'Surrendered' activists say they were abducted, reject coerced affidavits


Posted at Sep 19 2023 01:04 PM | Updated as of Sep 19 2023 06:36 PM

Environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano appear with government officials in a press conference in Plaridel, Bulacan on Sept. 19, 2023. Jeff Caparas, ABS-CBN News 
Environmental activists Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano appear with government officials in a press conference in Plaridel, Bulacan on Sept. 19, 2023. Jeff Caparas, ABS-CBN News 

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — Two environmental activists whom authorities said last week had surrendered to the military told a government-organized press conference on Tuesday that they had been abducted and coerced into signing affidavits.

Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano were flanked by government officials in a press conference called by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and were expected to shed light on reports that they had been abducted.

"Ang totoo po ay dinukot kami ng mga militar sakay ng van. Napilitan din kami na sumurrender dahil pinagbantaan yung buhay namin. 'Yun po ang totoo," said Castro of AKAP Ka Manila Bay. 

(The truth is the military forced us into a van. We were forced to say we surrendered because our lives were being threatened. That is the truth.)

Tamano, a coordinator of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum, said that she and Castro were walking on the road on September 2 when they were grabbed. Activist and environmental groups earlier said the two were taken in Orion, Bataan while conducting research on Manila Bay reclamation.

"May tumigil pong SUV sa harap namin tapos dinukot po kami. Pinilit kami pasamahin sa kanila," she said. "Yun din po yung totoo. Akala po namin sindikato pero kilala po nila kami."

(An SUV stopped in front of us and grabbed us. They forced us to go with them. That, too, is the truth. We even thought they were a [kidnapping] syndicate but they knew our names.)

The NTF-ELCAC and police in a press conference last week said that Castro and Tamano had surrendered to the Army's 70th Infantry Battalion in Bulacan province.

They also said that the two had signed affidavits and that they had voluntarily left "the communist movement".

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Castro, at the same press conference, disavowed the affidavits.

"Hindi rin namin ginusto na mapunta kami sa kustodiya ng mga militar. Hindi rin totoo yung laman ng affidavit dahil ginawa yun, pinirmahan yun sa loob ng kampo ng militar. Wala na kaming magagawa sa mga pagkakataon na yun," she said.

(It is also not true that we wanted to be in military custody. The contents of the affidavits are not true because those were done and signed while we were in the military camp. We had no choice at that point.)

Officials at the press conference — including Lt. Col. Ronnel Dela Cruz, commander of the 70th IB — said they knew nothing of the alleged abduction.

"Ang pinanghahawakan po namin ngayon kasi pumirma po sila ng kustodiya," Dela Cruz said, adding the military views the two activists as surrenderees.

(We are holding on to the fact that they signed custody papers)

NTF-ELCAC Director Alexander Umpar, meanwhile, said that the anti-communist task force would stand by what the military reported.

"Whatever caused their sudden change of heart is beyond us. Earlier engagements by Task Force officials with the two students regarding the veracity and truthfulness of their affidavits were convincing enough to merit their public appearance. We were hoodwinked," the task force said. 

"Nevertheless, we remain steadfast in ensuring the safety of the two and committed to upholding their rights as individuals under any circumstances," it also said in a statement. 

Rights group Karapatan said authorities have no reason to keep Castro and Tamano in custody and called on Plaridel Mayor Jocell Vistan not to allow the two to be brought back to the military camp.

"They should be safely released, 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," the group said.

In a separate statement, the National Union of People's Lawyers said that "every public officer responsible for their illegal arrest, detention, and subornation to perjury, including the public defender who allegedly assisted in the preparation of their affidavits, [should] be held accountable."


Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said he would look into the supposed abduction of the activists, but at the same time took a swipe at the leftist movement.

“We will find out who is telling the truth, pero ang tingin ko naman, the government has nothing to gain by violating the law, I think that is very clear to all of us,” Remulla said in a press briefing in Plaridel, Bulacan.

Remulla said the two activists, who are students of the University of the Philippines, could have been subjected to “peer pressure” by leftist and political groups. 

“If there is any truth to it, good luck, I hope they can help these people na kung meron talagang masamang ginawa. Pero ang tingin ko rito ay peer pressure ang tawag dito kasi ang pamilya nila hindi nag-ingay eh, the parents actually did not raise hell on this matter, yung political groups lang ang nag-ingay dito,” Remulla said.

— With a report from Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News