Philippines arrests human rights activist-doctor accused of rebellion


A doctor in the Philippines, accused of being a leader of a Maoist rebel group that has waged decades-long insurgency war against the government, has been arrested by the police.

Maria Natividad Castro, 53, was arrested in her home in the capital Manila on Friday and is being held without bail.

According to a police statement issued, she will be tried on charges of kidnapping, for which a lower court had ordered her arrest in 2020.

Her former employer, human rights monitor Karapatan, said Dr. Castro is facing “trumped up” charges after she investigated alleged human rights violations in the volatile Mindanao region while also setting up community health centres there.

She has been accused of being part of the Communist Party of the Philippines’ central committee.

“Karapatan denounces the arrest of human rights and health worker, Dr. Naty Castro, as yet another form of attack against human rights defenders,” the group said.

Critics say allegations of communism – known locally as “red-tagging” – have been used to discredit and detain activists, journalists, lawyers and dissidents.

While the practice is not new in the Philippines, it has intensified under President Rodrigo Duterte, according to rights groups.

At the start of his term in 2016, Mr. Duterte, a self-described socialist, had sought a peace deal with the rebels.

But after talks collapsed in 2017, he branded the Communist Party and its armed wing “terrorist organisations” and ordered soldiers to shoot female insurgents in the genitals.

On Facebook, Dr. Castro’s brother insisted she was just a health worker who had served indigenous communities.

“My sister is accused of multiple charges of kidnapping and illegal detention, all related to her human rights advocacy. ALL UNTRUE,” he wrote.

Philippine police Chief Dionardo Carlos congratulated the force on Castro’s arrest, saying in the statement they made “it possible to bring the suspect before the court”. (Source: The Straits Times)