Legal battles far from over for 2 activists

Legal battles far from over for 2 activists

By: - Correspondent / @inquirerdotnet
/ 05:32 AM February 22, 2024

Environmental activists Jhed Tamano (left) and Jonila Castro

IN FIGHTING FORM Environmental activists Jhed Tamano (left) and Jonila Castro emerge from the court after posting bail in Doña Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan, on Wednesday. “The only criminals here are the abductors and liars,” they say. —PHOTO COURTESY OF KARAPATAN

In what human rights watchdogs decried as another setback, the two young activists who accused state forces last year of abducting them and forcing them to lie about surrendering as former communist rebels have been haled into court on charges of slandering the military.

On Wednesday, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano each posted bail bonds of P18,000 for their provisional liberty, hours after they learned about the Feb. 2 arrest warrants issued by a Bulacan court against them for grave oral defamation.


The arrest orders were served to the two environmentalists on Tuesday night, five days after the Supreme Court granted their petition for protection from state authorities allegedly behind their abduction last year.


In separate release orders, Presiding Judge Jonna Sorallo-Veridiano of the Municipal Trial Court of Doña Remedios Trinidad (DRT) town in Bulacan province, lifted and set aside the warrants ordering the arrest of the pair.

The court set the arraignment and pretrial of the case on March 15 at 8:30 a.m.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, Castro, 22, and Tamano, 23, both hailing from Plaridel town in Bulacan, said the arrest warrants had caught them both unawares.

“It’s clear that the state is using those in government posts to manipulate the law to subdue citizens who are fighting back,” Castro and Tamano said.

‘Only criminals here’

“The only criminals here are the abductors and liars that are the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the NTF-Elcac (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) and other government agencies they are conniving with,” they added.

The charges stemmed from the two activists’ appearance at a press conference in September last year, where they accused the AFP of abducting them and coercing them to lie about having surrendered to the government as rebel returnees.


In December, Army Lt. Col. Ronnel dela Cruz, commander of the 70th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the AFP based in DRT, initially filed a complaint for perjury, which was dismissed by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) panel of prosecutors.

Citing facts and “evidence on record,” the prosecutors recommended indicting the respondents for grave oral defamation instead.

DOJ Senior State Prosecutor Arnold Magpantay filed the case in the DRT court on Feb. 1, a day before the arrest warrants were signed.

At the press conference on Sept. 19, 2023, organized by NTF-Elcac, Castro and Tamano said they were kidnapped on Sept. 2 that year by four armed men in front of the Orion Water District Office in Bataan province and were forced into a gray sport utility vehicle.

The two said they were held captive for 17 days, interrogated and threatened to be killed unless they cooperated with their captors.

Opposed to reclamation

“We chose to speak up today because it’s important that the truth comes out. Were we abducted or did we voluntarily surrender? The truth is we were abducted by the military,” Castro said at the briefing held at the Plaridel municipal hall.

She added: “We were forced to surrender because we were threatened. It’s not true that we wanted the military to take custody of us.”

Tamano is a coordinator for the Community and Church Program for Manila Bay of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum, while Castro is a community organizer for Akap-Ka Manila Bay, which is opposed to reclamation activities.

Both have remained active members of their groups, the Inquirer learned.

The rights group Karapatan condemned the arrest warrants for Tamano and Castro.

“Let it be clear again—Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro are the victims here. They have suffered enough from their abduction and arbitrary detention in the hands of the military. Their loved ones suffered as well in searching for them in those 17 days of disappearance, illegal detention and torture,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said in a statement.

“The shamelessness of the NTF-Elcac to cry victims here, being the abductors and violators of the rights of Jhed and Jonila, further exposes its intent to violate rights and freedoms,” Palabay added.

“It is apparent that the NTF-Elcac is in a frenzy to get back at Tamano and Castro. Arrest warrants are immediately issued, disregarding the right of two to file a motion for reconsideration on the resolution, which was eventually filed on Feb. 12,” the group said.

Ganging up on women

It added: “Those who want to suppress the truth are clearly ganging up on two young women who bravely spoke the truth.”

Karapatan noted that the arrest orders were served just a week after the Supreme Court’s grant of a temporary protection order (TPO) to the pair on Feb. 16.

On top of the protection order, the Supreme Court approved the two activists’ petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data.

The writ of amparo is a type of judicial protection given to individuals whose right to life, liberty and security are being threatened or violated by government forces, while the writ of habeas data protects those whose privacy, liberty or security is threatened by any public entity engaged in collecting or storing information on the victim, their families, homes and communication.

State authorities involved in the alleged abduction of Tamano and Castro have asked the Supreme Court to recall the TPO and to clarify the grounds for its decision to grant their petition.

The TPO prohibits respondents Dela Cruz, members of the 70th IB, National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya, the NTF-Elcac, Police Capt. Carlito Buco, members of the Philippine National Police in Bataan, and “all others acting under the direction, instructions and orders” from coming within a one-kilometer radius of the petitioners and their families.

Threat to peace

In an urgent omnibus motion dated Feb. 19, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), representing the respondents, said the TPO raised “challenges,” particularly in maintaining law enforcement within the specified zones.

READ: Red-tagged activists seek SC protection

The OSG argued that the prohibition of police personnel from accessing areas near Tamano and Castro would “embolden criminal activities… [and] pose a significant threat to the overall peace and order within the community.”

It also argued that the Supreme Court’s determination that the evidence presented was more than substantial before the conduct of a summary hearing “inevitably undermines the Court of Appeals’ independent assessment of the sufficiency of evidence.”

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“Such early pronouncement certainly prejudiced respondents’ right to due process,” the OSG said.

TAGS: Activists, Legal, Military

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