.