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WE WANT THEM BACK! Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum on the abduction of Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro

God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

Past seven in the evening on September 2, 2023, two young women Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro were snatched from the roadside and pulled into a silver-gray Innova by at least four, plain-clothed men and an accompanying motorcycle at the front of the Orion Water District in Bataan Province. Their tsinelas and sandal remained behind as testament to their precarious plight. We face a stark reality that we haven’t been able to find Jhed and Jonila. Even as we pray to God to shield them from harm, we join their family, friends, and fellow environmental defenders in a resounding call to those who abducted them, “We want them back!”

Jhed and Jonila volunteer with AKAP KA(likasan) MANILA BAY and walk in solidarity with ailing fishing and farming communities under increasing hardships and threat due to the development aggression and reclamation projects around the Manila Bay. These two vibrant young women were in the coastal communities as part of grassroots research and education. They were analyzing the impacts on the poor that will result from the planned airport in Bulacan as well as other Manila Bay development projects. Jhed also works with a recently launched program Turn the Tide, Now! a Church and Community Partnership. It’s kick-off activity, only a month ago, in Calumpit, Bulacan was a celebration of a common desire to work hand-in-hand as stewards of Creation for holistic and people-centered development.

The collective rights of the fishing communities and the rights of nature have been grossly violated as hundreds of families have been evicted and thousands more targeted to be displaced from the areas adjacent to the site of the SMC Aerocity. Under this giant conglomerate, tumultuous waves of destruction- -in the guise of development–have swept away mangrove areas and disturbed marine life above and beneath the rivers and the seas. Such development aggression has created great uncertainty for the otherwise life-sustaining fishing and farming enterprises of those surrounding Manila Bay. Even worse, more catastrophic development projects will affect many poor communities of Bataan, giving compelling impetus for Churches and communities to band together to defend Manila Bay and the people who live there.

Working with fiisherfolk, farmers, and key stakeholders to Save Manila Bay! Protect our home and livelihood!, Jhed, Jonila and other youth of AKAP KA, MANILA BAY have been diligently studying, planning and uniting with local communities in the Orion area, and with help of Church and other groups. They are developing a common campaign that upholds the people’s sovereign rights to their land and coastal resources.

Jhed and Jonila’s abduction and enforced disappearance not only summons us to their defense, but also calls us to more urgently pursue their advocacy. They inspire us to the noble cause of walking in solidarity with marginalized communities. Jhed and Jonila’s exuberance as environmentalists stands in stark contrast to the vile injustice and depravity of their abductors and the powers-that-be behind them, who have robbed the poor and the environment of their helpers, their defenders.

We will not be frightened into silence, nor will we cease from our advocacy. We are filled with great sorrow and great anger. We denounce the terror tactics of abduction, that appear to be part of the State’s counter-insurgency operations. We stand with youth environmental defenders and applaud their efforts to Turn the Tide! and Save Manila Bay! The youth are our now and future leaders: their great concern for the environment and for equity among humanity should turn us all toward climate action and activism!

We pray that God is protecting Jhed and Jonila. We pray for justice. And most importantly, we pray that God will strike the conscience of Jhed and Jonila’s abductors, so that they will spare their lives and return them to those who love them most.

Surface Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro! We want them back! Turn the Tide, Now!

Issued and Signed on this day, 9 th September 2023. The EBF Executive Officers: Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco, UMC (Ret.) Co-chairperson, EBF The Right Rev’d. Emelyn Gasco-Dacuycuy, IFI Co-chairperson, EBF The Rt. Rev’d. Dindo C. Ranojo, IFI General Secretary, EBF Bishop Emeritus Joel E. Tendero, UCCP Treasurer, EBF Bishop Emeritus Deogracias S. Iñiguez, Jr., D.D. Auditor, EBF