Climate and Environment

Surfaced green activists vow to continue fight vs reclamation

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Surfaced green activists vow to continue fight vs reclamation
Environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano speak at a thanksgiving gathering held in Quezon City on October 5, 2023.
Philstar.com/Gaea Katreena Cabico

MANILA, Philippines — The environmental defenders who were abducted in Bataan last month vowed to continue their fight against reclamation projects and uphold the rights of communities threatened by destructive activities. 

At a thanksgiving gathering held in Quezon City Thursday, activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano expressed gratitude to the people who had campaigned for their release. 

Castro and Tamano were released on September 19, hours after they went off script at a press conference hosted by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and accused the military of abduction. They countered the government’s claim that they voluntarily surrendered to authorities. 

The two women want to continue their work of helping communities affected by development projects around Manila Bay. 

“Of course, we want to continue our advocacy to stop the reclamation projects in Manila Bay and also in the West Philippine Sea,” Tamano, 22, told reporters in Filipino.

“Although [President Ferdinand “Bongbong”] Marcos Jr. claimed that reclamation projects have been suspended, there hasn’t been a formal order. We can see on the ground that the projects are still ongoing,” she added. 

Castro, 21, promised that they will keep on fighting not only against reclamation activities, but also “for all the rights that everyone should enjoy.” 

“What is truly frightening is the persistence of injustice in our society, the continuous violation of our human rights, our rights to livelihoods, homes,” she added. 

Activists at risk

Castro and Tamano were preparing for consultations with communities affected by reclamation projects in Bataan when they disappeared on the evening of September 2. 

According to Castro, they were filled with worry and fear during their time in a “safe house” and later, in a military camp.

The abduction of Castro and Tamano highlights the risks faced by Filipino environmental defenders. For ten straight years, the Philippines has been consistently identified as the deadliest country in Asia for protectors of nature by watchdog Global Witness. 

Castro expressed alarm about the increasing number of activists being abducted, killed, and facing trumped-up charges.

“What’s wrong with standing with fishermen, farmers and laborers, and fighting for a decent life for all?” she said. 

Castro also said that the confidential funds of government agencies and the budget of the NTF-ELCAC—which has frequently accused government critics of being members or supporters of communist insurgency without providing evidence—should instead be given to fishers who need new boats and nets. 

Even after their abduction, the two young female activists remain courageous and tenacious.

“We still need to fight amid the state’s oppression and intimidation,” Tamano said. 

Last week, Castro and Tamano filed a writ of amparo and habeas data with prayer for protection before the Supreme Court. The petition also seeks to declare the NTF-ELCAC and the military as “responsible and accountable” for the enforced disappearance and illegal detention of the two. 

Authorities deny involvement in the disappearance of Castro and Tamano.

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