Jhed, Jonila fail to attend UN rights council session

GENEVA, Switzerland—Environment activists Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, alleged military abduction survivors, failed to attend the ongoing 55th regular session of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in this city due to the filing of grave defamation charges against them by the Department of Justice, the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch revealed.

Wanting to personally narrate their ordeal before the international body, Tamano and Castro were forced to forego their trip to attend to court hearings after the 70th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division filed the new charges against them later this month.

The Philippine UPR Watch condemned the Department of Justice’s recommendation to file the grave defamation charge and elevating it to the courts as “a deliberate attempt at preventing them from telling the world of their ordeal.”

“Jhed and Jonila wanted to deliver oral interventions at the UNHRC general debates as survivors of abduction by the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government that also tried to falsely present them to the public as so-called rebel surrenderees,” Karapatan legal counsel and Philippine UPR Watch delegate Atty. Ma. Sol Taule said.

Castro and Tamano were also scheduled to speak at various regular session side events at the UN as well as in various other countries throughout Europe in the coming weeks.

“Both survivors had already secured travel visas but were forced to cancel when the DOJ and 70th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division filed new trumped up charges against them,” Taule added.

Castro and Tamano each posted bail last February 21 at the Dona Remedios Trinidad Municipal Trial Court in Bulacan on charges the anti-Manila Bay reclamation activists deliberately defamed the military and the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government in a press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict last September 19 in Plaridel, Bulacan.

“That is not prosecution but political persecution,” Taule said.

In an earlier statement, Castro and Tamano said the DOJ is in collusion with the NTF-ELCAC and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in telling the courts a “patchwork” of stories to save face and cover up its practice of abduction and presentation of fake surrenderees.

“This decision proved that our questioning of the DOJ’s capability to conduct fair investigations was correct, adding the department conveniently ignored the fact that they were kidnapped and coerced into surrendering and admitting that they were members of Communist groups,” the young environmentalists said after posting bail last month.

Despite their physical absence however, Castro and Tamano’s ordeal shall be told in side events and dialogues with permanent missions of UN member states as well as officials of international civil society organizations in the UN nonetheless, the Philippine UPR Watch said.

“If the government thinks that it could cover up its abductions and other human rights violations by preventing Jhed and Jonila from personally telling their ordeal to the world, it is mistaken,” Center for Environmental Concerns executive director Lia Mai Torres said.

Torres added that foreign governments are very interested in knowing more about the case of the two young environmental defenders who bravely revealed their abduction and 17-day imprisonment in a Philippine Army camp in front of their abductors.

“The case of Jhed and Jonila helps reveal that human rights situation is no better under Marcos Jr. and environmental defenders are among the victims,” Torres said.

A network of human rights groups, churches, and people’s organizations, the Philippine UPR Watch is an active participant in UNHRC sessions through oral interventions, forums, dialogues and reports on the state of human rights in the Philippines. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

[DISCLOSURE] The reporter is a member of the PH UPR Watch delegation as chairperson of the People’s Alternative Media Network that also spoke with UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan in her visit to the Philippines earlier this year.

Jhed, Jonila post bail for defamation charge

State abduction survivors Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano posted bail at the Dona Remedios Trinidad Municipal Trial Court in Bulacan province on Wednesday for the grave oral defamation charge against them by the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government.

The environmental activists posted P18,000 each for their temporary liberty after being accused by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that they used a press conference to accuse the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict of abduction in Bataan Province.

In a press conference organized by the Plaridel Public Information Office last September 19, 17 days after their abduction in Orion, Bataan last September 2, the two victims revealed they have been abducted by the military and have not surrendered as the Philippine Army claimed.

Embarassed by Castro and Tamano’s brave revelation in front of their abductors, the military filed perjury charges that was dismissed by the DOJ in favor of the new defamation charge.

AFP’s ‘honor and reputation’

The new charge was filed by Lt. Col. Ronnel dela Cruz, commander of the 70th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division based in Doña Remedios Trinidad.

Castro and Tamano were detained at the army unit’s headquarters during their ordeal.

In its resolution, the DOJ alleged the respondents “employed machinations and took advantage of the benevolence of the 70th IB (Infantry Battalion) and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to embarrass and put them in bad light.”

“There was a deep-rooted motive on the part of respondents to select a public forum that would express their sentiment. We consider the statement of respondents to be serious slander because the circumstances of the case show that they consciously, intentionally and on purpose waited and chose the press conference which would be held in public to air their grievance and plight,” the DOJ added.

