Human rights groups challenged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to conduct an investigation into the alleged abduction and enforced disappearances of activists.
The groups made the call after two young women environmental defenders revealed that they were abducted by the military on September 2 and disappeared for 17 days.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) said the revelation of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, on September 19 about their ordeal in the hands of the 70th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, “already warrants a full-blown investigation”.
“Will you not call for an impartial investigation into the abduction of two environmental activists and the apparent cover-up done by the military?” BAYAN president Renato Reyes Jr. asked.
Reyes said Marcos should “fire all the officials engaged in the elaborate cover-up,” adding that the government must “finally abolish” the NTF- ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict).
“Shouldn’t you issue an unequivocal statement that abductions and forced surrenders are unacceptable because they are human rights violations? Why the deafening silence when it comes to human rights? Is it 1972 all over again?” he added.
Human rights group Karapatan claimed the NTF-ELCAC is accountable for the abduction, enforced disappearance, and fake surrender of two women environmental defenders.
“Now that the truth is out, Karapatan demands that everyone involved in the abduction, enforced disappearance, and fake surrender of environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano be held accountable, especially the (NTF-ELCAC) whose malicious and baseless accusations, harmful rhetoric, and activities against ordinary folks and activist groups and individuals have enabled and encouraged the commission of countless human rights violations,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan.
Palabay said the perpetrators, including those who conspired to cover up the abduction of Castro and Tamano in Orion, Bataan on September 2, “should be charged, prosecuted, and punished to the full extent of the law”.
Meanwhile, Filipino groups abroad applauded Tamano and Castro who “courageously declared the truth and exposed state terrorism through the NTF-ELCAC and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines)”.
“They valiantly stood their ground, bringing also to focus the issue of reclamation in Bulacan that is causing massive livelihood loss. With their courageous expose, their lives are now endangered. We should stand with Jhed and Jonila and protect them from any retaliation of the terrorist AFP and the NTF-ELCAC,” said BAYAN-Hong Kong and Macau in a press statement.
In a separate statement, the Hong Kong Campaign for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines said it “salutes the bravery and courage of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano to speak the truth”.
“The international community is watching closely to see how the government will respond to the brave truth spoken by Jonila and Jhed,” the group said.
Despite the victims’ defiant revelation, the military insisted on its earlier report the two environmentalists surrendered.
Lt. Col. Ronnel de la Cruz, 70th IBPA commander, said Castro and Tamano requested their assistance as the two young women wanted to leave the underground Communist movement they were allegedly part of.
The 70th IBPA reportedly refused to give up custody of the two victims even as no charges have been filed against them and after they revealed the abduction, enforced disappearance, and fake surrender they suffered from the military.
The NTF-ELCAC for its part said they were “betrayed” and “hoodwinked” as they only had “the best of intentions in mind” in attending Tuesday’s press conference.
The Task Force added it stands with de la Cruz’s story that the two youths surrendered.
Castro and Tamano reunited with family and friends Tuesday night after being turned over to the Commission on Human Rights by Mayor Jocell Vistan Casaje after a standoff at the Plaridel, Bulacan municipal hall.
Surface the other disappeared
In a speech before well-wishers at the CHR grounds, the two said they are not the only victims of abductions and enforced disappearances and called for their surfacing and release.
Under the Marcos Jr. government, Karapatan said eight others remain missing after abduction by suspected state agents.
Elgene Mungcal and Ma. Elena Pampoza were abducted in Moncada, Tarlac on July 3, 2022; Arial Badiang disappeared in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon on February 7, 2023; Ronel delos Santos, Donald Laloy Mialen and Lyn Grace Martullinas were abducted in Hinigaran, Negros Occidental on April 19 this year; and Dexter Capuyan and Gene Roz Jamill de Jesus remain missing after their abduction in Taytay, Rizal last April 28, according to Karapatan.
Palabay added that just last September 15, peasant organizer Bea Lopez was reportedly abducted in Cauayan, Negros Occidental with tricycle driver Peter Agravante.
Agravante’s remains were found two days later on a cliff in Basay, Negros Oriental bearing torture marks and a gunshot wound to the head.
“Jhed and Jonila’s case should also prod the public and government officials, as it is their primordial duty, to strengthen investigations and efforts to find and surface all Desaparecidos,” Palabay said.
This article was first published by KODAO Productions