|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)
Dr. Reggie Pamuges knows he could be killed or arrested for going
into prisons, refugee camps and morgues to examine victims of human
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
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.
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
The reason given for Guerrero's arrest was that he was a rebel
sympathizer. He was later charged with murder and remains in prison
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 email@example.com.
A Call for Justice
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Dr. Reggie Pamuges: "The killings will just go on."
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