“The slanderous words were obviously uttered with evident intent to strike deep into the character, honor and reputation of (the) complainant and the AFP,” the resolution reads.

Abductors and liars

In a joint statement, Tamano and Castro on Tuesday bewailed that the victims have become the respondents, even after the Supreme Court recently granted them Writ of Amparo and Habeas Data protection mechanisms.

“The abductors are very intent to jail those they’ve abducted,” the victims said.

The two also revealed that the Office of the Solicitor General has filed an omnibus motion appealing the writs granted them by the high tribunal.

“The only criminals here are the AFP and NTF-ELCAC abductors and liars, as well as the other government agencies that assist them,” the two added.

The only two victims who bravely revealed being abducted in the presence of their abductors, Tamano and Castro are being hailed as the faces of enforced disappearances and fake surrenders human rights organizations accuse the military of committing.

Their testimonies have also become instrumental in the issuance of recommendations for the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC by the United Nations special rapporteurs on climate change and freedom of expression and opinion. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Gawa-gawang kaso’t dahas, kambal na mukha ng pasismo ng Estado

Ni Nuel M. Bacarra

Sa pag-igting ng pasismo sa bansa, kasabay na pinag-iibayo rin ng mga armadong pwersa ng Estado ang paggamit ng iba’t ibang porma at pamamaraan para higit na gipitin ang mamamayang lumalaban. Ang mga batas na dapat nagpoprotekta sa mamamayan ay ginagamit ng ilang opisyal ng pamahalaan sa pagpapatindi ng pandarahas, paninindak at panunupil para protektahan ang kaayusang kanilang pinakikinabangan. Mas marahas, mas mainam para sa kanila.

Nakasaad sa Artikulo II Seksyon 11 ng Konstitusyon ng Pilipinas sa ilalim ng titulong “Mga Patakaran ng Estado” na: “Pinahahalagahan ng Estado ang karangalan ng bawat tao at ginagarantiyahan ang lubos na paggalang sa mga karapatang pantao.” Dagdag pa rito, mayroon nang batas kontra tortyur, ang R.A. 9745; batas sa sapilitang pagkawala o enforced disappearance (R.A. 10353) at R.A. 11862 o ang pinalawig na batas kontra sa human trafficking. Mayroon ding Magna Carta of Women, ang R.A. 9710. Mayroon pang nakasalang na panukala sa Senado na S.B. Blng. 2447 tungkol sa mga saligang karapatan at kalayaan ng mga tagapagtanggol sa mga karapatang pantao.

Kung ang mga batas na ito ay ilalapat sa mga kaso ng mahigit na 700 bilanggong pulitikal sa buong bansa, marami na sanang napalaya kabilang ang mga tagapayo ng rebolusyonaryong kilusan sa usapang pangkapayapaan; sina Frenchie Mae Cumpio at iba pang biktima ng modus na tanim-ebidensya at mga gawa-gawang kaso. Resolbado na rin sana ang kaso ng tinaguriang biktima ng “Bloody Sunday” sa Southern Tagalog kung saan siyam na aktibista ang pinatay at apat pa ang inaresto noong Marso 2021; at inilitaw na sana sina Dexter Capuyan at Bazoo de Jesus.

Iniikutan ng mga armadong pwersa ng Estado ang mga batas at ginagawang armas ito laban sa naghahangad ng panlipunang pagbabago.

Nais ng mga uhaw-sa-dugong pasista na walang pagkakontento sa pagpatay, pambobomba ng mga komunidad o sa simpleng panghuhuli o pagdukot, na maging karaniwang kaayusan ito sa lipunang Pilipino upang sindakin ang mga pwersang naghahangad ng pambansang kalayaan at demokrasya. Subalit sa kaso nina Jhed at Jonila na sinampahan ng gawa-gawang kaso, ito ay para isalba ang kahihiyan nila sa paggamit ng binaluktot na interpretasyon ng batas o pag-kriminalisa rito.

Nagpapatuloy na banta sa buhay

Nitong Pebrero 5, sa protesta ng mga progresibong tagapagtanggol ng karapatang pantao at kapaligiran, mga syentista at mga kabataan sa tanggapan ng Department of Justice at Korte Suprema sa Padre Faura, Manila, iginiit nila ang paggawad ng positibong desisyon sa isinampang writ of amparo at writ of habeas data nina Jonila Castro at Jhed Reiyana Tamano.

