MANILA -- An assistant solicitor general argued Monday that the 43 health workers arrested for being communist rebels should not be ordered released from detention as they are not entitled to the privilege of writ of habeas corpus.

Representing the respondent military and police officers in Monday’s hearing at the Court of Appeals (CA), Assistant Solicitor General Renan Ramos said the arrest and detention of the 43 were legal, having been caught in the act of possession of illegal firearms and explosives.

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The 43 health workers, also known as the “Morong 43”, were arrested last February 6 at a farmhouse in Morong, Rizal while conducting training on bomb-making. The military said they are members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Soldiers recovered from the health workers a number of firearms and explosives, along with cash, equipment, and personal belongings.

Of the arrested health workers, three were held for illegal possession of firearms while the 40 are facing the non-bailable offense of illegal possession of explosive devices.

“These individuals have been formally charged… Undeniably, the criminal charges against them constitute sufficient legal grounds for their continued detention; hence a writ of habeas corpus is unavailing to petitioners,” the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) told the court.

Ramos also said the respondents have already complied with the court directives, as they have already filed a return of the writ and produce the respondents before the appellate court.

He said the Morong Regional Trial Court (RTC) has already issued a commitment order for the 43 health workers.

Named respondents in the case filed by the health workers’ families are Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief-of-Staff General Victor Ibrado, Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Jesus Versoza, Philippine Army Commander Delfin Bangit, Army 2nd Infantry Division chief Jorge Segovia, 202nd Infantry Brigade Commander Aurelio Baladad, and Rizal PNP Chief Marion Balonglong.

The CA, however, granted the motion of petitioners’ counsel, Romeo Capulong, to present as witness one of the 43 health workers to prove that they were unlawfully detained.

Reports have it that the 43 have been subjected to mental torture by the military while being detained at Camp Capinpin, the headquarters of the 2nd Infantry Division in Tanay, Rizal.

Doctor Alexis Montes, one of the detainees, took the witness stand Monday, alleging that their constitutional rights have been violated by their jailers as they were subjected to torture through prolonged and repetitive tactical interrogation. He added that they were denied of their right to counsel and were held incommunicado or communication restriction.

There were also reports that the detainees were sexually abused.

However, Jane Balleta, a granddaughter of the late militant leader Crispin Beltran who was a former representative of the party-list Anakpawis, belied these reports, saying: “Generally, sa akin okay naman ang pagtrato. Pero syempre, dumaan ako sa pressure. May panahon na nathreaten din pero wala naman.”

Balleta also refuted earlier reports quoting her mother, Ofelia, saying she and fellow female detainees were being abused and molested by the jailers.

Presiding Justice Portia Alino-Hormachuelos, chair of the CA Special First Division, assured Monday that the court will examine the evidence that would be used during criminal proceedings at the RTC, but that it will not render moot the case before the trial court.

Capulong, meanwhile, asked the CA to order the transfer of the detainees from Camp Capinpin to the police headquarters in Camp Crame, citing restrictions being imposed by the military on them as counsels for the detainees.

But Ramos rebutted Capulong’s claim, saying the lawyers were refused entry due to their refusal to give their names as well as their failure to identify their clients.

“The security considerations outweigh the sentiments of the detainees,” Ramos said.

He further noted that Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairman Leila de Lima was able to visit the detainees last Thursday and found no physical abuse as insinuated by the detainees.

The 43 health workers were finally presented before the appellate court’s Special First Division Monday by the military after it failed to present the detainees last Friday for lack of coordination and security reasons.

The detainees arrived at the CA around 1:20 p.m. and were brought to the court aboard three buses and under tight security provided by the Philippine Army. Each of them was handcuffed to their respective security escort when brought to the court. Their handcuffs, however, were removed when the hearing started.

Senator Pia Cayetano, who attended the hearing, said it was unlikely that the female detainees were molested as reported, but she conceded they could have been subjected to mental torture.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, for his part, stand by the military, dismissing allegation of human rights violations and in the handling and arrest of 43 health workers.

He expressed confidence that the AFP would not violate the human rights of the suspects, as its members are aware of the human rights advocacy of the Arroyo government, as well as the procedures in making arrests and other operations.

The magistrates, at the end of the hearing Monday, gave the parties until 5 p.m. on Wednesday to submit their respective memoranda, after which the case is deemed submitted for resolution.

The CA also told the petitioners to have their consultation with their respective legal counsels in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal. (JCV/JMR/MSN/Sunnex)