9 September 2023
Harassment and intimidation against anti-reclamation activists and fishermen have been rampant since San Miguel Corporation started displacing communities and after the then-Duterte government enacted RA11506, an act granting San Miguel Inc. a franchise to construct, develop, establish, operate, and maintain International Airport and adjacent airport city.
In 2020, an army detachment was set up in Taliptip, Bulacan that created a climate of fear among the coastal residents. Because of this, the majority of residents were compelled to accept the measly compensation offered to them by SMC, which they would only receive on the condition that they will self-demolish their houses.
A year later, fisherfolks in Malolos, Bulacan, experienced higher tides and a grave reduction in fish catch as the Boskalis, an SMC contractor, started dredging parts of Manila Bay just meters away from their community, not to mention that they were also under threat of demolition. Several salt farms were also bought by SMC, displacing the livelihoods and houses of families in the area. In September 2021, they experienced threats and intimidation from DILG while NTF-ELCAC conducted a barrio seminar, which is, unsurprisingly, an assembly meant to redtag advocates and sow terror in the community.
Following that, two fishermen from Obando, Bulacan, who also support the anti-reclamation effort, were illegally arrested a day after attending a fisherfolk consultation in the province. After their arrest, they were charged with illegal possession of firearms and a drug-related offense. There are also a reported case of a large group of 40 fisherfolks and minors were illegally detained by deployed CAFGU in Malolos, Bulacan.
Meanwhile, since November 2022, a number of fisherfolk leaders and advocates in Bulacan are at the receiving end of series of harassments and intimidation in the guise of “home- visits” purportedly by local PNP and AFP intelligence units
And for this year, as the dredging in Manila Bay continues, causing massive and worsening flooding in Bulacan and Pampanga; as livelihoods take a drastic downturn for fisherfolk in Manila Bay, especially in Bataan; and as displacement of communities in Bataan and Bulacan continues, attacks also escalate.
In Obando, Bulacan, there were undocumented but verifiable reports from people that fisherfolk were open fired on by deployed CAFGU despite the fact that they were fishing far away from the SMC’s “restricted fishing grounds.”
In Bataan, fisherfolk in Capunitan, Orion, experienced harassment from uniformed PNP personnel while illegally displacing them to pave way for the construction of a “commercial and development project” by San Miguel Corp.
Months later, Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, staunch anti-reclamation activists and church program coordinators, experienced surveillance and harassment in Brgy. Balut, Orion. The two, together with other volunteers and advocates, are active in conducting interviews, research, and investigations in the communities to know the effects of reclamation on the livelihood of fisherfolk and their families. Amid the typhoon, they are also preparing to launch relief operations with the help of other non-government organizations and individuals.
But what they received in return was the worst. They were abducted on September 2 while on their way to another community. CCTV footage has been smashed, and lies were spread to concerned residents and eyewitnesses that the abduction was just a prank. The mother of Castro is even denied her right to file a blotter at the PNP Orion station.
Considering years of consistent attacks, the arrest of Tamano and Castro is political — it is meant to sow terror and fear in communities affected by the Manila Bay Reclamation. The abduction happened amid the backlash and controversies as the reclamation caused massive flooding and worsening tides, and despite the so-called suspension order from the Marcos administration.
The state forces may deny their role in the abduction all they want and unwittingly use the NPA rebel/ communist organizer playbook to reason out the abduction, but one thing they cannot deny is that it is Tamano and Castro who are at the forefront to challenge the reclamation project and uphold the rights of fisherfolk and their families; and it is the AFP, CAFGU, DILG, NTF-ELCAC, and SMC who, historically, are causing terror and fear to communities.
Serving the people, fighting for the right to land, and defending the environment will never be acts of terrorism. Tamano and Castro are not terrorists. The most terroristic of all are those behind the abduction and had the audacity to face the families and friends of the victims without a single strand of remorse or guilt present.
Wherever Tamano and Castro are right now, we will never back down. Their advocacy to serve and to stand with the people is a forever inspiration to fishermen, church people, their fellow youth and students, and their family and friends. So long as displacement of livelihood continues in the name of pseudo-development, more and more advocates like Tamano and Castro will go to communities — despite threats and fears.
The fight against Manila Bay reclamation continues!
The fight to uphold our livelihood and the environment continues!
The fight for genuine national development based on social justice and lasting peace continues!
Our fight does not — and will never — end here!