Ang petisyon para sa writ of amparo ay isang remedyo ng isang tao na ang karapatan sa buhay, kalayaan at seguridad ay nalalabag o nanganganib dahil sa iligal na gawain o pagkaligta sa mga batas ng mga upisyal ng gubyerno o empleyado o pribadong entidad o mamamayan. Mabibilang dito ang ginagawang red-tagging ng National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), iligal na pagtugaygay at iba pa na nararanasan pa rin nina Jonila at Jhed sa kasalukuyan.

Ang writ of habeas data naman ay isang karapatang konstitusyunal ng mamamayan para iwasto ang maling datos ng gubyerno o pribadong institusyon hinggil sa pagkatao ng isang indibidwal. Sa ganitong usapin, tahasang sinasabi ng dalawang aktibista na hindi sila rebelde na sumuko sa militar tulad ng ibinibintang sa kanila para papaniwalain ang publiko at bigyang-katwiran ang pagdukot sa dalawa.

Ang tapang at paninindigan nina Jonila at Jhed na ilantad nang harap-harapan ang katotohanan ng pagdukot sa kanila ng militar sa Bataan noong Setyembre 2, 2023 ang nagsandal sa pader sa militar para palayain silang dalawa. Hindi na sila mabinbin pa o patagalin sa kustodiya ng militar dahil katakut-takot na kahihiyan ang aabutin nila mula sa sambayanan.

Dahil depensibo ang militar sa politika, nanatili ang panghaharas sa kanila. Sinampahan sina Jonila at Jhed ng kasong perjury o pagsisinungaling. Dahil wala naman talagang batayan ito at lalong nagpatibay sa testimonya ng pagdukot sa kanila, ibinasura ito ng korte. Panibagong kaso naman na grave oral defamation o malalang paninirang-puri ang planong isampa sa kanila dahil diumano ay ginamit ng dalawa ang press conference (na inisponsor ng NTF-ELCAC) para “siraan” ang militar.

Hindi na bago

Ganito na ang padron ng mga panghaharas ng militar sa tuwing ibabasura ng korte ang mga gawa-gawang kasong isinasampa nila laban sa mga aktibista o kung makadaragdag ito sa ibayong kahihiyan nila. Napakadali sa kanila ang gumawa ng kaso at magmanupaktura ng mga ebidensya para sindakin at pahirapan ang mga taong nagtataguyod ng katarungan at kapayapaan at ng mga naghahangad ng pagbabago sa lipunan.

Ang dating National Security Adviser na si Hermogenes Esperon mismo ang nagsampa ng kasong perjury noong Mayo 2019 laban sa sampung indibidwal. Ginawa ito matapos magsampa ng petisyon ng writ of amparo at habeas data sa Korte Suprema ang organisasyon ng KARAPATAN, GABRIELA at Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

Noon lamang Enero 9, 2023 pinawalang-sala ng Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 138 ng Quezon City ang 10 indibidwal mula sa tatlong organisasyon.

Ang kasong ito ay isa lamang sa mga ligal na maniobra ng paggamit ng Estado sa mga batas para kahit paano ay mapigilan ang mga aktibista sa pagtataguyod ng mga karapatan ng mamamayan at sa paglalantad ng kabulukan ng Estado.

Sa Timog Katagalugan, maliban sa mga kaso ng extra-judicial killings, 13 indibidwal din mula sa iba’t ibang progresibong organisasyon ang sinampahan ng mga gawa-gawang kaso. Talamak nang ginagamit ng estado laban sa lumalabang mamamayan ang batas kontra sa terorismo o ang R.A 11479 at di na iilang bilanggong pulitikal ang kinasuhan gamit ang batas na ito. Pero kung gaano kabangis ang batas na ito, tinutugon ito ng paglaban ng mamamayan.

Mga tagasuporta nina Jonila at Jhed na nag-protesta sa harapan ng Korte Suprema sa iniisip ng DOJ na pagsasampa sa dalawang biktima ng pagdukot ng kasong “paninirang puri.” (Larawang kuha ni N. Bacarra)

Lakas ng mamamayan

Ang pagdukot kina Jonila at Jhed at ang pagsisiwalat nila rito ay batid na malawak na mamamayan. Ang pagbubunyag ng katotohanan na ikinagalit ng mga pasistang galamay ng estado ay kaso ng “malubhang pagsisinungaling” laban sa kanila na naging katawa-tawa na. Umuuk-ok ito sa tiwala ng taumbayan sa armadong pwersa ng bansa.

