Dear friends and colleagues,
We are writing to call for your support for the call to release Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, two women youth environmental advocates from the Philippines who were abducted last September 2, 2023 in Bataan province. They were conducting a research on the impacts of land reclamation in Manila Bay and preparing for relief operations for the victims of the recent typhoons when they were abducted.
After 17 days of being missing, for the first time, they were surfaced able to speak in a press conference of the Armed Forces of the Philippines today. Jhed and Jonila said that they were indeed abducted by men who introduced them as military. They are still in their custody at the moment.
We hope that you can help in putting pressure on the Philippine government for their immediate and safe release by signing on to the statement that can be found at this link: https://tinyurl.com/SignOn-ReleaseJhedAndJonila
The statement can also be found below. Thank you very much!
RELEASE FILIPINO ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS JHED TAMANO AND JONILA CASTRO
We vehemently condemn the abduction and enforced disappearance of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano on September 2, 2023 in the municipality of Orion in the province of Bataan in the Philippines.
Jonila, 21 years old, and Jhed, 22 years old, are community volunteers of the AKAP KA Manila Bay – Alliance for the Defense of Livelihood, Housing, and Environment in Manila Bay. Jhed is also the program coordinator of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum church-community program working with the communities along the coastal areas of Manila Bay in the provinces of Bulacan and Bataan together with AKAP Ka.
Jonilia and Jhed were conducting a research on the impacts of land reclamation along the coasts of Manila Bay and preparing for a relief operation for the communities affected by the recent typhoons when they were abducted. Even before the abduction, Jonila’s home has been visited by a man who introduced himself as a soldier. He said that Jonila was an armed rebel and that he wanted to help her “clear” her name.
Local communities and environmental human rights defenders have been experiencing attacks in the region since the railroading of land reclamation activities such as that of San Miguel Corporation (one of the biggest corporations in the country) and Boskalis (a company from the Netherlands) for the New Manila International Airport in Bulacan province and the related dredging activities. Many environmental human rights defenders have been experiencing harassment, threats and intimidation from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). The presence of State armed forces has been prevalent in many reclamation project sites along the coasts of Manila Bay causing fear to oppose these activities.
According to the report from the fact-finding mission conducted on September 4 to 5, Jonila and Jhed were violently forced into vehicles by armed men wearing face masks. There is possible involvement of State actors in the abduction considering the reported harassment of a soldier against Jonila. There are also questionable circumstances wherein the CCTV cameras were defective or footages missing in the vicinity of the abduction site. In addition, the Orion Municipal Police Station refused to make a police blotter report when Jonila’s mother reported the abduction incident.
However, the NTF=ELCAC and the PNP in a press conference on September 15, 2023 claimed that Jhed and Jonila signed a judicial affidavit stating that they were not abducted and supposedly asked for help from a certain “Ate” (Filipino term for older sister). This person picked them up and later on brought them to a house in Pampanga province then the two supposedly formally surrendered to the 70th Infantry Battalion. There were a lot more questionable details presented in the press conference and these agencies failed to prove that no abduction took place. There was also no mention of charges filed against Jhed and Jonila which begs the question of their continuing detention.
In a press conference by the NTF-ELCAC and AFP on September 19, 2023, Jhed and Jonila were able to speak and they disproved the claim that they were abducted. They clearly stated that they were forcibly taken by men who said that they were from the military. They gave the judicial affidavit since they were held under duress. While the AFP stated that they wanted to help the two, they are still being detained.
We support for the following recommendations stated in the fact-finding mission report including the following:
- For the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent and thorough investigation on the incident;
- For the PNP and law enforcement agencies to stop the intimidation against the family of Jonila Castro and human rights organizations supporting efforts to surface the two women;
- For law enforcement officers to comply with Republic Act 10353 and refrain from intimidating residents of Barangay Lati, where the incident happened, from freely giving their statements and testimonies as eyewitnesses to the incident;
- For the Committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate conduct independent investigations into the incident in aid of their oversight functions on the implementation of RA 10353;
- For non-governmental/human rights organizations to further conduct independent investigations into the incident, without fear of reprisals including threats and surveillance, and report on updates regarding the incident; and
- For international human rights watchdogs and rights bodies to support the call for the release of the two women and to ensure their rights and integrity.
Furthermore, we demand the immediate and safe release of Jhed and Jonila. We support all efforts to ensure that the rights of the two are respected and upheld, including their rights against illegal/arbitrary detention, physical and/or psychological torture, due process and independent and competent legal assistance. We also call for the accountability of the AFP and NTF ELCAC who were involved in the abduction and enforced disappearance of Jhed and Jonila.
In the face of the worsening environmental challenges poor and vulnerable countries are facing amidst the climate crisis, environmental human rights defenders should be supported and not repressed for their work.
Release Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano!
Surface all victims of enforced disappearances!
Stop the attacks on environmental human rights defenders!
Defend the human rights defenders!
Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defender (APNED)Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines Inc. (CEC)
Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL)
Lia Mai D. Torres
Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines (CEC)
Secretariat, Asia Pacific Network for Environment Defenders (APNED)
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