“There is no legal basis to hold them any second longer and they should be freed forthwith and if restrained illegally, can walk away from their custodians.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A human rights lawyer said there is no legal basis for the military and other concerned government officials to detain the two recently surfaced environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano.
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers Chairperson Edre Olalia said that in view of their public statement that they were indeed abducted by the military, “there is no legal basis to hold them any second longer and they should be freed forthwith and if restrained illegally, can walk away from their custodians.”
In a press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) earlier today, Castro and Tamano said that elements of the Philippine military abducted them on Sept. 2.
Castro and Jhed Tamano were presented today in a press conference at the municipality of Plaridel, Bulacan. The media briefing was streamed online by the Plaridel Public Information Office.
“Like what was said earlier, it is important to know the truth. The truth is, we were abducted by the military…We were also forced to surrender because we were threatened. That is the truth,” Castro said in Filipino.
She said that it was against their will to be in military custody, adding that the contents of the affidavit they signed are all lies. “We cannot do anything because we signed it inside the military camp,” Castro said.
Tamano, on the other hand, said that they were just walking on the night of Sept. 2 when they were abducted. “We thought that (the abductors were from a) syndicate but they know us.”
Last week, the NTF-ELCAC claimed that Castro and Tamano surrendered and were not abducted. National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya also called the abduction issue a “hoax and scam,” saying it was perpetrated by the “Left.”
In a statement, environmental group Kalikasan said that the statements of Castro and Tamano aligned with their initial findings when groups such as Kalikasan PNE alongside AKAP Ka Manila Bay, Karapatan, and Promotion of Church Peoples’ Response carried out a fact-finding mission two weeks ago.
“(Their statements) make it clear that the narrative peddled by the NTF-ELCAC regarding the disappearance of the two advocates – that no abduction whatsoever took place, among other claims – is outright deception. With this in mind, there is no reason whatsoever for the military to continue holding them in their custody,” Kalikasan said in a statement.
The FFM report added that the two also screamed for help and those who tried to help were threatened.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, also demanded the release of Castro and Tamano.
“We hold accountable the government authorities responsible for the abduction and now the possible illegal detention, coercion and psychological torture of Jonila and Jhed,” Palabay said in a statement.
She added that the two “should be safely released, and be met by their parents, legal counsels, friends, and fellow human rights defenders who have been searching for them since the day of their abduction. We urge the mayor of Plaridel, Bulacan that they not be returned to the camp, and facilitate their release to their families, assisted by their counsels of choice.”
“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,” Palabay said. (JJE, RVO)