How medical communities reacted to ‘terrorist’ designation of Doc Naty Castro

February 1, 2023 - 2:22 PM
Naty Castro
Physician Natividad "Naty" Castro in this photo provided by the University of the Philippines' College of Medicine Class of 1995 (Photo from UP College of Medicine Class of 1995) 

“Red-tagging of health workers is a disservice to our country.”

Various groups condemned the Anti-Terrorism Council for designating community doctor Natividad “Naty” Castro as a “terrorist individual” after supposedly violating the controversial Anti-Terror Law.

The physician was tagged by the ATC as a “terrorist” for her alleged “active and continuous role” in attaining the objectives of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDF).

ATC said the activities include “actual participation in armed atrocities of the NPA in community-based areas influenced by the NPA.”

Castro was also accused of being a member of the CPP’s central committee, executive committee member of the Regional White Area Committee, finance officer of the North-Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee, and executive director and trustee of the Community Based Health Program.

She was likewise accused of taking part in the “generation, management, and supervision” of the CPP’s funds.

These claims were made despite the Free Legal Assistance Group and the medical community previously denying that the community health worker is a terrorist or a communist.

Castro’s family also described her as a selfless person who chose to serve the community.

The physician was arrested in February 2022 for kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges.

She was later on ordered released by Agusan del Norte Regional Trial Court Acting Presiding Judge Fernando Fudalan Jr. due to the “denial of her substantive right to due process” and “lack of jurisdiction over the person of the accused.”

By June of the same year, the Department of Justice said that the court ruling was reversed and Castro was ordered re-arrested.

In the said resolution, the court gave weight to the prosecution’s assertion that Castro is an NPA member.

ATC said that the community doctor has 15 days to request delisting.

The terrorist designation of Castro, meanwhile, was condemned by several groups which include some members of the medical community.

Agham Youth‘s UP Manila chapter said that “genuine service is not terrorism,” adding that Castro “has done nothing but genuinely promote the interests of the underserved communities in Mindanao with her service through her medical expertise.”

It also said that she “bravely defended the rights of the Lumad communities.”

“We firmly believe that science and technology, as well as genuine health and development for all, will not flourish for as long as the state remains persistent in their attacks against people with genuine hearts for service like Dr. Naty Castro,” the group added.

The Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila’s Philippine Medical Students’ Association (PMSA PLM) chapter also condemned Castro’s “terrorist” designation and said that it “worsens” the current state of the country’s healthcare system.

“Lalo na’t sa mga kanayunang hindi abot ng sapat na mga gamit, programa, at tulong na mahirap ibigay sa mga komunidad na malalayo,” it added.

“Si Dr. Naty ay isa sa maraming aktibista na lumalaban para sa mga karapatan ng mga katutubo at kumilos para pangalagaan ang mga katutubo at ang kanilang mga komunidad para muling tuklasin ang kanilang mga karapatan,” PMSA PLM said.

The Health Alliance for Democracy called ATC’s initiative a “witch-hunt” and questioned the latter’s designation since it was “arbitrary.”

“Has there been any hearing or even notice prior to the designation? None. Dr. Naty had no chance to rebut or even learn of the basis of the designation prior to its publication,” it said.

“She has been condemned as a terrorist by the ATC even before her side was heard. How can she even contest the designation when she has not even informed of the basis of such designation,” HEAD added.

The group also condemned the ATC for tagging community-based health programs as CPP-NPA/NDF-linked organizations, saying that such initiatives “have been active in providing much-needed health services in the cities and rural areas,” predating the primary health care declaration of the Alma Ata Conference in 1978.

The Medical Action Group also said that “red-tagging health workers” is a “disservice” to the country in response to Castro’s designation.

“This designation adversely affects all community health workers, particularly those serving in marginalized and vulnerable communities. It justifies trial by publicity and at the same time, deprives the poorest of the health services they need at the time of a pandemic and economic crisis,” it said.

MAG said that red-tagging health workers violate the “constitutional guarantees of due process and presumption of innocence until proven guilty” and “deprives the communities of needed healthcare services” through the medical frontliners.

“Our health workers deserve recognition, not persecution, for their commitment to serving the welfare of our fellow Filipinos, especially those who are most in need,” it added.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of progressive rights organization Karapatan, said that Castro’s “terrorist” designation is a “clear violation” of her right to due process.

“There is no credible nor sufficient bases for this designation. It is meant to not only threaten and harass her — it is meant to place her life in danger. Doc Naty is a respected doctor, a much-loved community health worker and a brave human rights defender. She is not a terrorist,” she wrote.

“We demand the junking of the Terror Law that has institutionalized the council’s mandate to act as judge and jury in implementing this draconian law,” Palabay added.

Religious organization One Faith One Nation One Voice also said that Castro’s terrorist tag “exposes the rotten core of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.”

“Dr. Naty Castro’s ministries with the farmers and indigenous peoples of Mindanao have been responding to their needs and helping them to organize their communities towards their own welfare, their democratic participation in their own development, and the exercise of their right to self-determination,” it said.

“What are Dr. Naty’s so-called ‘terroristic’ acts? She feeds the hungry, gives the thirsty something to drink, clothes the needy, ministers to the sick, and visits the prisoners,” the organization added.

“Activism is not terrorism and serving the poor is not a crime, it’s a Christian imperative,” it further said.

Castro is an alumna of the University of the Philippines Manila’s College of Medicine Class of 1995.

She served as a community physician in the rural areas of Agusan and other parts of Mindanao after her graduation.

The physician worked as a human rights documenter for Karapatan. Reports said she was able to build 50 peoples’ organizations and trained thousands of healthcare workers.

Castro also brought a Lumad representative to the United Nations in Geneva to help them in their fight against threats and harassment.