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Anti-dam activist’s abductors wanted him to turn gov’t spy

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.

“As he was leaving, five men suddenly grabbed him, blindfolded and handcuffed him, then mauled him and forced him into a black van while he was desperately struggling and screaming for help,” the groups’ joint statement said.

–cORDILLERA PEOPLES’ ALLIANCE AND CORDILLERA HUMAN RIGHTS ALLIANCE

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.

‘Under duress’

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.

“They said that he could help them by neutralizing certain persons they identified as leaders of the CPP-NPA in the Cordillera region,” the groups’ statement said.

–cORDILLERA PEOPLES’ ALLIANCE AND CORDILLERA HUMAN RIGHTS ALLIANCE

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 as seen from below a Balbalan, Kalinga Bridge. (R. Villanueva)

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)

Abducted activist found, regional human rights group announces

Abducted activist Stephen “Steve” Tauli had been found Sunday evening after a search by his organization, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) announced.

“After the search initiated by [the] CPA (Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance) in Kalinga, including persistent calls made to the local government units, PNP (Philippine National Police), and AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), Steve Tauli was found at around 10 pm today,” CHRA said in an update Sunday evening.

The group has yet to disclose exactly where Tauli is and who was responsible in his disappearance for more than 24 hours since he was reportedly beaten up and abducted by five men along five men along Ag-a Road in Tabuk City.

National human rights group Karapatan said CCTV footage showed the abductors entering and leaving the CPA-Kalinga office prior to the assault Saturday evening between 6 to 9 in the evening.

“He is still in shock and needs to recover to be able to state the full accounts of what took place since the assault on him yesterday (Saturday evening), CHRA said.

Tauli is a CPA regional council member and husband to CPA vice chairperson Jill Cariño.

He, along with several other CPA leaders and members, had been victims to red-tagging, surveillance and harassment by government agents, the group added.

Last week, alleged drug personality turned government anti-insurgency spokesperson Jeffry Celis reportedly red-tagged the CPA in a forum at the Kalinga State University, the CHRA said.

A Kankanaey indigenous activist in the Cordilleras, Tauli is a staunch defender of the indigenous people’s right to ancestral domain and self-determination proven by his years of involvement in many land rights campaigns against destructive energy and mining projects, the CHRA said.

Tauli is also connected with farmers’ group Timpuyog Dagiti Mannalon ti Kalinga, the group said.

“At present, Steve is active in the Kalinga peoples’ struggle against the proposed two big hydropower projects of JBD Water Power Inc. (JWPI)- the 49 MW Saltan D and 45 MW Saltan E Dams along the Saltan River,” CHRA said.

Prior to becoming a full-time activist, Tauli graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Forestry degree from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños and was active in the university’s Green Mountain Circle.

The 63-year old activist is also a member of the Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity.

Tauli had been an activist since the Cordillera peoples’ struggle against the Chico Dam project during the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. government and has “persistently campaigned against dams, mines, and other forms of development aggression against the Cordillera peoples,” Karapatan said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Cordillera activist mauled and abducted

Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance council member Steve Tauli remains missing

An activist and indigenous peoples’ leader had been abducted in Tabuk City on August 20 and has since gone missing, an activist organization revealed.

 Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) regional council member Stephen “Steve” Tauli had been abducted after being mauled by five men along Ag-a Road in Tabuk City, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) announced in an urgent alert.

The abductors, also reported to have entered the premises of the CPA office, are believed to be government agents, the CHRA said.

“Prior to this incident, Steve was subjected to red-tagging, surveillance and harassment as has been experienced by CPA leaders and members,” the human rights group added.

A forum at the Kalinga State University in Tabuk City last week again red-tagged the CPA through one of its speakers, alleged drug personality turned government anti-insurgency spokesperson Jeffry Celis, the CHRA said.

The CPA is a regional federation of grassroots-based organizations among indigenous communities in the Cordillera.

Tauli is the husband of CPA vice chairperson Jill Cariño.

The CHRA said it urgently appeals for public support in their search for the missing activist.

“We call [on] the [government for Steve to be immediately and unconditionally surfaced alive,” the CHRA said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)