Probe tags ‘state involvement’ in abduction of 2 activists
MANILA, Philippines — A fact-finding mission of civil society groups pointed to “possible state involvement” in the abduction of two environment defenders after it found that one of them had been red-tagged since last year.
According to the mission’s findings released on Saturday, there were earlier instances of harassment against Jonila Castro, 21, who along with Jhed Tamano, 22, went missing on Sept. 2.
The report said armed men forced Castro and Tamano into a van in front of the Orion Water District in Barangay Lati in Bataan.
But Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar denied military involvement in the two activists’ disappearance.
“After their supposed conduct of investigation, what is the right thing to do? They should immediately submit the result of their investigation to the proper authority to help them recover the reported missing persons,” he said.
Aguilar also urged the families to contact the AFP or the Philippine National Police for a proper investigation.
Police, military denial
Both the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and the National Security Council earlier denied that police and military had anything to do with the disappearance of the two.
The fact-finding mission was a joint undertaking of the groups Karapatan, Akap Ka, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Promotion of Church People’s Response, and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
In a press conference, Rosalie, Castro’s mother, recalled that a person, who introduced himself to her as a soldier, repeatedly visited their home in Plaridel, Bulacan, and told her to “surrender your daughter.”
Rosalie claimed she did not understand the man’s message because her daughter was only a volunteer for Akap Ka Manila Bay, a network of groups opposing reclamation projects in Manila Bay.
“They think ill of my daughter and even said she was armed,” said Rosalie.
Tamano, who is Castro’s schoolmate at the Bulacan State University, worked as a program coordinator of “Turn the Tide, Now!,” a partnership program of Akap Ka involving church workers.
Taken by force
“The lack of protection afforded to [Castro] since then had made her and Tamano more vulnerable to graver attacks,” the fact-finding mission said in its report after an investigation on Sept. 4 to 5.
It also noted that Castro and Tamayo were taken by force by four armed men “in a violent manner,” as told by eyewitnesses.
The screams of the two young activists calling for help were heard as far as 10 to 15 houses away along Manrique Street in Orion where the incident occurred.
The bystanders, the report said, were not able to respond to the pleas because the men who were wearing masks were armed.
In its report, the fact-finding team raised doubts about the manner of the police investigation, including the handling of evidence.
“Were the CCTV footage, including those from the CCTV device of the Orion Water District, duly processed as evidence?” it asked.
Two days after the incident, members of the mission accompanied the Castro family to file a missing person report at the Orion police, but “was not accommodated by the police officers.”
The authorities also did not share updates on the police investigation “and dwelled only on the background of the victims and their organization.”