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Filipino doctor takes courageous stand to help victims

Dr. Reggie Pamuges is the founder of Health Action for Human Rights, an association of health care workers campaigning against extrajudicial killings and human rights violations in the Philippines. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

Third in a series

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 20, 2007 | MANILA, Philippines (UMNS)

Faith with Justice

Dr. Reggie Pamuges knows he could be killed or arrested for going into prisons, refugee camps and morgues to examine victims of human rights violations.

He goes anyway.

"I am afraid of being targeted," Pamuges admits. "Someday I won't return home because I've been assassinated or abducted."

The fear doesn't stop him because his desire for justice is stronger.

Pamuges is among health professionals, church workers and human rights advocates who are taking a courageous stand against the Philippine government that they blame for more than 800 extrajudicial killings and hundreds of abductions since 2001.

"I was working as a community doctor during my first year after passing the medical boards, and I noticed that people were being killed or abducted," he said. "All people have the right to medical treatment but, from my experience, the government has neglected its responsibility."

Pamuges started complaining about human rights violations and eventually formed a nongovernmental organization of doctors, nurses and other health professionals to serve victims.

Health Action for Human Rights was formed in 2000 and is committed to educating people about their rights to health care. The group campaigns against the killings and forced disappearances, especially among the poor, marginalized and indigenous people.

Pamuges was part of a fact-finding and medical mission conducted by The United Methodist Church in a highly militarized community in the province of Nueva Ecija.

Treating victims

Pamuges' mission brings him face to face with the face of torture. He describes examining the Rev. Berlin V. Guerrero, a United Church of Christ pastor abducted in front of his church in May. Guerreo was with his wife and three children when masked gunmen grabbed him. The family called Pamuges and asked him to visit Guerrero the next day.

"Only (God) knows when it is my time to die."
–Dr. Reggie Pamuges

"I noticed that Pastor Berlin had abrasions on both wrists because of the handcuffs," he said. "He was punched like a punching bag. He told me that he was interrogated for almost 6-12 hours and he was punched, kicked and had a plastic bag held over his head until he passed out."

The torture wasn't just physical, according to Pamuges. The pastor said his abductors threatened to kill his family and rape his wife and daughter.

The reason given for Guerrero's arrest was that he was a rebel sympathizer. He was later charged with murder and remains in prison today.

Rallying for justice

Speaking in August to United Methodist News Service, Pamuges had just attended a rally calling for the release of Jonas Burgos, an agriculturist missing since May.

"I think if President (Gloria) Arroyo remains in power, the extrajudicial killings, the assassinations, abductions, tortures and human rights violations will just go on," he said.

Meanwhile, critical national needs go unmet. Pamuges said the government only spends 1.2 percent of its budget on health care.

"People are malnourished. How can you work and help the government when you are hungry?" he asked.

Asked where he finds the courage to go on, Pamuges answered, "I believe that someone out there will take care of me, and only (God) knows when it is my time to die."

Editor's Note: Since this interview, Human Rights Watch reported that Pamugas was arrested Sept. 26 while he and others staged a rally against the Human Security Act. He was later released.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn. She compiled this report based on her trip to the Philippines in August.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Video Story

A Call for Justice


Dr. Reggie Pamuges: "Pastor punched like a punching bag."

Dr. Reggie Pamuges: "The killings will just go on."

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