‘Grave disservice’: Medical groups condemn arrest of community doctor Natividad Castro

February 24, 2022 - 7:32 PM
This undated photo shows Dr. Ma. Natividad Castro. (Facebook / Jun Castro)

Medical groups and departments demanded the release of a community doctor who was arrested over alleged association with community rebels.

Dr. Natividad “Naty” Castro was arrested in her home in San Juan last February 18 for allegedly being an active member and a fundraiser of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

The Institute of Biology Alumni of the University of the Philippines-Diliman Inc. (IBA-UPD) and the Institute of Biology (IB), Castro’s alma mater, issued a joint statement that denounced her arrest and demanded her immediate release on February 24.

“We also ask for the dropping of all malicious charges against her without concrete evidence. Her arrest and temporary disappearance are reminders that such practices of the Martial Law era have not ended,” they said.

“Dr. Naty Catro, one of the outstanding graduates of the UPD Institute of Biology, should be allowed to flourish and plant seeds of compassion in the communities she has chosen to serve,” they added.

According to her colleagues, Castro chose to practice community medicine in the CARAGA region because of the medical situation there.

“Because of a lack of health resources, this region has a high level of poverty where people can die without seeing a doctor in their lifetime, particularly the Lumads. CARAGA region is also challenged by health issues such as malaria, schistosomiasis and tuberculosis, with a scarcity of health workers, particularly those working among indigenous populations,” the academic institutes said.

They likene the accusation thrown at Castro the allegations faced by Dr. Remberto “Bobby” de la Paz in Samar who was assassinated during Martial Law.

“Dr. Naty Castro was forcibly arrested from her home in San Juan last February 18, 2022 and is now detained in Bayugan City in Agusan del Sur after being red-tagged as a doctor of the NPAs. This was the same accusation leveled at Doctor Remberto ‘Bobby’ de la Paz in Samar before being assassinated in his clinic during Martial Law,” they said.

Castro was a cum laude with a degree of B.S. in Zoology at the IB in UP-Diliman in 1990.

She completed her medical studies at the UP College of Medicine in 1995.

Another group, Doctors to the Barrios, a program created by the Department of Health in 1993, likewise condemned Castro’s arrest.

They perceived her arrest as a “grave disservice” to the IP communities whom she was serving.

“It is a grave disservice to the community of Indigenous People to have their advocate in health so violently harassed and psychologically tormented by elements of the state. We demand that Dr. Castro be released immediately and be allowed access to legal counsel and the company of her family to undergo due process of law,” the group said.

Early this week, Bayan Muna lawmakers issued a resolution that denounced Castro’s arrest as another incident of harassment and red-tagging against rural doctors amid the government’s poor COVID-19 response.

They then called on the House of Representatives to conduct a probe into the charges lodged against her.

Gabriela, Karapatan and other rights groups and human rights advocates also made collective demands online for authorities to free Castro.

Castro’s high school alma mater, St. Scholastica’s College in Manila, later joined in the call for her safe release from detention.

In 2020, Dr. Mary Rose Sancelan from Negros Oriental and Zara Alvarez from Bacolod City were killed after being accused of being members of the communist rebellion.