Philippine army preparing charges against 2 environmentalists over abduction, coercion claims

Jojo Riñoza and Basilio Sepe
Philippine army preparing charges against 2 environmentalists over abduction, coercion claims Army chief Lt. Gen. Roy Galido talks to reporters at the Philippine Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Metro Manila, Sept. 21, 2023.
Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

The Philippine Army on Thursday said it was preparing charges against two environmental activists who accused the military of having abducted and forced them to sign statements saying they were communist rebels.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Roy Galido didn’t give details on what charges would be filed, but denied the activists’ accusations made this week, saying the two had voluntarily sought the military’s protection and signed affidavits claiming they wanted to leave the communist movement.

“We are a country of laws, we have rules of law, we have a court here and we felt betrayed,” Galido told reporters on Thursday. “That’s why we will file the necessary case and use our laws.” 

“What we’re after here is just the truth. They went to us, they wanted to go back to the folds of the law, they provided a statement and we welcomed them.” 

The activists, Jhed Tamano, 21, and Jonila Castro, 22, who have been protesting China-backed reclamation projects in Manila Bay, resurfaced Tuesday after they were reported missing early this month. 

They took the military and a government anti-communist task force by surprise that same day when they recanted their allegedly coerced statements during a live news conference. Later, Tamano and Castro were reunited with their parents.

The women had said they were forced into a van by armed men in an area northwest of Manila.

But Galido said they had sought military protection from their cohorts because they feared they may be harmed. 

Assisted by attorney

The army chief further said the activists were assisted by the state Public Attorney’s Office and freely made statements under oath.

Their hand-written statements obtained by BenarNews on Thursday detailed alleged hardships inside the rebel movement. 

In her statement, Castro said she had been with the “movement” for the past four years, first as a community organizer and later moving through the ranks in the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines that has been waging a rebellion since 1969. 

“During these years, my life revolved around hardship and fear. Hardship because of hunger, restlessness and sadness because I am away from family,” Castro said in her statement.

Her statement said she feared for her life daily because she could have been targeted by another communist rebel faction opposed to the NPA.  

Castro also denied that she and Tamano were forcibly taken but “rather we escaped from our former comrades.” 

Tamano’s statement cited the same hardships, adding she decided to quit because she missed her family.

“The truth is we looked for help to be able to leave our former life,” she said. 

21 PH-activists-military2.jpg
Environmental activists Jonila Castro (second from right) and Jhed Tamano (second from left) speak to reporters at the Commission on Human Rights headquarters in suburban Quezon City, Philippines, Sept. 19, 2023. [Gerard Carreon/BenarNews]

Both women claimed they were under duress when they wrote those statements, they said during Tuesday’s news conference surrounded by military and other officials.

“The truth is, we were kidnapped by the military onboard a van,” Castro said. “We were coerced to surrender and our lives were threatened.”

Missing persons

The case has brought renewed attention to cases of missing activists, including farmer organizer Bea Lopez, 26, who was apparently kidnapped with Peter Agravante, a commuter tricycle driver, in the central Negros Oriental province on Sept. 15.  

Agravante, whose body was recovered shortly after, had suffered a gunshot wound to the head and his body showed evidence of torture, activists said.

Lopez’s whereabouts are unknown, according to rights group Karapatan.

Eight other activists, whose cases are similar to those of Castro and Tamano, have gone missing in the last year, according to the activists.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay on Thursday called for a deeper independent investigation into the cases and for the government to abolish the government’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

The task force is chaired by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., whose dictator father was blamed for thousands of deaths and missing persons cases during his brutal two-decade reign that ended in a popular revolt in 1986. 

“This incident, along with several others, are more than enough bases for the long-standing demand to defund and abolish the NTF-ELCAC,” Palabay said, adding that the perpetrators clearly violated a law on enforced and involuntary disappearances. 

On Thursday, hundreds of people gathered on Manila’s streets to remember the elder Marcos’ imposition of martial law, during which thousands went missing or were tortured. 

“This generation is represented by Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano who courageously exposed their abduction by the military,” said the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law, a victims’ support group.

“Together with the new generation of activists, we pledge to continue the fight for genuine justice and accountability.”


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teresita de los reyes
Oct 04, 2023 04:04 PM

We don't believed the testimonies of this women anymore. We do not support those working against the government. We support NTF-ELCAC. We're now peaceful here .