Two activists under military custody requested not to join presser, NSC official claims

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 17) — Two activists who are now under military custody after being reported missing in Bataan in early September “requested” not to join the news conference last Friday, National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said on Sunday.

“Karapatan and their co-conspirators have made a big fuss of the absence of the two in the Friday press conference but this was because they requested not to join at this time,” Malaya claimed, adding that they “treat them with utmost respect.”

“Moreover, due to security concerns, Jhed (Tamano) and Jonila (Castro) were hesitant to join a press briefing when they are the subject of a ‘surface campaign’ by their former comrades who will then lay the blame on the government if something happens to them,” the NSC official alleged.

During the briefing on Friday, Malaya and Bataan Provincial Police's chief public information officer PCapt Carlito Buco Jr. said activists Tamano and Castro surrendered to the 70th Infantry Battalion in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan on Sept. 12.

They insist that the reported abduction was an "elaborate hoax and scam."

Malaya said the two surrendered after “they left the movement on their own free will.” The two women were already “safe and sound” under government custody, he added.

Tamano's father, Enrique, joined the news conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“If Karapatan, et. al. will insist on the ‘abduction and detention’ story, they can always file for a Writ of Habeas case where they will need to prove their allegations before a court of law,” Malaya said in his statement on Sunday. “They are free to do so.”

Malaya also reiterated their invitation to Castro’s parents to “answer the call of the Commission on Human Rights or the Bataan PPO (Provincial Police Office) so that they can be brought to the safe house where they (the activists) are currently located.”

The activists were allegedly abducted by four armed men on Sept. 2 in Orion, Bataan. Both are community organizers working with fishermen opposing reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

Human rights groups AKAP Ka Manila Bay, Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment, Promotion for Church Peoples' Response, and Karapatan on Friday called for the immediate release of the two activists.

READ: Gov't says 2 missing environmental activists in custody; rights groups alarmed

They said the affidavits and statements of Castro and Tamano remain in doubt as these were done under military custody, stressing that the NTF-ELCAC and the Philippine National Police (PNP) have failed to prove that no abduction took place.

RELATED: Groups claim state forces behind abduction of 2 women activists; PNP, AFP belie claim

On Saturday, Roselie Castro, Jonila's mother, questioned why the government did not notify them that her daughter was already under their custody.

"Alam naman nila kung saan kami nakatira," she said. "Malimit nga po silang nagpapadala ng tao sa amin, mga nagpapakilalang sundalo o bahagi ng NTF-ELCAC na parating hinahanap si Jonila."

[Translation: They know where we live. They frequently send personnel to our area, who introduced themselves as military personnel or part of the NTF-ELCAC looking for Jonila.]

In the video played during NTF-ELCAC’s news conference, Tamano's parents were seen at the alleged surrender of the activists.