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Philippines: Aquino’s Order to Free ‘Morong 43’ a Positive Step

Government Should Investigate Allegations of Mistreatment

(New York) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has taken a positive step by ordering the Justice Department to drop charges against the so-called "Morong 43" detainees, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should initiate a civilian investigation of alleged mistreatment in military custody, Human Rights Watch said.

Military and police forces arrested the 26 women and 17 men on February 6, 2010, in Morong, Rizal province, accusing them of being trainees of the communist rebel New People's Army. Police charged them with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. After being held for 12 weeks in military custody, the suspects were transferred to police custody in Manila. On December 10, Aquino ordered the Justice Department to drop the charges against the 43 suspects because they were based on illegally obtained evidence. The 43 suspects are awaiting a court order dismissing the charges and providing for their release.

"By ordering the release of the 'Morong 43,' President Aquino is telling security forces to uphold the law for arrests and detention," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "This is a step toward meeting Aquino's promises to tackle injustice and impunity."

The Morong 43 detainees told Human Rights Watch that at the time of their arrest, the authorities did not provide them the reasons for their arrest or inform them of their rights to remain silent or to obtain legal counsel. Such rights are guaranteed under the Philippine constitution. Some detainees described ill-treatment in military detention, such as being blindfolded and interrogated on and off for as long as 36 hours. Several detainees have filed complaints with the national Commission on Human Rights alleging torture and ill-treatment.

"The mistreatment of detainees will only end if the abuses are also investigated and prosecuted," Pearson said. "Aquino should promptly order a criminal investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment in military custody."

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