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Philippines Protestant leader renews appeal to free 43 detainees

December 8, 2010

MANILA

A Philippines Protestant leader has renewed an appeal for supporters to help persuade President Benigno Aquino to free 43 detainees, most of them church-based health workers detained for more than nine months, and whom the military has accused of being communist rebels.

“Another day in prison for the 43 is another day of justice denied,” said the Rev. Rex Reyes Jr, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, in a Nov. 9 statement that repeated an earlier appeal.

Reyes appealed for support from local and global church organizations, human rights advocates and civil libertarians.

He urged them to sign an online petition, and told ENInews on Nov. 18 that the NCCP, which represents Protestant churches in the Philippines, but does not include the country’s dominant Roman Catholic Church, would later publish the signed petition as a paid advertisement in national newspapers.

The church leader said the advertisement would be the council’s way of trying to convince President Aquino finally to release the 43 health workers, whom military authorities arrested on Feb. 6. At the time, the workers were conducting primary health care training for communities in the town of Morong, east of the capital Manila.

The military had accused the workers of being members of the clandestine communist-led New People’s Army but the workers have denied this allegation.

“This issue is very close to us not only because it involves human rights and social justice but also because one of those detained is Dr Alexis Montes,” said Reyes. Montes is a member and former national health program coordinator of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. He was also once part of the NCCP’s commission on faith, witness and service.

“If Mr. Aquino freed rebel soldiers, why not the 43 detainees?” asked Reyes, referring to detained rebel soldiers involved in a 2008 coup attempt, whom Aquino set free in October 2010.

Other groups have also chided Aquino for recently showing sympathy for the release of Myanmar opposition leader Ang Suu Kyi but not for the 43 detainees.

After pressure from church and human rights groups, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told reporters on Nov. 16 that the presidential palace had organized a team to review the case of the 43 detainees. “A prompt resolution would be forthcoming,” he said.

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