Nakarating na ito sa Komisyon ng Karapatang Pantao ng United Nations at lubos na malalantad pa ito sa darating na mga buwan.

Malakas ang loob ng mga progresibong organisasyon at indibidwal dahil ang lakas nila ay nagmumula sa kanilang pagkakaisa at sa suporta ng taumbayan. Sina Jonila at Jhed ay larawan ng laban ng sambayanan. Anumang pag-alipusta sa kanilang karapatan at pagtatangka sa kanilang buhay ay may katapat na paglaban at sigaw ng lumalabang mamamayan. #

Rights groups laud UN expert recommendation to abolish NTF-ELCAC, repeal anti-terror law

Environmental and human rights groups hailed a United Nations (UN) expert’s recommendations to abolish the government’s anti-insurgency task force and the country’s anti-terrorism law after a 10-day investigation in the Philippines.

In a joint statement, the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and the Philippines UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch said they welcome the statement made by UN Special Rapporteur on Climate Change and Human Rights Dr. Ian Fry recommending the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the repeal of Republic Act No. 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.

In his exit statement last Wednesday, November 15, Fry said he listened to complaints by indigenous peoples groups, environmental rights defenders and other civil society organizations  who were abducted, bombed and killed for opposing reclamation projects, hydro-electric dams, destructive mining and deforestation.

“They told me horrific stories on how they have been treated. I have listed in my recommendations to disband the NTF-ELCAC because it is clear that it’s operating beyond its original mandate,” Fry said.

“It is evident that the NTF-ELCAC is using its powers to protect key economic interests in the country. This has nothing to do with anti-terrorism or anti-communism. The military’s gross overreaction to people trying to defend their right to a safe, clean health and sustainable environment is totally unacceptable. The NTF-ELCAC should be disbanded,” Fry added.

The expert also said he would recommend ATA’s repeal after hearing stories of “totally unreasonable” designation of church and humanitarian workers as so-called terrorists whose funds are being held by the government.

Kalikasan PNE and the Philippine UPR Watch said Fry’s findings are welcome as they “(make) it clear that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s posturing as a climate change advocate” are merely for show.”

Rights group Karapatan also lauded Fry’s exit statement, saying it puts on center stage “the sinister role played by the NTF-ELCAC and the dangerous impact of the terror law on the lives and safety of environmental human rights defenders in the country.

The group noted that the Philippines is one of the world’s deadliest countries and Asia’s worst for environmental defenders in the past 10 years.

“Killings of environmental defenders peaked during the Duterte regime, which accounted for 205 or 73% of the 281 extra-judicially from 2012 to 2022,” Karapatan revealed.

The group added that the Marcos Jr. government is not doing better, citing the case of anti-Manila Bay reclamation campaigners who revealed being abducted by the NTF-ELCAC and the Philippine Army last September.

Bato, Task Force take exception

Reacting to the UN expert’s recommendations, Senator Ronald dela Rosa said Fry is “one of the most misinformed foreigners.”

In a budget hearing at the Senate Wednesday night, dela Rosa said Fry’s views might have changed if he only involved NTF-ELCAC in his investigations.

National security adviser and NTF-ELCAC vice chairperson Eduardo Año also said Fry should have met with the task force “to ensure that he has a full appreciation of the body’s mandate, operations, and overall directions.”

The NTF-ELCAC said it will seek a dialogue with Fry in the future.

Move to defund

But Karapatan said NTF-ELCAC’s “boilerplate responses” to Fry’s observations “further expose its propensity to disregard and distort human rights.”

“NTF-ELCAC’s statement that it is a ‘working and effective human rights mechanism’ is a ludicrous claim, considering its track record of propagating lies and its long list of crimes against the Filipino people,” Karapatan said.

The group said Fry should instead be commended for lending his voice to the growing call for an end to the NTF-ELCAC and ATA menace on people’s rights.

Karapatan added it anticipates Fry’s full report on his official visit to the Philippines to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2024.

“We hope that he can also look further into the militarist approach in the counterinsurgency policy of the Marcos Jr. – Duterte administration that drives NTF-ELCAC and the use of the terror law against environmental defenders and communities, as well as the neoliberal policies that spur destructive big reclamation, dam and mining projects that displace and violate rights of the people,” Karapatan said.

Meanwhile, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that in line with Fry’s recommendations, Congress should immediately move to defund NTF-ELCAC to prevent more human rights abuses in the country. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

TAMBAYAN Ep 3: Kumusta na sina Jhed at Jonila?

