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MANILA, Philippines – The two activists who went missing in Bataan early this month are already “safe and sound” under military custody, National Security Council (NSC) Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said on Friday, September 15.
Malaya said in a press briefing Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano were now in a safe house.
Police Captain Carlito Buco, Bataan police chief public information officer, said the two women “voluntarily surrendered” last Tuesday, September 12, to the 70th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
“They’re safe and sound. The parents have access to them anytime. The CHR [Commission on Human Rights] will come out with their own statement,” Malaya said in a mix of Filipino and English.
The CHR had dispatched a quick response operation team to probe the alleged abduction.
So far, only Tamano’s parents have had access to their daughter.
Roselie Castro, mother of Jonila, has not yet visited the safe house and has not yet seen her daughter. Malaya urged Castro to contact the police for help.
“In public, we are now offering this to her. She can contact us,” said Malaya.
“Tumawag po kayo sa PNP [Philippine National Police], either the Orion municipal police station or the provincial police office of Bataan and we could make sure makakausap ‘nyo po ang anak ‘nyo.” (Call the PNP, either the Orion municipal police station or the provincial police office of Bataan and we could make sure you can talk to your child.)
Castro appeared in a press briefing last week organized by environmental and human rights organizations, where she appealed to “whoever took” her daughter to return her.
Jonila is a community volunteer for AKAP KA Manila Bay, an alliance of fisherfolk, youth, and church members. Jhed is a program coordinator for the Ecumenical Bishops Forum.
Both were working with communities and in campaigns against reclamation and coastal development projects.
‘Not an abduction’
Malaya said that, according to the sworn statements of the two activists, “they left the movement on their own free will.” He was referring to the underground Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
According to the police report that was based on the sworn affidavits of Jhed and Jonila, the two had been seeking ways to leave the communist “organization” and sought the help of an unnamed person.
“This is not an abduction,” said Malaya. “This is an elaborate hoax and scam. Ang biktima po nito ay publiko.” (The victim here is the public.)
On September 2, on the night of their alleged abduction, the two were picked up by an unnamed person and traveled to Guagua, Pampanga. The report said the women sold their cellphones because “they no longer had money to feed themselves.”
“Hindi sila in-abduct. Umalis sila sa kilusan,” said Malaya. (They weren’t abducted. They left the movement.)
This is contrary to the report that environmental and human rights organizations released last September 9. Their report said that several eyewitnesses saw the women trying to escape before getting abducted and taken away in a gray vehicle.
Both reports had some similar basic facts. Jhed and Jonila were walking along Barangay Lati, Orion, that Saturday night before they were taken away. There was a gray vehicle that was used to transport the two activists. Accomplices riding a motorcycle were seen in the vicinity.
The NSC is already in talks with the Department of Justice, according to Malaya, to study the possible charges that could be filed against individuals from organizations “perpetrating fake news,” specifically those behind the September 9 press conference.
‘State actors at play’
This latest update from the government only “confirms” that “state actors are involved in the disapperance of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano,” said groups in a statement on Friday.
AKAP Ka Manila Bay, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Promotion for Church Peoples’ Response, Karapatan called the government’s version of events a “convoluted narrative” that “failed to prove that no abduction took place.”
During the press conference, the police showed brief clips of the two activists in a well-lit room. The screenshots from the CCTV only showed the gray vehicle, the two women walking, and the accomplices riding a motorcycle.
No signs of the “Ate” or the unnamed person that supposedly helped the women were shown in the screenshots.
Groups also questioned conditions of the two activists under military custody, as they said this may have affected the statements they made to the authorities.
They also expressed concerns that the women were not represented of their own choice.
“Unless and until Jonila and Jhed are allowed to speak freely outside of the military’s custody, there can be no assurance that their statements are authentic and not delivered under duress.” — Rappler.com