Tauli’s colleagues said kidnappers were state security forces
The abductors of anti-dam campaigner Stephen “Steve” Tauli wanted him to turn government spy and tried to force him to confirm fellow activists’ alleged links with underground revolutionary groups.
The Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) on Monday, August 29, said the Kankanaey Igorot activist was also forced to sign a sworn statement admitting he was a leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA).
“The whole time, Steve was blindfolded and handcuffed, while being threatened that they could kill him anytime if he would not cooperate,” the groups said.
Tauli, CPA regional council member, was assaulted and abducted by five men at a store near the CPA office in Barangay Appas in Tabuk City, Kalinga province at around 6:45 in the evening.
While inside a black van he was forced into, Tauli was blindfolded, handcuffed and mauled while he desperately struggled and screamed for help, the two organizations reported.
The victim immediately and repeatedly demanded for his captors to identify themselves and their units as well as to bring to either a police station or a military camp, instead of an unknown location. Tauli also told his abductors to file charges against him in court if they thought he had committed a crime, the CPA and the CHRA narrated.
“Here, the men started to lecture Steve about the NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the government anti-insurgency program) and its objective of stopping the insurgency problem in the country. They interrogated him about his work and some people he allegedly has links with,” their statement said.
After an hour of interrogation, the van drove for another two hours, stopping on what Tauli reportedly thought was a secluded area and where the interrogation continued for several more hours.
The CPA and CHRA said Tauli feared for his life, knowing what had happened to his friend and fellow activist James Balao who was abducted in Baguio City in 2008 and was never surfaced.
After repeated threats to his life and thoughts of distress to his family for suddenly going missing, Tauli agreed to sign a prepared sworn statement. His kidnappers then removed his blindfold to sign the document and read it while being recorded on video.
“They then threatened him not to report what had happened and to comply with what he had signed, otherwise they would harm him, his family, and his colleagues,” the CPA and CHRA narrated.
Tauli reportedly told the groups his wearing masks the entire time.
Tauli was released by his kidnappers the next evening, August 21, near where he was abducted and was made to walk to the CPA-Kalinga office. His colleagues, who were about to continue to search for him that night, found the victim dazed and in shock, the organizations said.
Red-tagged anti-dam activist
The groups said that Tauli, like fellow CPA leaders and members, were subject to red-tagging, surveillance and harassment before the incident.
Tauli’s abduction came at a time while CPA-Kalinga launched a campaign against the Saltan Dam and right after his group filed a petition for a Writ of Amparo at the Court of Appeals because of the continuing red-tagging and attacks against human rights defenders.
Saltan River in upper Kalinga province is considered one of the country’s cleanest inland waterway. It is a major tributary of the Chico River system and passes through the famed Balbalasang Balbalan National Park, “the green heart of the Cordillera.”
The Saltan D River Hydroelectric Power Project is listed to be on its pre-development stage and awarded by the government to a company called the JBD Management and Consulting Services, Inc.
“We are of the firm belief that the swift response of family, colleagues and the wider community to immediately search for him, government officials who stood by their mandate to protect their constituents, and the public outcry forced his abductors to release Steve Tauli,” the CPA and CHRA said.
“His was a near-death experience in the hands of his abductors who clearly were part of the State security forces,” they added.
The groups said Tauli and his family are still reeling from the deep trauma caused by his abduction and threats to his life are still continuing. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)