The two young environmental activists, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano expressed their dismay over the Department of Justice’s resolution to press charges of oral grave defamation for telling their side of the story about their abduction in September last year.
In a resolution dated Dec. 12, 2023, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Arnold Magpantay dismissed the perjury charges against them but also recommended the pressing of individual charges against the two.
“The evidence presented by the respondents is anemic and insufficient to reasonably conclude that they were abducted,” Magpantay said in the resolution.
In their statement, Castro and Tamano said that it is dismaying that the institution from whom people are supposed to seek help has become an instrument of oppression and spreading lies.
They added that this decision of the DOJ only proves that they were right in questioning the justice department’s ability to be fair in their investigation of the case. They also pointed out how Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, since the beginning, made a malicious statement that what they did was only part of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army’s playbook.
“Prosecutor Arnold Magpantay dismissed that we were abducted by the military, that we were taken to safehouses, and was subjected to psychological torture to force us to ride the story coined by the agents of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC),” Castro and Tamano said in a statement.
They added, “He regarded the threat to our lives as mere ‘imagination’ and claimed that our intention in telling the truth is stemming from a ‘deep-rooted motive’ to discredit and shame the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”
Meanwhile, progressive groups condemned the DOJ’s resolution. In a statement, human rights group Karapatan said that the charges against Castro and Tamano is an attack on freedom of expression, where “victims of rights violations are persecuted for speaking the truth.”
Karapatan’s secretary general Cristina Palabay said it is appalling that the DOJ’s resolution was made public at the time when the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression Irene Khan is in the country looking into the situation of the basic rights and freedoms of the people to express.
“This is very telling of how under the Marcos Jr. administration, the Justice Department which is supposed to support rights violations victims in seeking justice chose to pursue charges that are meant to discredit the two’s truthful account of their abduction,” Palabay said.
Palabay added that this decision also belied the pronouncements made by the DOJ that the department is encouraging victims to come forward so that they can be assisted in their search for justice.
“Instead of considering the harrowing accounts of Jhed and Jonila on their abduction, captivity, and torture, the DOJ made their abductors look like the victims in this whole incident,” Palabay said.
Proven ‘dirty tactic’
Palabay stressed that the decision of the DOJ reveals the orchestration done by the AFP, NTF-ELCAC, and the DOJ to discredit and malign Castro and Tamano.
“How they were portrayed as making up the story of their abduction and defending their loophole-filled story of the two’s ‘surrender,’ is the proven dirty narrative of forced surrenders and abduction by state security forces,” she said.
She also said the AFP need not be ‘dishonored and discredited.’
“Their dirty fascist deeds can speak for themselves on the institution’s notoriety for human rights violations. They are dumbfounded, however, that their concocted story did not work with the two and spoke out the truth in public, thereby exposing the policy of the state to silence and carry out abductions here and there,” Palabay said.
Environmental group Kalikasan meanwhile appealed to Khan to take notice of the DOJ’s decision. “This is a clear example of how the Marcos Jr. regime tramples on environmental defenders’ rights,” the group said in a statement.
Castro and Tamano are urging the DOJ to reconsider their case. They also call on the Supreme Court to act on their petition for writ of Amparo and habeas data.
“This is a challenge to our justice system to side with the victims and hold to account those who are responsible, even the agents of the state,” the two said in their statement.
They added that this is a clear case of harassment to demoralize and intimidate those who are fighting for their rights and silence them. “This is just one of the many forms of oppression and violations of the people’s right to express their opposition to anti-people policies,” Castro and Tamano said.
“This is a reason for us to continue to fight for our rights, justice, and liberation that we will only achieve through our collective action for the fundamental change of our society,” they added.