Filipina environmental activists freed from detention claim military abducted them

Gerard Carreon
Filipina environmental activists freed from detention claim military abducted them Environmental activists Jhed Tamano (third from left) and Jonila Castro (to Tamano’s left) arrive at the Commission on Human Rights headquarters in Quezon City, Philippines, Sept. 19, 2023.
Gerard Carreon/BenarNews

Two Filipina environmental activists who went missing early this month resurfaced on Tuesday and claimed they had been abducted by troops in Bataan province who accused them of being linked to leftist insurgents.

Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro, who have been protesting China-backed reclamation projects in Manila Bay, took officials of a government task force by surprise when they spoke out at a news conference it organized for the two to publicly say that they voluntarily surrendered to the military.

“The truth is, we were kidnapped by the military onboard a van,” Castro told reporters at the news conference organized by the government’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“We were coerced to surrender and our lives were threatened.”

The NTF-ELCAC had organized the press meet to disprove leftist groups’ accusations that the activists had been abducted, but the task force’s ploy failed as the two spoke out while surrounded by military and other officials.

The task force had on Sept. 15 said it had detained the two activists who voluntarily walked into a military base after deciding to leave the underground movement.

NTF-ELCAC is an agency tasked with implementing the government’s strategy of ending the communist insurgency which began in 1969.  

Castro noted that they were under duress when they signed a statement saying they voluntarily surrendered, because “at the time, we couldn’t do anything else.”

The two activists, who are university students, were walking in Orion town in Bataan province on the evening of Sept. 2 when men aboard a van “coerced us to come with them.”

“That’s the truth,” she said, adding they thought they had been abducted by a criminal syndicate. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the two women were handed over to the Commission on Human Rights, which last week was among the agencies that went public with concerns about the missing activists. 

Castro said they are opposed to the reclamation projects because fishermen could lose their livelihoods. She is a community volunteer for a group opposed to projects in Manila Bay, while Tamano is a coordinator at a community and church program for the bay.

19 PH-green-activists2.jpg
Environmental activists Jhed Tamano (left) and Jonila Castro are seen at the Commission on Human Rights headquarters in Quezon City, Philippines, Sept. 19, 2023. [Gerard Carreon/BenarNews]

‘We were hoodwinked’

The military on Tuesday insisted that the activists had surrendered via an informant.

The duo “went through a correct process” and made their statements in the presence of their lawyer, said Lt. Col. Ronnel dela Cruz, the 70th Infantry Battalion commander.

The task force said it stood by the military’s report that Castro and Tamano surrendered.

It said it was “deeply saddened” by the turn of events and accused the women of parroting the propaganda line of the leftist insurgents, the task force said in a statement later on Tuesday.

“We felt betrayed. We were hoodwinked. Whatever caused their sudden change of heart is beyond us,” the task force said. 

“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.”

It said the women’s statements at the news conference “will definitely be looked into with the support of the other civilian agency members.”

NTF-ELCAC noted that its legal department was looking into how to proceed. 

The government last month suspended reclamation projects in Manila Bay as it ordered a study on their environmental impacts. The United States Embassy and environmental organizations had spoken out about the projects destroying the bay.

More than a dozen Manila Bay projects – many linked to Chinese construction firms – were approved during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte (2016-2022). 

Basilio Sepe in Manila contributed to this report. 


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