Release two activists in custody, gov’t urged
Associates of two activists who have emerged in government custody after being reported missing for two weeks demanded that they be allowed to confirm that they really sought the government’s help to leave the “communist movement,” as a security official claimed on Friday.
At a press conference on Saturday, activists of human rights group Karapatan also presented Roselie Castro, mother of 21-year-old Jonila Castro, one of the activists, who pleaded to authorities that they return her daughter.
“I want to see for myself personally that she is safe. I am asking that you allow them to return her to us as soon as possible,” Roselie said.
“I’ve been so overwhelmed with fear and worry about [my daughter], not knowing whether she’s safe,” she added.
Jonila and Jhed Tamano, 22, were reported missing on Sept. 2. Activist groups said witnesses saw them being forced into a van while they were on their way to consult with fisherfolk in Orion town about reclamation activities in Bataan province.
But on Friday, Jonathan Malaya, assistant director general of the National Security Council, said Jonila and Tamano were not kidnapped but rather “left the movement” after seeking the government’s help.
At a press conference by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), Malaya also claimed that the two had issued an affidavit stating that they had been wanting to break away from their associates.
Another official, Capt. Carlito Buco Jr. of the Bataan Provincial Police, released photos to the media on Friday showing the two activists.
In the photographs, Tamano appears to be comforted by a man and a woman whom Buco identified as her parents. But there has been no word on Saturday from the police confirming their identities.
According to Castro’s mother, neither of the two girls had yet to contact their families.
Also at the press conference, lawyer Dino de Leon questioned why the girls are still in the government’s custody.
“What is the legal basis for keeping them under their custody until now?” said the lawyer, who also cast doubt over the affidavits allegedly issued by Jonila and Tamano.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said the fact that the two were not present at the NTF-Elcac press conference “reveals a lot of things, the most obvious of which is that the NTF-Elcac and the PNP (Philippine National Police) are not prepared to present them for questioning by the media.”
Meanwhile, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) issued a statement on Saturday denying that the two activists were members of the New People’s Army, the communist organization’s armed wing.
“Without doubt, the young women were subjected to various forms of psychological and emotional torture to force them to ‘cooperate’ with the wishes of their abductors,” the statement quoted CPP chief information officer Marco Valbuena as saying.
The CPP said the case of Jonila and Tamano were similar to that of activists Michael Cedrick Casano and Patricia Nicole Cierva, who surfaced on June 2 as “surrenderers” of the NTF-Elcac after being reported missing on May 18.
Similar to Jonila and Tamano, Casano and Cierva thanked the military for treating them well, the CPP noted.