September 9, 2023
Independent probe points to possible State role in envi defenders’ abduction, green group says
After joining the independent civil society fact-finding mission to locate missing environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment is increasingly convinced of potential State involvement in their disappearance.
“To solve a crime, one must first look for who has the means to commit this crime and who has the motivation,” said Aldrein Silanga, campaign officer of Kalikasan, who was also speaking for the Environmental Defenders Congress, another broad coalition Kalikasan convened in 2018.
“During the fact-finding mission, we unearthed a report indicating that Jonila had been red-tagged months before her abduction. An unidentified soldier had visited her family in Bulacan, pressuring them to convince her to meet him and clear her name, Silanga revealed.
“This indicates a clear motive for the two women’s abduction,” he said, adding that this is backed up by two decades worth of documentation that shows state forces to be behind most killings and other human rights abuses against environmental defenders.
“Kalikasan’s monitoring of our 22 community-based environmental coalitions or groups across the country, done since 2001, shows that more than half of the attacks against Filipino environmental defenders were carried out by state forces,” Silanga said.
The Kalikasan officer noted that globally, powerful oligarchs, frequently tied to environmentally harmful enterprises like big mining, large dams, huge agribusiness enterprises, and destructive reclamation projects, exert substantial control over governments. “This power dynamic has been linked to state-backed attacks on environmental defenders who challenge vested interests. Reports, including our own documentation and findings from international organizations like rights watchdog Global Witness, underscore the recurrent involvement of state agents in attacks against environmental defenders,” he said.
According to Silanga, that the two missing women were environmental defenders active in the fight against reclamation was corroborated by Roselie Castro, the mother of Jonila, who told the fact-finding mission participants that her daughter and Jhed had been doing volunteer work for Akap-Ka Manila Bay.
Local and international green groups, including Kalikasan and Akap Ka Manila Bay, have been campaigning against reclamation projects, pointing out that such projects harm marine environments. Reclamation destroys habitats like coral reefs, disrupting ecosystems, and altering water circulation, leading to coastal erosion and storm surge risks, the groups say. Dumping dredged materials during reclamation can also introduce pollutants, further impacting aquatic life.
Recognizing these, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have both issued verbal orders last month to halt all reclamation projects, but green groups have criticized the fact that up to now, there is no written order that clearly spells out the steps to stop these destructive projects.
The Kalikasan officer also said witnesses in Orion, Bataan, confirmed that there was a violent abduction of the two environmental defenders, contradicting claims by the national police that there had been no such incident.
Silanga further noted the questionable conduct of Orion Municipal police officers and local authorities in the area. “While the police were able to obtain CCTV footage, including those from the Orion Water District, our independent mission was informed that these cameras had been out of operation for weeks leading up to the abduction, raising suspicions about the police investigation process,” he said.
He also said the mission team found it suspicious that officers at the Orion police station declined to file a police blotter report when Jonila Castro’s mother approached them, in violation of Philippine laws. Furthermore, they refused to sign the required form for cases of enforced disappearance, as stipulated under RA 10353, the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012. They also refused to provide any updates on their investigation into the abduction.
“We demand the immediate surfacing of Jhed and Jonila,” Silanga said. “As we confront the pressing challenge of addressing climate change and safeguarding the vulnerable ecosystems of the Philippines — essential for the livelihoods of Filipinos now and in the future — we must ensure the protection of environmental defenders like these two young women. We must defend them so that they can continue to carry out their crucial work,” he ended.
The independent fact-finding mission was held on September 4-5 in Orion, Bataan, by a team of representatives from AKAP KA Manila Bay, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Promotion for Church People’s Response, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and the human rights group KARAPATAN.#