WHEN 43 health workers are arrested and the military unabashedly claim they are members of the New People's Army (NPA), then you know that someone is pulling your leg... and that somebody is not the NPA.

Imagine a rebel group, who is more often running and hiding in the mountains, having 43 health workers (a number of whom are full-fledged doctors at that) as members in Southern Tagalog region alone. How then can the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) stand by its oft-repeated claim that the draw of the communist rebel movement has been declining through the years if at the same time they are saying out loud, and in all news network at that, that they have just arrested 43 health workers who are members of the NPA?

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But the story doesn't end there as the doctors among the accused are claiming physical and mental torture. Torture in a country that has staked claim to wrenching back democracy from a dictator who used the military to his every advantage is a slap to every Filipino who staked out and called for change just over two decades ago.

But then, we should no longer be surprised.

The militants have long likened President Gloria Arroyo's nine-year rule to the despotic 20-plus-year rule of Ferdinand E. Marcos. But we just smiled in tolerant respect, having convinced ourselves that the militants will always be splitting hairs with those in power.

Still, we cannot ignore the specters of the past that jolt our collective memories every now and then, Rebelyn Pitao, a hapless and quiet teacher who just happens to be NPA leader Leoncio Pitao, is abducted and slain. The number of journalists being killed just keeps on rising, hitting its highest mark in November 2009 with a government backhoe as foreground. Then there were the claims of harassments by residents of Paquibato early last year.

That's just the very recent past. General Jovito Palparan made his name known after being tagged as "Berdugo ng Mindoro" where he was said to have caused the abductions and killings of militant leaders there. At the height of the protests against him, President Arroyo praised him in her state of the nation address. Now he's almost always in Davao, spewing out cloaked threats of annihilation against the commies and their cohorts. Creepy isn't it?

And then, last February 6 in a resort in Morong, Rizal, 43 health workers were arrested and accused of being members of the NPA.

It's not as if government can even send out midwives and health workers to rural places. But instead of praising and assisting those who have taken up the slack where government has consistently failed, government instead rounds them up and accuses them of being rebels.

Somebody is indeed pulling our leg here, and it feels like that somebody also intends to tie a knot around our necks as well.

In Mindoro, the militants, who are most often conveniently interchanged with communists by the military. In Davao, a teacher-daughter of a rebel. Now health workers. A lot of times, journalists. Who's next?

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out... because I was not a communist;

"Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out... because I was not a trade unionist;

"Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out... because I was not a Jew;

"Then they came for me... and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Thus spoke Pastor Martin Niem’ller about the apathy of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of chosen targets, one by one, on January 6, 1946 in a speech before representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt.

Indeed, we should do more than just smile in tolerant respect.