With adherence to the principle of independence, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has consistently spoken out against abuses whether perpetrated by those in differing ideological spheres or those serving in government. It is a job that often places the CHR in conflict those being investigated.

CHR as part of government shall continue to protect our democratic way of life.

CHR notes with concern that in the case of Dra. Naty, it was only after significant media coverage, national attention and messages of support from members of the public did the Philippine National Police (PNP) finally decide to reveal the whereabouts of the accused to her legal counsel and to CHR investigators. This incident sends a chilling effect not only to community workers, but also to doctors serving in rural areas engaged in development work, in line with their Hippocratic Oath, to do what’s best for their patients.

Prior to her arrest, Dr. Castro, an alumna of the University of the Philippines Manila College of Medicine Class of 1995, served as a community physician for Indigenous People, helping set-up community health centers and programs in the rural areas of Agusan in Mindanao. Notably, she brought members of the Lumad community before the United Nations in Geneva to seek help against harassment in their ancestral domains. She was also a former Secretary General in the Caraga region of the rights group, Karapatan, a non-government organization whose members are frequently red-tagged by the government. For Human Rights Defenders, red-tagging by government can lead to an enforced disappearance or worse — extrajudicial killing.

CHR is concerned with the manner of arrest, particularly in the alleged lapses in procedure by the PNP in serving the warrant of arrest and likewise the red-tagging of Dr. Castro for her work as a human rights defender and development worker. At the time of her arrest, the arresting officers declined to show proper identification, denied the accused her access to counsel, and refused to divulge to her family where they intended to bring her.

Under the PNP’s 2021 revised Police Operational Procedure, arresting officers are duty-bound to identify themselves and show proper identification; deliver without delay the accused to the nearest police station and ensure that the person arrested is informed of his/her rights to counsel.

Should these allegations prove to be true, arresting officers are not only liable for violation of PNP’s operations procedure, but also in violation of the rights of persons arrested and detained under Republic Act No. 7438.

In investigating cases involving violations of international humanitarian law, red-tagging and harassment of human rights defenders, CHR asserts its independent and impartial position. We have consistently called for peace and dialogue in lieu of violence.

Our position is clear: we condemn all forms of rebellion and acts contrary to the country’s peace and development. Time and again we have condemned armed atrocities by rebel and terrorist groups and actions that seek to sow discord on the lives of civilians and destabilize the country. The primary mandate of CHR, as the country’s National Human Rights Institution, is to call-out the government for potential human rights violations against its citizens. This, however, does not mean that it countenances human rights abuses perpetrated by non-state actors. Of recent note, we recall our swift condemnation and call for accountability from the New People’s Army for the deaths of Keith Absalon and his cousin Nolven Absalon (https://bit.ly/3JDkhWn). Similarly, our resolution on the Masbate blasts was met with support from both PNP and Armed Forces of the Philippines (https://bit.ly/3LPEie7).

In ensuring the protection of the rights of Dra. Naty, CHR will continue to coordinate with local authorities and the Castro family to assist them in ensuring her safety in custody. We thank the Free Legal Assistance Group and the brave human rights community for speaking out against abuses and the media for its unwavering coverage of this issue. The CHR calls for the public’s continued vigilance to speak out against allegations of human rights abuses.

Statement on the arrest of Dr. Natividad Castro from the website of the Commission on Human Rights; Photo of Dr. Natividad Castro courtesy of UP College of Medicine Class of 1995