Sa pinakahuling episode ng Tambayan ngayong tinaguriang ‘International Day of Climate Action’, kumustahin natin ang dalawang environmental defenders na sina Jhed Tamano at Jonila Castro. Kamakailan lang ay kinasuhan sila ng Department of National Defense ng perjury kaugnay ng paglalantad nila ng pagdukot sa kanila ng mga militar.

Jonila and Jhed’s case reaches UN, rights defenders announce

A group of human rights defenders said they have reported the case of the two abducted environmental activists to the United Nations (UN) at the ongoing 54th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Philippine UPR [Universal Periodic Review] Watch (PUPR) said the press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) last September 19 when anti-Manila Bay reclamation project campaigners Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano revealed their abduction has reached the offices of several UN Special Rapporteurs and country missions.

The PUPR said it continues to update attendees at the 54th UN Human Rights Council session about the NTF-ELCAC’s “degenerative tactic” of presenting abduction and enforced disappearance victims as surrenderers.

“The PUPR team, continuing to report on developments in the Philippines, (also) shared this development with the office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information,” the group in a statement said, referring to Irene Khan who is set to visit the Philippine in January 2024.

Bishop Melzar Labuntog, the General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines also asked other UN experts to red-tagging, freezing of assets, and arrests and detention of church workers and groups.

“Church groups living out their faith and expressions have met malignment and have been equated with terrorist groups,” Labuntog said. “The clear trend of attacking church workers and ministries is a clear indication of how human rights, freedom, and justice are being trampled upon.”

Bishop Labuntog is part of the PUPR delegation to the ongoing UN session, alongside an indigenous people’s leader, a climate activist, a victim of extra-judicial killings, and a people’s lawyer.

The group said they emphasize the injustices suffered by civilians under the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, citing at least 15 terrorism-related cases filed against activists, ranging from allegations of acts of terrorism to financing terrorism with corresponding civil forfeiture charges.

In their meetings with experts and country missions, the PUPR delegation said they also raise the issue of censorship such as the blocking of 25 websites of progressive news sites by the National Telecommunication Commission upon the orders of the National Security Council.

“The first target of government repression will not be the last,” National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-National Capital Region secretary general Kristina Conti said.

Conti added that NUPL’s own Facebook page became inaccessible last September 26 after several posts condemning the killing of a fellow lawyer in Abra province.

PUPR said one of its members from the Council of Health and Development has delivered an oral intervention through video in the interactive dialogue on economic, social, and cultural rights and COVID-19 recovery at the ongoing UNHRC session. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Learning from the young and brave

By Nuel M. Bacarra

In the morning of September 19, a press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) was held to present two new trophies, young “surrenderers” to the public. But the presscon blew up in the face of NTF-ELCAC personnel when Jonila Castro bravely revealed that she and Jhed Reiyana Tamano were abducted by the military forces and were forced to surrender because of the threat to their lives.

The presscon was broadcast live on a local government unit public information office Facebook page as well as on SMNI, galvanized church, rights defenders and activist groups to troop to Plaridel, Bulacan to demand for their immediate release.

I joined them to cover the event. We arrived past lunchtime, finding several Bulacan State University students already protesting in front of the municipal hall, faced by a phalanx of police personnel. The students took off their footwear and placed these in between themselves and the police, symbolizing the two sandals left behind when Jonila and Jhed were abducted in Orion, Bataan on September 2.

Upstairs, in front of the mayor’s office, I waited with fellow journalists, waiting for further developments. Jhed and Jonila were being kept at the mayor’s office as the local chief executive was deciding on her next move as the military did not want to surrender the two victims to her custody. Jhed and Jonila are Plaridel residents.

Minutes before three in the afternoon, I heard loud voices at the ground floor. I rushed downstairs and saw the police personnel dispersing the protesters. A protester was shouting “Huwag kayong manulak!” (Don’t push us!). I saw a young girl got hit by a policeman randomly punching the protesters. The youth pleading with the officers not to push was also hurt.

The police failed to disperse the protesters. Soon, they reasserted their place in front of the building’s main door and resumed their protest. This time, they faced the onlookers, some of them approaching and explaining what is happening at the mayor’s office. By then, Jonila’s parents have arrived with their lawyers and Makabayan bloc Representatives Arlene Brosas and Raoul Manuel to negotiate with the mayor.

