The Catholic St. Scholastica’s College in Manila deplored the arrest of one of its outstanding alumni who has been charged by the Philippine police and the military of kidnapping and “serious illegal detention.”
Dr. Ma. Natividad Marian Castro, a health worker who devoted her life serving indigenous communities in Mindanao, was arrested by authorities in Manila on Friday, February 18.
In a statement, St. Scholastica’s College’s academic community said Castro had “embraced the lives” of the most impoverished sectors of society, including farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples.
“What she deserves is a recognition and appreciation for her commitment to the welfare and human rights of our Filipino sisters and brothers who are most in need,” read the statement.
It lambasted “the continuous red-tagging of this government and making false accusations of innocent people.”
“It is ridiculous to accuse [Castro] of kidnapping and illegal detention of those she is helping and whose human rights she is defending,” read the statement signed by the school’s officials.
“It is unjust that one who has chosen to live in places that are not reached by the services that every human being is entitled to receive; one who has committed her life to give life to others, is now deprived of her right to life, a life that she has lived witnessing to Christ’s love and compassion,” added the statement posted on the school’s official Facebook page.
In November 2020, Castro’s name, along with other human rights defenders in Caraga region, appeared in a poster identifying them as members of the rebel New People’s Army.
Castro was class valedictorian of St. Scholastica’s College’s High School Class 1986.
She was among 100 former students who were honored as outstanding graduates in the last century, along with the country’s former president, Corazon Aquino.
Castro graduated “cum laude” BS Zoology at the University of the Philippines and finished medicine at the UP College of Medicine in 1995.
After passing the medical board exam in 1996, she served as community doctor, public health practitioner, and human rights activist in the provinces of Agusan.
Castro worked as program physician of the Community-Based Health Program – Butuan Inc. while completing her Alternative Residency Program with the Community Medicine Development Foundation from 1996 to 1998.
She also completed her degree in Master of Public Health from the UP Open University in 2008.
From 1996 to 1998, she worked part-time and from 1998 to 2004, full-time as human rights documentor and staff of the human rights group Karapatan in Caraga.
She worked as a referral network consultant of the Department of Health in Region 10 in its European Union-sponsored Women’s Health and Safe Motherhood Project; program director of the Alternative Health Program of the Missionary Sisters of Mary in Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur; and health consultant of the Religious of the Good Shepherd Lumad Ministry in San Luis, Agusan del Sur.
From 2004 to 2018, she worked full-time as Program Coordinator of the CBHP-Butuan Inc, and from 2018, started working with the St. Scholastica’s ENFIDE Institute as its pedagogy director in the field of public health. She returned home to San Juan to take care of their mother who passed away last year.
Human rights probe
The Commission on Human Rights announced on Saturday that it is conducting a “motu propio” investigation into possible police violations and other issues in relation to the arrest of Castro.
The commission said it “expresses grave concern over the manner of arrest” of the doctor, adding that it has already “dispatched” a quick response team undertaking a “motu propio investigation.”
In a statement on Saturday, the Philippine National Police said Castro was brought to Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur, where the court that issued the arrest warrant is located.
The police said that her alleged “membership” in the local communist movement is not the basis of the arrest “but her alleged criminal actions that constitute participation in a case of kidnapping with serious illegal detention.”
The Council for Health and Development, meanwhile, called on the government to respect the rights of healthcare workers.
“Amidst the pandemic and the global health crisis, the least the government can do to doctors who chose to stay and serve the people is to respect human rights and provide an enabling environment that will encourage health professionals to serve where they are needed most,” the group said.
The group Health Action for Human Rights cited the scarcity of doctors in rural areas, adding that only a few doctors like Castro who choose to work for the poor.
In a statement, the Department of Health reminded authorities to follow due process in the cases against Castro.
“The contributions of our health workers, especially those who have opted to work with the underserved are immeasurable,” read the department’s statement.
“All our citizens, health workers included, enjoy the constitutional guarantees of due process and presumption of innocence until proven guilty. We trust our authorities to uphold these rights,” it added.