(This is a developing story)
The two environmental defenders, who went missing in Bataan province, confirmed in a press conference Tuesday that they were “abducted” and “threatened” by the state forces.
“The truth is, we were abducted by the military. We were forced to surrender because they threatened our lives. That is the truth,” said Jonila Castro, a 21-year-old community organizer of AKAP Ka Manila Bay.
In a press briefing arranged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) in Plaridel town, Bulacan province, Castro and 22-year-old Jhed Tamano, coordinator of Ecumenical Bishops Forum, claimed they were “forced to sign” an affidavit stating that they were members of the communist party.
“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,” Castro said.
The activists went missing on September 2 in Orion town, Bataan province. After more than one week, the military surfaced them following its admission that the activists were in government custody.
The anti-communist task force said the two young women surrendered to the 70th Infantry Battalion in Doña Remedios Trinidad town, Bulacan province on Sept. 12 with the help of an intermediary.
“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,” Castro said.
Before being cut off by someone from the organizers of the press briefing, Castro accused the military of being used by the State to “suppress the youth and the fisherfolk”.
Edre Olalia, chairperson of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said authorities have “no legal basis to hold them any second longer” and they should be freed after the “public and categorical repudiation by activists”.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, demanded the safe release of the activists and called to “hold accountable the government authorities responsible for the abduction and now the possible illegal detention, coercion, and psychological torture”.
On September 5, the Ecumenical Bishops Forum urged the Philippine government to “promote the respect of human rights and the dignity of life,” adding that authorities must “conduct immediate probe” about the alleged abduction.