environmental defenders

A mother’s appeal: Ibalik ’nyo na ang anak ko

Iya Gozum

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A mother’s appeal: Ibalik ’nyo na ang anak ko

APPEAL. Roselie Castro (center), mother of Jonila Castro, was emotional recounting the past days since her daughter went missing.

Iya Gozum/Rappler

A fact-finding team formed by members of advocacy, church, and human rights organizations are looking into the details surrounding the abduction of Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano

MANILA, Philippines – It has been a week since two environmental activists, Jonila Castro and Jhed Tamano, were reportedly abducted in Orion town, Bataan province, while preparing for relief operations in the area.

Roselie Castro, the mother of Jonila, implored “whoever took her daughter, please bring her back to me.”

“Kung sino man po ang may hawak sa anak ko, sana po ibalik ‘nyo na po. Sana po ibalik ‘nyo na po ‘yung anak ko. Kasi po sobrang nag-aalala na po ako sa anak ko,” she said in a press briefing on Saturday, September 9.

(Whoever has my child, please return her. Please return my child. Because I am consumed by worry for my child.)

A mother’s appeal: Ibalik ’nyo na ang anak ko

Prior to their abduction, Roselie said there were men who identified themselves as soldiers offering help to “set their kid straight.”

“Sabi ko, ‘Bakit ano po bang ginagawa ng anak namin?’ Ayon sinabi nga po nila may mga hindi ginagawang maganda ‘yung anak namin. Isa pong– isa pong ano ‘yung anak namin…Mahirap po,” Roselie’s voice broke.

(I asked them, ‘Why are you offering help, what is my kid doing?’ Then they said my child is doing something bad. They said she’s a– she’s a…This is hard.)

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 are working with communities and campaigns against reclamation and coastal development projects.

What happened?

Environmental, church, and human rights organizations formed an independent fact-finding team to gather information about Jonila and Jhed’s abduction. Their report gathered information from residents in the area and the activists’ colleagues.

The team was composed of members from AKAP KA Manila Bay, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Promotion of Church People’s Response, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and Karapatan.

According to the report, eyewitnesses said the abduction took place in a well-lit area in front of the Orion Water District office. A gray Innova vehicle stopped beside the two women walking. Four men alighted the vehicle and grabbed the two.

Both tried to escape and one even tried to climb the gate of one the houses in the area. However their attempts to escape were unsuccessful and they were promptly dragged back inside the vehicle.

Residents who tried to help were reportedly threatened by one of the men acting as lookout.

In an earlier statement, Karapatan said a sandal and a pair of slippers were found at the scene. Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said they only learned about the abduction from a Facebook post, posted around 8 pm. Police personnel reportedly arrived at the scene that night to investigate.

On Monday, September 4, members of the fact-finding team, along with Jonila’s mother, went to the municipal police station to file a blotter.

According to Roselie, the police only delayed them for about two hours and did not record the case. “Nag-antay lang po kami,” said Roselie. (We just waited.) They left the station without having a blotter filed.

Past threats

According to their report, Jonila had expressed fears as early as last year that a man who identified as a soldier regularly visited her home in Plaridel, Bulacan, offering to help “clear” her name.

After learning that Jonila was abducted, her mother contacted the man to ask for help to find her daughter. Roselie said the man didn’t initially respond, and only replied when she was already being helped by other organizations.

Aldrein Silanga of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, said that environmental defenders, despite the crucial work they are doing, are being continuously red-tagged.

“Sila’y dinudukot, pinapatay, matapos silang i-red-tag,” said Silanga. (They are abducted, killed, after they were red-tagged.)

He added that the abduction of environmental defenders can only be done by entities with a certain capacity.

“Ngayon tatanungin natin sino bang may kapasidad para gumawa nito? Sino ba ang may motibo para kunin ang mga environmental advocates namin? Sino ang may motibo para itago sila sa amin para matuloy ang mga proyekto lalo na sa mga reklamasyon?” Silanga asked.

(Now we need to ask who has the capacity to do this. Who has the motive to abduct our environment advocates? Who has the motive to hide them from us just to continue with the projects, especially those connected to reclamation?) – Rappler.com

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.