Lawmaker sounds alarm over disappearances of youth activists under Marcos Jr. admin

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Lawmaker sounds alarm over disappearances of youth activists under Marcos Jr. admin
A pair of slippers and a pairless strapped sandal, positively identified to be belonging to Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, were discovered in the area they were taken.
Karapatan Central Luzon

MANILA, Philippines — A House lawmaker has raised alarm over a series of disappearances involving youth activists under the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as he urged the government to prioritize the protection of young people working with marginalized sectors. 

Rep. Raoul Manuel (Kabataan Partylist) expressed concern over the recent abduction of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, community organizers working with fisherfolk opposing reclamation and coastal development projects in Manila Bay. 

Castro and Tamano were preparing for relief operations and consultations with communities in Bataan when they were taken by four individuals in Barangay Lati in Orion town, according to rights and environmental groups. A pair of slippers and a pairless strapped sandal were left in the area they were taken.

Castro is a community organizer of AKAP Ka Manila Bay, a network of advocates opposing dump-and-fill reclamation activities, while Tamano is a program coordinator of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum’s community and church program for Manila Bay. Both were from the Bulacan State University.

In a privilege speech delivered Monday, Manuel stressed that this is “not the first and last incident of abduction” of young individuals who serve and organize communities. 

“The narrative is the same. Because of their advocacy, they encounter powerful individuals who threaten them, monitor their activities, harass them, label them as terrorists, and eventually abduct them suddenly, possibly never to be seen again,” Manuel said in Filipino. 

“Who is behind this? The police, the military, and other state agents,” he added. 

Youth disappearances

According to Manuel, there have been at least 15 cases of abductions of community organizers and activists since Marcos assumed office in June 2022. Of those, eight were youths. 

These include Elgene Mungcal, Ma. Elene Pampoza, Ariel Badiang, Renel delos Santos, Denald Mailen, Lyn Grace Martullinas, Dexter Capuyan, Gene Roz “Bazoo” de Jesus, Aurily Havana, and Jennifer Binungkasan. 

Indigenous peoples’ rights advocate Steve Tauli, and development workers Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha were also abducted but have since surfaced. Many remain missing. 

Separate monitoring by rights group Karapatan showed eight documented cases of enforced disappearances under the current administration. The number may increase to 10 if Tamano and Castro do not surface soon. 

In a statement, militant fishers’ group PAMALAKAYA said the abduction of the two young environmentalists in Bataan “indicates the continuing culture of impunity under the Marcos Jr. regime.” 

Marcos ordered the suspension of reclamation projects in Manila Bay last month pending a review of their compliance with environmental regulations and their impacts. Groups continue to call for the cancelation of coastal development projects, and an investigation of the impacts of these activities. 

Groups also said the abduction of Castro and Tamano serves as a reminder of the risks faced by environmental activists. The Philippines has been consistently listed the deadliest country in Asia for land and environmental defenders, based on the monitoring of watchdog Global Witness. 

Apart from the disappearances, activists have also been accused of terrorism and similar charges that their supporters say are fabricated.

Recently, John Peter Angelo, a student leader from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, was accused of being a communist rebel by the military. Youth activists Jasmin Rubia, Kenneth Rementilla, and Hailey Pecayo were also accused of violating the Anti-Terrorism Act. 

“Are young people safer now? The answer is clear: no. This is the worst form of terrorism—the terror that originates from the very government that is supposed to serve and protect us,” Manuel said.

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