I tried going back to where Jonila and Jhed were being kept to get more direct information but was no longer allowed by the police. We soon received information that the two would be brought to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) where the turnover of Jhed and Jonila to their families and supporters would take place. I asked to myself, “Why not turn them over now as family and lawyers are already there?” Then I thought, the mayor must be covering her behind because of the military’s objection to the victim’s release.

Minutes later, we saw Jonila and Jhed coming out of the building with their lawyers and family. We ran to our vehicles to join the convoy to Quezon City. As we approached the CHR headquarters after a mad dash from Bulacan, we saw activists lined up along Commonwealth Avenue who rushed into the compound as soon as our vehicles arrived.

We were allowed to take photos inside the conference room where the victims and their supporters were ushered in. We were asked thereafter to leave as the meeting would be closed door.

I made my way out of the building to take photos of the protesters. It was past six in the evening and I was really hungry at the time. A protester offered me a snack which I wolfed down as we waited for further developments.

After a while, we were told that Jhed and Jonila would be addressing the crowd.

The two thanked their supporters, saying their freedom is also because of the clamor for them to be surfaced. They said they knew people were looking for them and reiterated the correctness of what they are fighting for: a stop to the reclamation projects at Manila Bay.

The saga of Jhed and Jonila are far from over, however. The military and the NTF-ELCAC are doubling down on their canard that the two voluntarily surrendered. I think, though, the sandals left behind when the victims struggled during their abduction could not have been staged. And between two young girls and the NTF-ELCAC, who do we immediately see as liars?

That Tuesday had been the longest and most tiring day of coverage that I have had so far since I joined Kodao. I am a senior citizen with many bodily aches and pains associated with my age. I did not know I could still do it. But the significance of the events made me forget all these.

Jonila Castro and Jhed Reiyana Tamano, young as they are, showed us how to deal with state terrorism. They spoke the truth and turned the table around on their captors. Their courage is a shining example, showing the world how people’s rights are violated in the Philippines and how these are asserted and won. #

Groups ask BBM to investigate abduction of 2 environmentalists

Survivors demand surfacing of other desaperacidos

Rights defenders are asking President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to conduct an investigation into the abduction and enforced disappearances of activists after two young environmentalists revealed they have been snatched by the military and disappeared for 17 days.

After anti-Manila Bay reclamation project activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano revealed their ordeal in the hands of the 70th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army (70th IBPA), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) said the victims’ revelation already warrants a full-blown investigation.

“Will you not call for an impartial investigation into the abduction of two environmental activists and the apparent cover up done by the military?” BAYAN president Renato Reyes Jr. asked.

“Shouldn’t you fire all the officials engaged in the elaborate cover up? Shouldn’t you finally abolish the NTF- ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict)?” Reyes added.

Reyes also asked, “Shouldn’t you issue an unequivocal statement that abductions and forced surrenders are not acceptable because they are human rights violations? Why the deafening silence when it comes to human rights? Is it 1972 all over again?”

Human rights group Karapatan said the NTF-ELCAC is accountable for the abduction, enforced disappearance and fake surrender of two women environmental defenders.

“Now that the truth is out, Karapatan demands that everyone involved in the abduction, enforced disappearance and fake surrender of environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano be held accountable, especially the (NTF-ELCAC) whose malicious and baseless accusations, harmful rhetoric and activities against ordinary folks and activist groups and individuals have enabled and encouraged the commission of countless human rights violations,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“The perpetrators, including those who conspired to cover up what really happened in Orion, Bataan on the night of September 2, 2023 should be charged, prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law,” Palabay added.

Filipino groups abroad meanwhile applauded Tamano and Castro who “courageously declared the truth and exposed state terrorism through the NTF-ELCAC and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines).”

“They valiantly stood their ground, bringing also to focus the issue of reclamation in Bulacan that is causing massive livelihood loss. With their courageous expose, their lives are now endangered. We should stand with Jhed and Jonila and protect them from any retaliation of the terrorist AFP and the NTF-ELCAC,” BAYAN-Hong Kong and Macau said.

In a separate statement, the Hong Kong Campaign for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines said it “salutes the bravery and courage of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano to speak the truth.”

“The international community is watching closely to see how the government will respond to the brave truth spoken by Jonila and Jhed,” the group said.

Jhed Tamano (left) and Jonila Castro at the Commission on Human Rights prior to their release Tuesday night. (Nuel M. Bacarra/Kodao)

Rude surprise

Despite the defiant revelation of the victims, however, the military insisted on its earlier report the two environmentalists surrendered.

