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Mission board protests arrests in Philippines


11:35 A.M. EST Feb. 11, 2010 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

Protesters ask for the release of Dr. Alexis Montes and 42 other medical caregivers arrested in the Philippines. UMNS photos by Juliet Solis-Aguilar, GBGM.

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries has joined other religious organizations asking the Philippines government for the humane treatment and quick release of a group of health workers, including a church-related doctor, arrested Feb. 6.

The military claims the group was training to make bombs. Family members of the detained health workers said they were attending a medical seminar.

“This incident appears to be a continuation of a military and government campaign against persons who seek to provide services to and represent the interests of the poor,” said Bishop Joel N. Martinez, interim top executive of the international mission agency. He appealed for prayers for those seized and their families.

Dr. Alexis Montes, one of two physicians in the group, has ties to Global Ministries, having served from 2007 to 2009 as a "person in mission" through the agency’s mission partnership with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. He worked at Visayas Community Medical Center in Cebu Province. The program provides small grants to mission partner churches for specific ministries.

Dr. Alexis Montes

The 43 persons were arrested in the town of Morong, Rizal Province, at the home of Dr. Melecia Velmonte, who is chairperson of the Community Medicine Development Foundation. The house was stormed by the army and national police on the grounds of a search for a specific person, who was not present. The 43 were arrested on suspicion of being supporters of the New People's Army, a Communist rebel group.

The two doctors, a nurse, a midwife and 39 other persons were held without bail at Camp Capinpin, a military headquarters in Tanay. Some reporters indicated that the detainees were tortured in an effort to win confessions of complicity with the New People's Army.

According to news reports, the Armed Forces of the Philippines did not present the 43 to the court as directed by 2 p.m. on Feb. 12. On Feb. 11, the Supreme Court of the Philippines granted their relatives’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, and the World Council of Churches are among the religious organizations calling for the release and just treatment of the health workers. The United Methodist Church has sought justice and called for an end to the killings, abductions and torture of hundreds of people since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took office in 2001.

Many of the victims have been human rights workers, clergy and journalists. In 2006, a United Methodist pastor was dragged from his home, beaten and shot. His family has accused the Philippine military of the killing.

Because of historic mission patterns, the Board of Global Ministries works with both The United Methodist Church in the Philippines and the UCCP, a denomination that included the Evangelical United Brethren Church, a constituting part of The United Methodist Church in 1968.

Montes is a leading layman of the UCCP and a well-known figure in the community health movement in the Philippines. He worked with the UCCP's national health ministries from 1987 through 2004. He has a strong commitment to medical services for the poor in rural areas.

*Wright is an author and consultant to the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

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

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