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)

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)

Panata ng Naiwang Panyapak

Ni Pia Montalban

Hindi na namin sila nasamahan

kahit amin nang nakasanayan

na hindi mag-iwanan

liban pahinga ang nananawagan.

Kasama nila kami sa mga pamayanan,

nakinig ng hinaing ng mga mamamayan,

nakilakbay sa mga mamamalakaya,

naging kaisa sa kanilang mga panawagan.

Subalit, nang gabing iyon, maulan

sa kalsada ng Manrique, iniwan

ng mga hiyaw na pumailanlang

sa pamayanan—ang aming paalamanan.

Tigalgal kaming mga naging piping saksi,

mga naiwang ulila sa may-ari at kapares,

mga walang buhay na bagay

pero punumpuno ng ingay.

Ituturo namin na may naganap na dahas,

na may naisakatuparang krimen.

Patunay na totoo ang pananakot at teror.

Kami ang nagpangalan sa mga biktima.

Kami na saksi ng sapilitang pagkawala,

nang marahas na hatakin

ng mga armadong lalaki

ang mga katawang may suot sa amin;

Na pinilit pang umakyat ng tarangkahan,

magmakaawa na masaklolohan;

magpumiglas sa tangkang pagpapatahimik,

magpakaladkad huwag lamang mabitbit.

Saksi kami sa kanilang mga bigat,

sa bawat hakbang nilang lapat,

sa bawat mithi nilang payak,

sa bawat pangarap nilang tiyak.

Hindi na namin sila nasamahan.

Hindi na namin sila nasamahan.

Susunduin na lamang namin ang hustisya,

hahanapin ang dalawang kasama.

= = = = = =

Sina Jhed Tamano at Jonila Castro.

Dinukot ng mga hindi pa nakikilalang kalalakihan sina Jhed Tamano at Jonila Castro, mga dating mag-aaral ng Bulacan State University noong ika-2 ng Setyembre, 2023. Sina Tamano at Castro ay mga organisador ng mga pamayanan sa Bataan at Bulacan na apektado ng sari-saring proyektong reklamasyon sa Manila Bay.