Climate and Environment

CHR to gov't: Resolve 'desaparecidos' cases, protect environmental defenders

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
CHR to gov't: Resolve 'desaparecidos' cases, protect environmental defenders
A woman hold a placard calling on authorities to surface abducted environmentalists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano on September 7, 2023.

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights expressed deep concern on Thursday over the reported abduction of two environmental defenders in Bataan province, saying the latest incident highlights the vulnerability of activists to enforced disappearances. 

In a statement, CHR said its office in Central Luzon is already conducting an investigation into the alleged abduction of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, who have been active in organizing communities affected by reclamation and other coastal development projects in Manila Bay. 

Castro and Tamano were preparing for relief operations and consultations with communities when they were taken by four individuals in Barangay Lati in Orion town on Saturday evening, according to rights and environmental groups.

The two had reportedly experienced intimidation and harassment leading up to the incident, which happened only a few days after the observance of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. 

“CHR is gravely alarmed by this latest case of alleged abduction,” the commission said as it called for an immediate and exhaustive search for the young environmental activists. 

“We hope that the State will take decisive action before another case of missing human rights defenders is reported. It is crucial to resolve all cases of 'desaparecidos' to curb the impunity that enables human right violations to continue,” CHR added.

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.

Illegal arrest, detention, and abduction are punishable under the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012. 

CHR also stressed the need to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances that will serve as a legal standard that will stand beyond political dynamics, leadership changes or shifts in policies. 

Protecting defenders of nature

CHR also called on the government to strengthen safeguards on the rights of environmental defenders.

“As many of them work to defend the environment through peaceful and responsible means, it is imperative that they are supported, instead of subjected to violence, harassment, and intimidation,” it said. 

The Philippines has been consistently listed the deadliest country in Asia for land and environmental defenders, based on the monitoring of watchdog Global Witness. In 2021, 19 environmentalists were killed in the country. 

Green groups have criticized the administration of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for its silence on escalating attacks against environmental defenders. 

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 into the impacts of these activities.

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