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Environment activists claim abduction by military

Ramon Efren Lazaro, Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
Environment activists claim abduction by military
Activist Jonila Castro narrates how she and Jhed Tamano (left) were abducted by Army soldiers of the 70th Infantry Battalion as they were presented during a press conference in Plaridel, Bulacan yesterday. At right is Lt. Col Ronnel dela Cruz, commanding officer of the battalion, who was caught by surprise by her story.
Efren Lazaro

MANILA, Philippines — Flanked by officials who claimed that they “surrendered” to the government, the two environment activists who went missing in Bataan earlier this month accused the military of abduction and coercion.

During a press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in Plaridel, Bulacan yesterday, community volunteers Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano denied that they voluntarily surrendered to the military.

“The truth is that we were abducted by the military on board a van. We were forced to surrender because we were threatened. That is the truth,” Castro said in Filipino.

“We never wanted to be in the custody of the military. The contents of the affidavits are not true because those were signed inside the military camp. We were not able to do anything that time,” added Castro, a volunteer of multi-sectoral network AKAP KA Manila Bay.

Castro was referring to the affidavits that they supposedly signed, which stated that they left the communist movement. It was presented by the NTF-ELCAC in an earlier press conference to supposedly prove that the two were not kidnapped.

Tamano, a program coordinator of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum, also bared details of their abduction in Orion, Bataan on Sept. 2.

“An SUV stopped in front of us then abducted us. We were forced to join them… We thought it was a syndicate, but they know us,” she said in Filipino.

Castro and Tamano were conducting research on the effects of the Manila Bay reclamation on the livelihoods of the fishing communities in the area when they were abducted.

The supposed topic of the press conference was “Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro to Face the Media to Debunk Abduction Propaganda of Karapatan, et. al” and was attended by NTF-ELCAC secretariat director Alexander Umpar, 70th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col Ronnel dela Cruz, Plaridel Mayor Jocell Aimee Vistan and the two environment activists.

Lt. Col. Dela Cruz introduced the two activists as having returned to the fold of the law, saying the activists requested that they be interviewed by media.

On the other hand, Mayor Vistan said the two are her constituents and they will be provided with whatever they need.

However, when Castro was given the floor to speak, she boldly said military men aboard a van abducted them and the content of the affidavit is not true.

Castro specifically identified personnel of the 70th Infantry Battalion who subjected them to interrogation.

Tamano also confirmed the statement of Castro and the press conference was abruptly stopped.

The press conference was live streamed on the Facebook page of the local government of Plaridel, Bulacan. It was later taken down, although clips are still available online.

Both Tamano and Castro were later released, hours after the press conference where they accused the military of abduction and coercion.

Accompanied by Gabriela Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, their families and other human rights advocates, Castro and Tamano were brought to the Commission on Human Rights central office in Quezon City.

In response to the allegations from the activists, the NTF-ELCAC stated they were “appalled as we are deeply saddened by the unfortunate turn of events” and that they “felt betrayed.”

“Whatever caused their sudden change of heart is beyond us. Earlier engagements by Task Force officials with the two students regarding the veracity and truthfulness of their affidavits were convincing enough to merit their public appearance. We were hoodwinked,” the NTF-ELCAC said in a statement.

“We leave to the wisdom of the Task Force’s legal eagles as to how to proceed from here. Rest assured that the NTF-ELCAC remains committed to continue to tread the path of unity, peace and development at all costs and that Ms. Tamano and Ms. Castro’s safety and well-being are of primordial importance,” the statement read. — Michael Punongbayan, Daphne Galvez, Emmanuel Tupas

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