2 environment activists may face perjury raps for recanting statements
MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) plans to file perjury complaints against the two pro-environment activists who went missing in early September for recanting their sworn statements, claiming that the military had abducted them during a briefing to present them as rebel surrenderees.
During the plenary debates on the Department of National Defense (DND) proposed 2024 budget on Wednesday, Negros Occidental 6th District Rep. Mercedes Alvarez was asked by Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel if the AFP admits to abducting Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro.
Alvarez, who was sponsoring and defending the DND budget, said that Tamano and Castro’s claims were not true and the AFP would file perjury raps.
“In a press conference organized by the NTF-Elcac (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict), the two said that they were abducted by none other than the military. Would the AFP admit to abducting the two young women?” Manuel asked in a mix of English and Filipino.
“No, Mr. Speaker, and the AFP plans to file perjury cases or charges against the two,” Alvarez replied.
Manuel, visibly enraged with the recent development, asked why the two activists were being charged now when they may have made the sworn statement under pressure or duress.
But Alvarez maintained that there were witnesses like those from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) who saw that the two activists — surfaced by the military on Tuesday as allegedly former rebels — voluntarily signed the papers.
“Mr. Speaker, we are so shocked with that kind of response from the AFP. What is the basis for filing complaints against the two brave young women illegally detained in a military camp? we don’t know what kind of coercion was done to force them to sign the affidavit, and now they bravely revealed what happened to them, they will get perjury complaints?” Manuel asked.
“There are witnesses who were there during the signing of said affidavit, not only (during the) voluntary surrender as well as the signing of the said affidavit. The PAO lawyers were there, the stepfather of one of the ladies was there, and they were even asked if they were coerced into signing by her stepfather, and she denied being coerced, Mr. Speaker,” Alvarez replied.
Manuel then stressed that private individuals witnessed the two activists being abducted in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan, proving that Tamano and Castro were not in a free environment when they made the sworn statement.
“Mr. Speaker, in the actual incident in early September, there are people who witnessed the abduction — abduction, because there were sandals left, and people posted it on social media,” Manuel said.
“And now how can we expect such an affidavit to really bear weight, especially if the signing of the affidavit happened under a setting where these young women are in a situation where they are vulnerable, in an area controlled by the those who abducted them?” he added.
But Alvarez maintained that the activists were called rebel surrenderees because they voluntarily surrendered.
“Again, there were witnesses during the signing of said affidavit, the stepfather was there, the PAO lawyers were there, and I don’t think they were in any environment that they were vulnerable, Mr. Speaker,” she said.
“Mr. Speaker, they were labeled as voluntary surrenderees because they said they voluntarily surrendered. Again there are witnesses, Mr. Speaker, they made a sworn statement, which, of course, if you made a sworn statement and you recant it, you will be submitted to perjury charges if needed,” she added.
After the two activists went missing last September 2, human rights watchdog Karapatan raised the alarm, saying that the two were abducted.
Tamano and Castro were said to have been rallying against the reclamation projects on Manila Bay: Tamano, 22, works as coordinator of the Church-Community Partnership for the program Turn the Tide Now, while Castro, 21, serves as a community volunteer for AKAP Ka Manila Bay.
But National Security Council Assistant Director Jonathan Malaya insisted that the two were not abducted, but surrendered to the government after leaving the communist armed insurgency.