Activists cry harassment despite SC order | Inquirer News

Activists cry harassment despite SC protection order

/ 05:42 AM February 23, 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

Environmental activists Jhed Tamano and Jonila Castro on Thursday said a Supreme Court order to keep soldiers and police away from them seemed to have no effect on the surveillance they have been subjected to since their alleged abduction and release by the military six months ago.

“There were times when we tried to go home, but we felt that someone was really following us, so we couldn’t stay for a long time in some places,” Tamano said.


1-km radius


Tamano, 23, and Castro, 22, spoke with reporters outside the Court of Appeals (CA) after a preliminary conference ahead of summary hearings to determine whether they were entitled to a permanent protection order and a production order—the privileges provided by the writs of amparo and habeas data granted by the Supreme Court on Feb. 15.

The high tribunal also issued a temporary protection order (TPO) that prohibits soldiers, police and their agents from coming within a 1-kilometer radius of the two women and their families, their homes, schools and workplaces.

The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), which claimed that the two women were New People’s Army (NPA) members who had surrendered to the Philippine Army in September last year, dismissed their surveillance allegation as baseless and was “the result of an overactive imagination.”

“The public should note that they are currently under the custody of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), NUPL (National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers), Karapatan and a host of other collaborating lawyers,” it said in a statement.

Bulacan court case

Tamano and Castro have denied they were ever NPA members.


In addition to the alleged surveillance, they said there was an increased military presence in Orion, Bataan, where they were allegedly abducted on Sept. 2, 2023, and also in Hagonoy and Bulakan, Bulacan.

They said members of fishing communities and students they had helped in opposing the dredging and reclamation works in Manila Bay were being harassed and intimidated by the military to stop them from talking with “outsiders.”

They were also surprised by a warrant of arrest issued by a court in Bulacan against them on charges of grave oral defamation filed by the Army as a result of their allegations that they were abducted and held incommunicado for more than two weeks.

SolGen seeks recall

In an embarrassing twist following days of search for Tamano and Castro after their Sept. 2, 2023 disappearance, the military presented the two women 17 days later to the media, where they were expected to admit that they were part of the NPA and had surrendered.

Instead, the two women accused the military of abducting, detaining and coercing them to lie about having surrendered to the government as rebel returnees. The Army strongly denied their accusation but was forced to release them on the same day.

They found out about the Feb. 2 warrant of arrest on Feb. 20 when they saw in the “very urgent” motion filed by the Office of the Solicitor General asking the Supreme Court to recall the TPO and the writs of amparo and habeas data granted to the two activists.

On Wednesday, they each posted a P18,000 bail bond.

The military filed the defamation charge, which carries a penalty of up to 20 months imprisonment after Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors dismissed its complaint of perjury, which has a heavier punishment of up to six years in prison.

The respondents in the two activists’ petition for the writs of amparo and habeas data granted by the Supreme Court included Lt. Col. Ronnel dela Cruz, commander of the 70th Infantry Battalion and his troops based in Bulacan.

Also named respondents were National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya, the NTF-Elcac, Police Capt. Carlito Buco and members of the Bataan police force, and others acting under the “direction, instructions and orders” of the government agencies mentioned.

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

Yet to file ‘returns’

The activists’ lawyer, Dino de Leon, said the preliminary conference was postponed to Monday because state authorities are yet to file their “returns,” which are reports of the respondents on the steps they had taken in relation to the case, plus an explanation of the “deprivation of liberty” of the two women.

“The Supreme Court has granted the initial writs and ordered the respondents to file their returns. But the hearing of the testimony for the issuance of the permanent protection order and production order for the habeas data, those are what needs to be heard in court,” De Leon said.

Added gov’t spending

Tamano said they would continue their work as environmental advocates “because if all of these did not happen, we would have been in the communities [affected by reclamation activities].”

She said the fishing communities around Manila Bay were continuing to be impoverished, with fish catch dwindling due to the dredging.

What’s more concerning, Tamano said, was the government’s spending on their cases—from their alleged abduction up to the continued harassment they were experiencing.

Castro questioned why the authorities were targeting defenders of the environment, livelihood and human rights like them.

“Is it wrong for the youth to immerse in the community and join [them] in resisting destructive projects? Was it wrong that we told the truth? Of course not,” she said. “But if, according to the law, those are wrong, and that is the reason why it is okay for someone to be abducted, [forced to] surrender and charged, this means that there is something wrong with the justice system,” Castro added.

In a statement on Thursday, the fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) condemned the “deplorable” and “unabated judicial harassment” of Tamano and Castro by the Marcos administration.

“Castro and Tamano should have the complete freedom and civil rights that they deserve as they pursue their noble advocacies for the protection of fishing communities against reclamation and other forms of privatization,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap.

“This critical human rights situation of environmental and land rights defenders further established the government’s direct connivance with big companies engaged in massive destruction and plunder of marine resources,” Hicap added.

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Hicap praised the “admirable courage” of Tamano and Castro despite the “relentless attacks from security forces.” —WITH A REPORT FROM JACOB LAZARO

TAGS: Jhed Tamano, Jonila Castro, Military, Supreme Court

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