Congress asked to probe alleged abduction of 2 environmental defenders

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 9) — Several groups are pushing the Senate and the House of Representatives to launch an investigation into the alleged abduction of two environmental defenders.

Karapatan, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Alyansa Para sa Pagtatanggol sa Kabuhayan, Paninirahan, at Kalikasan ng Manila Bay (AKAP KA Manila Bay), National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and the Promotion of Church People’s Response conducted a fact-finding mission on the disappearance of Jhed Tamano and Jonilla Castro.

Tamano and Castro were supposedly abducted by four armed men on Sept. 2 in Orion, Bataan. Both are community organizers working with fishermen opposing reclamation projects in Manila Bay.

Following the fact-finding mission, the groups urged both chambers of Congress to also look into the matter as they suspect that state forces may be involved.

“Malinaw na mayro’ng possible involvement ng state actors sa abduction nina Castro at Tamano," said Pia Montalban of Karapatan - Central Luzon.

"Bago ang pagdukot, bago ang sapilitang pagkawala, mayro’ng pattern na sila muna ay binabansagan na ‘enemies of the state,’” she also said.

[Translation: It is clear that there is a possible involvement of state actors in the abduction of Castro and Tamano. Before they were abducted, there was a pattern where they were first tagged as 'enemies of the state.']

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said cases of enforced disappearance historically happen “to stifle dissent.”

Castro’s mother, Roselie, recounted that a man who introduced himself as a soldier has been visiting their home in Bulacan since 2022.

She also said that officers in Orion Police Station refused to create a blotter report and sign a form as provided under the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law.

“Kung sino man po ang may hawak sa anak ko, sana po ibalik niyo na po siya," the mother said. "Sana ibalik niyo na po ‘yung anak ko kasi sobra pong nag-aalala na ‘ko sa anak ko."

{Transltion: Whoever is holding my child, I hope you give her back to us.I hope you give back my daughter because we are so worried about her.]

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police earlier denied involvement in the disappearances, with AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar calling the accusations "baseless and malicious.”

Church members, meanwhile, expressed belief the alleged abduction aims to sow fear, especially among the youth.

Leah Valencia, a member of the Promotion of Church People’s Response, said they believe the incident is “most likely a targeted attack by a tyrannical state….on climate activists to try to frighten and dissuade the youth from continuing such advocacies.”

“Malaking setback ito dahil natatakot ‘yung mga tao, lalo higit ‘yung mga pangyayari ay malinaw na malinaw na violation ng kanilang human rights,” Pastor Thaad Samson of AKAP KA Manila Bay also said.

[Translation: This is a huge setback because there is now fear among people, especially since the incident is a very clear violation of human rights.]

For Kalikasan, the Philippines is a dangerous nation for environmentalists.

“Laging napakabulnerable ng kalagayan ng advocates natin, ng mga activists natin, at isa ang Pilipinas sa pinakadelikadong lugar o bansa para sa environmental activists. Bakit? Dahil sa mga aggressive projects na pinapatupad,” said member Aldrien Silanga.

[Translation: Our advocates are always in a vulnerable state, because the Philippines is a very dangerous country for environmental activists. Why? Because of the aggressive projects being implemented.]

Tamano and Castro are the ninth and tenth environmental defenders who disappeared under the administration President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

They were researching and assessing the needs of individuals affected by the Manila Bay reclamation when they disappeared.