Lt. Col. Ronnel de la Cruz, 70th IBPA commander, said Castro and Tamano requested their assistance as the two young women wanted to leave the underground Communist movement they were allegedly part of.

The 70th IBPA reportedly refused to give up custody of the two victims even as no charges have been filed against them and after they revealed the abduction, enforced disappearance and fake surrender they suffered from the military.

The NTF-ELCAC for its part said they were “betrayed” and “hoodwinked” as they only had “the best of intentions in mind” in attending Tuesday’s press conference.

The Task Force added it stands with de la Cruz’s story that the two youths surrendered.

Castro and Tamano have been reunited with family and friends Tuesday night after being turned over to the Commission on Human Rights by Mayor Jocell Vistan Casaje after a standoff at the Plaridel, Bulacan municipal hall.

Karapatan list of enforced disappearance victims under the Marcos Jr. government.

Surface the other disappeared

In a speech before well-wishers at the CHR grounds, the two said they are not the only victims of abductions and enforced disappearances and called for their surfacing and release.

Under the Marcos Jr. government, Karapatan said eight others remain missing after abduction by suspected state agents.

Elgene Mungcal and Ma. Elena Pampoza were abducted in Moncada, Tarlac in July 3, 2022; Arial Badiang was disappeared in Manolo Fortich, Bukindnon on February 7, 2023; Ronel delos Santos, Donald Laloy Mialen and Lyn Grace Martullinas were abducted in Hinigaran, Negros Occidental on April 19 this year; and Dexter Capuyan and Gene Roz Jamill de Jesus remain missing after their abduction in Taytay, Rizal last April 28, Karapatan said.

Palabay added that just last September15, peasant organizer Bea Lopez was reportedly abducted in Cauayan, Negros Occidental with tricycle driver Peter Agravante.

Agravante’s remains were found two days later in a cliff in Basay, Negros Oriental bearing torture marks and a gunshot wound to the head.

“Jhed and Jonila’s case should also prod the public and government officials, as it is their primordial duty, to strengthen investigations and efforts to find and surface all desaparecidos,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Orion 2 case to reach United Nations, abduction survivor vows

A fellow state abduction survivor vows to bring the case of the two surfaced Manila Bay activists to the attention of the international community at the ongoing 54th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dyan Gumanao, abducted by suspected police and military agents at the Port of Cebu last January, said the case of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano is another proof state agents are behind the “heinous abductions” of activists throughout the country.

 “We salute the fortitude of Jhed and Jonila who, despite the violence and abduction they suffered in the hands of the military, revealed the truth to the public,” Gumanao said.

This morning, Castro and Tamano revealed in a press conference organized by the military, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), and the local government unit (LGU) of Plaridel, Bulacan they were abducted and were coerced to sign an affidavit that they are rebel surrenderers.

The environmental activists, also known as the Orion 2, were abducted last September 2, in Orion, Bataan. The victims were held at the headquarters of the 70th Infantry Battalion in Dona Remedios Trinidad in Bulacan province where they said they were threatened and coerced by their abductors.

Gumanao said Castro and Tamano’s revelation is not an isolated incident as it also happened to her and her fellow activist and boyfriend Armand Dayoha last January.

The couple was rescued in another part of Cebu province after six days.

Gumanao is in Geneva as part of the Philippine UPR (Universal Periodic Review) Watch delegation to the UNHRC session.

The Philippine UPR Watch earlier said they are calling on the UNHRC to investigate the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. government’s human rights record that is “indistinguishable” from the sordid history of the Rodrigo Duterte government in terms of weaponization of laws and red-tagging of activists and critics.

Meanwhile, various groups demanded the immediate and unconditional release of Castro and Tamano.

Students of Bulacan State University (BSU) where both are alumnae, stormed Plaridel City Hall demanding their freedom.

The Environmental Defenders Congress also said it demands the release of the two victims following the startling revelation of the two environmental activists.

“The irreversible harm inflicted by reclamation projects on our marine environments is a stark reality, and it is precisely this grave concern that Jhed and Jonila were courageously fighting against,” the group said.

“In view of the public and categorical repudiation by activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano of the government narrative in the presence of NTF-ELCAC, the military, LGU officials and the media, there is no legal basis to hold them any second longer and they should be freed and if restrained illegally, can walk away from their custodians,” National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers chairperson Atty. Edre Olalia said.

Earlier, human rights group Karapatan called on Plaridel Mayor Jocell Vistan Casaje to ensure the safe release of the two victims to their families, lawyers of choice, human rights and church groups or their friends.

