Climate and Environment

Anti-reclamation activists go missing in Bataan

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Anti-reclamation activists go missing in Bataan
Composite photo shows missing community organizers Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano.
Cristina Palabay and AKAP KA Manila Bay

MANILA, Philippines (Update 1: 10:59 a.m., September 5) — Two community organizers working with fishers opposing reclamation and coastal development projects in Manila Bay were reportedly abducted in Bataan province, rights and environmental groups said. 

Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano were taken by four individuals riding a gray sports utility vehicle in front of the Orion Water District in Brgy. Lati on Saturday evening, according to Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay. 

The 21-year-old Castro is a community organizer of AKAP KA Manila Bay, and the 22-year-old Tamano is a program coordinator of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum’s community and church program for Manila Bay.

According to AKAP KA Manila Bay, the two were preparing for relief operations and consultations with communities in Bataan before the incident. 

“They experienced a series of intimidation and harassment from individuals in civilian clothes,” the network of advocates opposing dump-and-fill reclamation activities said. 

In May, the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines monitored at least 21 cases of alleged abductions of activists and organizers by state forces since President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. assumed office.

Anti-reclamation activists

Groups said that Castro and Tamano are volunteers advocating for the welfare of fishing communities affected by coastal development projects in Manila Bay. 

“The two volunteered to investigate the effects of consecutive flooding and the decline in the income of coastal communities, which are just some of the effects of the reclamation in Manila Bay,” AKAP KA Manila Bay said. 

Some of the projects in northern Manila Bay include the New Manila International Airport, Manila Bay Integrated Flood Control, Coastal Defense and Expressway, and the Northern Access Link Expressway. Scientists and environmentalists have said these projects will destroy the environment and threaten the livelihood of coastal folk. 

In August, Marcos ordered the suspension of 22 reclamation projects in Manila Bay pending a review of their compliance with environmental regulations and their impacts. 

The Philippines has been consistently listed the deadliest country in Asia for land and environment defenders. 

Groups said the abduction of Castro and Tamano serves a reminder of the risks faced by environmental activists. 

“Now that volunteers and organizers like Castro and Tamano are helping [coastal communities and fishers] speak out and stop these destructive projects, it is unfortunate and sad that they are subjected to undue harassment and threats to their life and liberty instead," said Gloria Estenzo, vice president of Oceana. 

“All over the country, environmental defenders opposing development projects are facing intimidation, forced disappearances and killings, and this has become a norm under the Marcos Jr. administration. The culture of impunity must stop!” the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People said. 


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