Despite military officials claiming the voluntary surrender of newly surfaced environmental activists, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano disclosed their status as abductees and illegal detainees under forced military custody in a press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
During the press conference held at the Plaridel Municipal Hall in Bulacan on September 19, 2023, Castro and Tamano denied accounts of surrendering themselves to and seeking help from the military. This is in contrast to reports from the Bataan Provincial Police and statements from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the National Security Council.
“Ang totoo po e dinukot kami ng mga militar sakay ng van. Napilitan din kami na sumurrender dahil pinagbantaan ‘yung buhay namin,” said Castro, disproving earlier accounts of voluntary surrender from NTF-ELCAC and AFP representatives.
Tamano then relayed that on September 2, 2023, the night the two progressives went missing in Barangay Lati, Bataan, a SUV had stopped in front of the duo. The two were then forcibly taken inside the SUV by the kidnappers who had revealed themselves as soldiers who knew Tamano and Castro’s names.
Castro had also stated that they were interrogated by the 70Th Infantry Battalion and eventually forced to sign affidavits released by the Bataan Provincial Police Office.
According to the police office’s Chief Public Information Officer PCapt. Carlico Buco Jr., the affidavits contain statements of the two allegedly seeking help from the military in “leaving the communist movement”.
A video released on the NTF-ELCAC’s Facebook page on September 15, 2023 feature Castro and Tamano signing sworn affidavits of voluntary surrender within the presence of their families and Bulacan’s Public Affairs Office. However, copies of the affidavits were not provided to the media.
“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,” said Castro.
Nonetheless, NTF-ELCAC Director Alexander Umpas and 70th Infantry Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Ronnel Dela Cruz, both of which were present in the press conference, insisted on the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) version of events – with the former calling the two activists “victims of terrorism”.
Denying the abduction accounts of Tamano and Castro, Dela Cruz stated that the negotiations of the duo’s allegedly voluntary surrender were made until the morning of September 12, 2023. Dela Cruz had also asserted that there was no military intervention in the signing of sworn affidavits.
The press conference was then concluded after Plaridel Mayor Jocell Vistan’s closing remarks. The livestream of the press conference was subsequently halted and deleted from the Plaridel Municipal Hall’s Facebook page.
Custody of the two environmental workers were transferred from Plaridel’s Local Government Unit to the Commission on Human Rights the following afternoon. By evening, Castro and Tamano had officially been released from custody.
This is a developing story.
Written by Izzy Daguay
Layout by Winston Adam Lejarde