Kodao sources said the two are not charged with any criminal or civil complaint and are currently at Mayor Casaje’s office awaiting resolution of how they will be released.

The military is reportedly preventing attempts to have the victims released.

Sources also said Makabayan bloc officials are in Plaridel to help ensure the safe and immediate release of the victims.

Outside the municipal hall, the police are dispersing the BSU students and other activists gathered. # (Raymund B. Villanueva, with reports from Nuel M. Bacarra)

Environmentalists reveal abduction by military

The two missing Manila Bay environmental activists today revealed they have been abducted by the military and did not voluntarily surrender as claimed by authorities.

CLICK TO WATCH VIDEO: Pahayag nina Jonila Castro at Jhed Tamano na sila ay dinukot at napilitang sumurender

In a press conference in Plaridel, Bulacan Tuesday, September19, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano also said they were forced to sign the affidavit saying they were Communist surrenderers while inside a military camp and already in the custody of their abductors.

“Ang totoo po ay dinukot kami ng militar.  Napilitan din kami na sumurender dahil pinagbantaan ang buhay namin. Iyon po ang totoo,” Castro said. (The truth is, we were abducted by the military. We were forced to surrender because they threatened our lives. That is the truth.)

“Hindi rin naming ginusto na mapunta kami sa kustodiya ng mga militar. Hindi rin totoo ang laman ng affidavit dahil pinirmahan iyon sa loob ng kampo ng militar. Wala na kaming magagawa sa mga pagkakataon na iyon,” Castro said. (We also did not choose to find ourselves in the custody of the military. The contents of the affidavit the military ordered us to sign. We already had no choice at that time.)

The two were abducted last September 2 in Orion, Bataan and were missing for more than a week.

The military at first denied the two activists were in their custody but later said the two surrendered with the help of an intermediary.

A fact-finding mission by human rights, environmental and church groups however established that the two were abducted by four armed men who threatened bystanders with guns when they tried to give assistance to the victims.

“Ang gusto lang naming ipakita ngayong araw ang lantaang pasismo ng estado laban sa mga aktibistang ang tanging hangarin ay ipaglaban ang Manila Bay. May nangyayaring reclamation projects doon. Ang problema doon, ang mga mangingisdang mawawalan ng hanapbuhay,” Castro continued. (What we want to say today is the government’s bare fascism against activists who only wish to defend Manila Bay. There are reclamation projects there. The problem is that fisherfolk are losing their livelihood.)

There are 21 big time reclamation projects in Manila Bay, all but one President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself ordered stopped and investigated.

READ: Groups demand scrapping of all Manila Bay reclamation projects

Marcos was forced to order the stoppage of the projects after prolonged flooding hit Central Luzon in the past weeks.

“Pero ang nangyayari, nagagamit ang mga militar para ipatigil ang mga pagkilos, para masupil ang mga kabataan, ang mga mangingisdang naroroon.  Iyon ang tunay na isyu dito,” Castro added, before being cut off by an off camera master of ceremony. (But what is happening is, the military is being used to suppress the resistance, the suppress the youth and the fisherfolk. That is the real issue here.)

Comments on the original video were calling for the press conference organizers to let the two victims speak.

The Plaridel Public Information Office Facebook Live video has immediately been taken down.

In a statement, human rights group Karapatan demanded the safe and immediate release of the two activists to their parents, lawyers, human rights workers, colleagues or friends.

“The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have no reason to hold Jhed and Jonila in their custody,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Karapatan added that Plaridel Mayor Jocell Vistan Casaje should ensure that the victims are not returned to the military camp where they have been held. Casaje was present at the press conference.

Casaje has yet to respond to requests for a statement.

Tamano and Castro are Plaridel residents.

“The exposé of Jonila and Jhed, in their own words, of their abduction by the military speaks volumes for the many victims of abduction and enforced disappearance, the wave of attacks against activists and rights defenders under the current dispensation. Release Jhed and Jonila Now!”The exposé of Jonila and Jhed, in their own words, of their abduction by the military speaks volumes for the many victims of abduction and enforced disappearance, the wave of attacks against activists and rights defenders under the current dispensation. Release Jhed and Jonila Now!” Karapatan said.

“Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano have spoken the truth, despite the coerced situation that they are in – they have declared they were abducted by the military, that they did not surrender and they were held inside a military camp, under pressure and under duress, making all the claims of their ‘surrender’ all lies and hogwash,” Karapatan added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)