By RAYMUND B. VILLANUEVA
MANILA — The two missing Manila Bay environmental activists today revealed they have been abducted by the military and did not voluntarily surrender as claimed by authorities.
In a press conference in Plaridel, Bulacan Tuesday, September 19, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano also said they were forced to sign the affidavit saying they were Communist surrenderers while inside a military camp and already in the custody of their abductors.
“Ang totoo po ay dinukot kami ng militar. Napilitan din kami na sumurender dahil pinagbantaan ang buhay namin. Iyon po ang totoo,” Castro said. (The truth is, we were abducted by the military. We were forced to surrender because they threatened our lives. That is the truth.)
“Hindi rin naming ginusto na mapunta kami sa kustodiya ng mga militar. Hindi rin totoo ang laman ng affidavit dahil pinirmahan iyon sa loob ng kampo ng militar. Wala na kaming magagawa sa mga pagkakataon na iyon,” Castro said. (We also did not choose to find ourselves in the custody of the military. The contents of the affidavit the military ordered us to sign. We already had no choice at that time.)
The two were abducted last September 2 in Orion, Bataan and were missing for more than a week.
The military at first denied the two activists were in their custody but later said the two surrendered with the help of an intermediary.
A fact-finding mission by human rights, environmental and church groups however established that the two were abducted by four armed men who threatened bystanders with guns when they tried to give assistance to the victims.
“Ang gusto lang naming ipakita ngayong araw ang lantaang pasismo ng estado laban sa mga aktibistang ang tanging hangarin ay ipaglaban ang Manila Bay. May nangyayaring reclamation projects doon. Ang problema doon, ang mga mangingisdang mawawalan ng hanapbuhay,” Castro continued. (What we want to say today is the government’s bare fascism against activists who only wish to defend Manila Bay. There are reclamation projects there. The problem is that fisherfolk are losing their livelihood.)
There are nine big time reclamation projects in Manila Bay, most of which President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself ordered stopped and investigated.
Marcos was forced to order the stoppage of the projects after prolonged flooding hit Central Luzon in the past weeks.
“Pero ang nangyayari, nagagamit ang mga militar para ipatigil ang mga pagkilos, para masupil ang mga kabataan, ang mga mangingisdang naroroon. Iyon ang tunay na isyu dito,” Castro added, before being cut off by an off camera master of ceremony. (But what is happening is, the military is being used to suppress the resistance, the suppress the youth and the fisherfolk. That is the real issue here.)
Comments on the original video were calling for the press conference organizers to let the two victims speak.
The Plaridel Public Information Office Facebook Live video has immediately been taken down.
In a statement, human rights group Karapatan demanded the safe and immediate release of the two activists to their parents, lawyers, human rights workers, colleagues or friends.
“The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have no reason to hold Jhed and Jonila in their custody,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
Karapatan added that Plaridel Mayor Jocell Vistan Casaje should ensure that the victims are not returned to the military camp where they have been held. Casaje was present at the press conference.
Tamano and Castro are Plaridel residents.
“The exposé of Jonila and Jhed, in their own words, of their abduction by the military speaks volumes for the many victims of abduction and enforced disappearance, the wave of attacks against activists and rights defenders under the current dispensation. Release Jhed and Jonila Now,” Karapatan said.
“Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano have spoken the truth, despite the coerced situation that they are in – they have declared they were abducted by the military, that they did not surrender and they were held inside a military camp, under pressure and under duress, making all the claims of their ‘surrender’ all lies and hogwash,” Karapatan added.